Zimbabwe issues fresh banknotes to ease cash shortages

A man shows a wad of the new Zimbabwe two-dollar notes he received from a bank in Harare on Tuesday. — AFP
A man shows a wad of the new Zimbabwe two-dollar notes he received from a bank in Harare on Tuesday. — AFP

HARARE — Zimbabwe's central bank injected new banknotes and coins into the cash-strapped economy on Tuesday to ease chronic shortages but the weekly withdrawal limit per customer was still capped at $18 — a sum which fetches less than three kilograms of beef.

The Zimbabwean dollar is being gradually reintroduced after being rendered worthless by decades of economic mismanagement under former president Robert Mugabe. A decade ago hyperinflation reached 500 billion percent, forcing the country to trash its own currency.

Zimbabwe had to rely on US dollars for a decade until June this year when authorities banned the use of the greenback.

New two- and five- Zimbabwean dollar notes were disbursed by the central bank. One Zimbabwean dollar is currently worth around six US cents.

"Bond" notes — a legal tender pegged to the US dollar — were introduced in 2016 to alleviate chronic cash shortages and ease a transition back to Zimbabwean dollars.

These were then supplemented with electronic dollars in June 2019.

But cash remains hard to come by and most people use mobile digital money and now-banned foreign currencies to pay for goods.

Account holders have to spend hours to withdraw cash.

Bank customers remained skeptical in the capital Harare.

"There is no difference," Milton Mushangwe, 37, said. "The withdrawal limits remain the same."

"We are still getting the same small amount of 100 dollars or less," added Richard Govha, another customer.

Zimbabwe's reserve bank said that only 31 million new Zimbabwean dollars (less than $2 million) had been disbursed so far, of a planned total of one billion that is to be drip-fed into the system over the next six months.

But analysts believe that currency shortages are not the source of the economic woes.

"Our challenge is not the currency. Our problems are production and perception," independent economic analyst Gift Mugano said.

Electricity is only available for around six hours a day, leaving the manufacturing sectors almost redundant.

Officially inflation is around 300 percent, but prices of goods and services have gone up more than that.

"As long as we have inflation in triple digits and still going up, the new currency will not hold. We are not solving anything when we are going to need a bunch of banknotes to buy a handful of groceries," said Mugano.

Inflation has eroded salaries so much that doctors and some public sector workers have stopped going to work because they just cannot afford to commute.

Many families live on one meal a day, with the southern African country in the grip of a major downturn that has provoked biting shortages of basics such as fuel and medicine. — AFP