Currency Conversion Chaos
The currency conversion madness continues at home. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the $6 million “old” dollars that I took out of the country with as a safety measure so I’d have some cash when I got back will be rendered worthless. And who knows what will happen to the plus minus $30 million I’d left in my bank account.
What about anyone else who was also travelling at this time? It’s school holidays, and many businesses and families who are able to take time out during August. I wonder how many are rushing back early to make sure they can convert their cash before the deadline on 21 August.
I guess it gives a whole new meaning to “you can’t take it with you.”
And unsurprisingly, the chaos with the currency is rippling out to the rest of the economy.
According to economist and commentator Eddie Cross, “this morning one service station in Bulawayo was asking Z$1 165 000 (“old” dollars) for a litre of fuel! That is up 100 per cent in 7 days.” Cross also reports that “the banks also say now they were not consulted by the Reserve Bank prior to the changes announced by Gono on Monday - they say his statement was the first intimation they had apart from rumours the previous week. When they asked the Bank about the rumours they were told to wait for a statement.”
It’s amazing, then, that the email that my bank, CABS sent around to its account holders was so staid and polite. More than ever, I’d hate to be in the banking industry right now. As if the closures and uncertainty of the past five years wasn’t enough, now they’re trying to keep up with converting an entire currency regime in less than three weeks. They’ve stopped their point of sales/zim switch type services, but amazingly still have their ATM’s open—though I assume the type of money you withdraw depends on whether they have the “new” notes in stock yet.
The police are apparently also stopping people and looking for “excessive” amounts of cash on person. The limit on “old” cash that can be deposited into the bank is $100 million—less than 10 litres of petrol at that Bulawayo service station. Two pastors were arrested and held for two nights and their funds confiscated (they were each carrying the domestic limit of Z$100 million). It took a lawyer to get them out and to recover their money.
Cross reckons that, at present inflation rates it will be hardly 8 months before the country is back to where it was last week—“piles of useless money to do anything with and would be looking again at chopping three zero's off our currency.” In fact, Cross reports, “[Reserve Bank Governor Gideon] Gono has said as much - he has promised a new currency altogether - and said this week that we would get no notice of the change and only 7 days to swap the old for the new. I guess he really thinks that practice makes each operation easier! I hope that they will learn something from this complete shambles, but if our recent experience is anything to go by - they will not learn anything at all.”
As Zimbabweans settle in for a four day holiday weekend, (“Heroes” and Defence Forces Days), there is yet again little to celebrate. But, somehow, there remains that dogged insistence on looking at the bright side. As I sit through a heat wave in New York City, with reports that a few thousand households here and there are sporadically without power when the temperature gets too high, and electricity demand exceeds supply, I’m reminded of an email a friend sent through recently. In New York, that handful of power shortages forces a public hearing and inquiry into the New York power company. In Zimbabwe, it’s just one more in a long list of day to day hurdles that make life more challenging. And we make a plan.
“We had LOTS of LONG times without ZESA last week . . . but at least it makes us really appreciate light and cookers and fridges and such when it's back and there's no gas (for back up cooking systems) in the country, so don't know what we'll do when the gas we do have runs out . . . but there is some wood . . .”
And, as I’ve commented before, it’s hard sometimes to know if that make a plan mentality is a blessing or a curse. Perhaps if we weren’t so resilient, we’d be more inclined to be more demanding of our politicians. David Coltart, a Member of Parliament for the Mutambara faction of the MDC, has speculated that political change in Zimbabwe is still some far time off. In [link=http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=321865&apc_state=henpacr ]Looking for signs of change in Zimbabwe[/link], the Institute for War and Peace Reporting stated “[Coltart says] the situation in Zimbabwe lacks ‘the pressure cooker build-up’ that is needed to make mass demonstrations happen. ‘There is not enough tension in the country because of the safety valves provides by the diasporans. There are millions of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora who are [remitting money home and] enabling many families to survive.’”
I am inclined to agree with him. But I would be happy to be proved wrong. Maybe this currency fiasco will prove to be the final straw that activates Zimbabweans into collective, non violent action to demand a government that respects and listens to us.