Cash shortages persist in Zimbabwe over Christmas holidays

Cash shortages persisted in Zimbabwe the day before Christmas, with many citizens saying they were unable to withdraw money for the festive season, despite spending several hours queueing at banks.

In November, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe promised to inject Z$1bn to ease the country’s cash crunch but has released only Z$110m, which has not been enough to meet demand.

The country is grappling with its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by triple-digit inflation and shortages of food, electricity and fuel. Many Zimbabweans have resigned themselves to having a bleak Christmas, with the country suffering its worst inflation levels since 2008.

The health sector is also in crisis. Doctors have been on strike for three months and there is a critical shortage of medicines. Commodities such as fuel, beverages, and basic foods are also in short supply with many industries unable to produce goods due to foreign-currency shortages.

On Tuesday, there were long queues at most banks visited by Business Day in Harare, with many people saying they were yet to get cash, even after spending the night waiting.

One resident, Moffat Chinaka, said he had spent the past three days trying to withdraw cash from his bank without success. “There is no cash at these banks. I thought the situation would get better in the festive season but things are actually getting worse. I need the cash to travel to my rural home because the commuter buses demand hard cash.”

Speaking in parliament last week, finance minister Mthuli Ncube conceded that cash shortages still exist but will ease when the treasury releases a new batch of larger-denomination notes. The highest denomination available now is Z$5 as the numbers have been kept low to manage the country’s rampant inflation.

Ncube said: “What we will do is also increase the size of the denomination. You can imagine that if it is Z$2 or Z$5 notes, you have to pack quite a lot of them into the ATMs to make withdrawals, and so high denominations such as Z$10 or Z$20 notes are needed — and we will be doing that.”

He said the higher denominations will be issued gradually to manage inflation.

Despite the bleak atmosphere, many Zimbabweans living in SA are expected to provide Christmas cheer for relatives and friends back home. Beitbridge border post was a hive of activity on Tuesday as thousands made their way home for the holidays. Many of the travelers stocked up on groceries, mindful of the shortages and high cost of basic commodities back home.

According to figures from Zimbabwe’s government, 503,932 people have passed through the Beitbridge border post so far in December.

Millions of Zimbabwe who work and live abroad normally return home for the December holidays to spend time with their families.