HARARE – Expat Zimbabweans in South Africa accounted for 30% of the nearly US$1 billion (R19bn) remitted to the struggling southern African country in the first half of 2023, new central bank data – which also spotlights Standard Chartered and two other banks as inadequately capitalised – shows.
Officially, as many as 773 000 Zimbabweans have settled down in South Africa in search of better employment prospects, according to 2022 census data from Zimstats. Of these, about 178 000 hold special Zimbabwean exemption permits.
Data from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s 2023 mid-term monetary policy shows that diaspora remittances for the six months to June 2023 “amount to US$919 million, a 15% increase from US$797 million received during the same period” last year.
Of the total diaspora remittances to Zimbabwe during the period under review, South Africa as a source market accounts for 29% while about 22% originated from the UK.
Some experts say official data is only a fraction of the large informal remittance channels sending money back to Zimbabwe owing to high remittance charges by formal banks and money transfer institutions.
Remittances have been pivotal in sustaining Zimbabwe’s economy and for development of infrastructure such as housing and other investments. This comes as remittances to Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations and foreign direct investments have also been lowly.
Banks in Zimbabwe have been facing intense competition for a share of the remittance market from emerging and cheaper fintech platforms.
“I am in a group of diaspora Zimbabweans most of whom now give their bank cards to Zimbabweans to withdraw cash from inside Zimbabwe or purchase goods at supermarket using our foreign bank cards. The charges are much lower compared to remittance fees, which can amount to 15% of the amount,” said one expat employed by a finance institution outside Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwean central bank said three of the Zimbabwean banks – Standard Chartered, Time Bank and ZB Building Society – were inadequately capitalized during the period under review.
“Standard Chartered Bank’s compliance will be addressed through the acquisition of the banking institution by FBC Holdings Limited (FBCH), which is currently being finalised. ZB Building Society capitalisation is also dependent on the outcome of the current strategic initiatives within the Group,” said central bank governor, John Mangudya.
Time Bank had been permitted to gradually meet the prescribed minimum capital requirements in terms of its strategy which provides for a phased approach to conduct banking activities in line with the central bank’s decision to allow it to recommence banking operations.
Zimbabwean banks have been struggling for foreign currency liquidity in a hyperinflationary environment although they are now able to deal in foreign currency on a willing seller willing buyer basis.
Most of the Zimbabwean banks – among them units of Nedbank, Standard Bank and Ecobank – are having to institute capital preservation strategies such as investment into gold coins, investment into property sector, lending in US dollars, as well as maintaining a portion of their capital in US dollars to preserve capital.
This comes as foreign currency deposits at 80% of total deposits have outstripped local currency holdings. Zimbabwe’s economy is increasingly dollarising, with remittances playing a key role in sustaining households and cushioning them from rampant inflation.
Zimbabwe’s yearly inflation rose from 86.5% in May to 175.8% in June 2023 and fell to 101.3% in July. The Zimbabwean central bank believes the reversal of the upward trend in inflation in July will “continue to correct” in August 2023.
“In the outlook, monthly inflation is expected to continue to decline with annual inflation expected to end the year between 60% and 70%,” Mangudya said.