If you want to cashout i.e convert your RTGS dollars to cash the price of doing so just went up on the streets. When we attempted to do such a transaction yesterday we were charged a staggering $140 RTGS in exchange for $100 ZWL notes. It’s either that or a trip to the bank where you have to wait in line. If you only have Ecocash you are out of luck, cashing out remains banned.

Do you remember those days when getting cash was a struggle? People would sleep in bank qeues and touts would make a killing selling qeue positions to those seeking cash. It seems such a long time ago, now you hardly see people qeueing for cash at banks any more.

That must mean the cash crisis, like the fuel crisis, is over-right? Wrong. There is a stifling cash crisis out there people have just learnt to live with it. However if you are formally employed especially a civil servant who receives the bulk of their salary as RTGS dollars you still have to find a way to convert at least some of it into cash.

To be honest this is now easier compared to what it was a few years ago thanks to less pressure on the few ZWL notes in circulation as a result of more and more people using the US dollar to transact. That’s right, despite all insistence to the contrary the dedollarisation was a bust.

All you need to do is find someone who wants RTGS for things like buying airtime, paying their internet bill, buy prepaid ZESA tokens and you will get yourself some USD or ZWL notes at predictable rates.

Sometimes however this is not enough and it is during those times when you have to face the ruthless traders in the streets in order to “cashout”. Currently these illicit brokers are charging anything between 40%-50% in order to give you the opportunity to cashout so you can get cash for things like busfare or buying tomatoes. Kombis and vendors will absolutely not accept Ecocash or swipe. They have been burnt by the RBZ so many times none of them want to dip their toes in that RTGS pool.

No new notes yet

Before he resigned his position the RBZ’s Monetary Policy Committee chief leaker, Eddie Cross, hinted that the RBZ was on the brink of easing cash shortages by printing larger denomination notes and releasing them to the public. Currently the largest note is the $20 ZWL note which is worth just about US$0.20. This effectively means going shopping is really not an option as you will need a backpack full of these to buy even basic essentials.

It’s not clear when the new notes are coming. The RBZ prides itself on not communicating these things-they prefer lobbying policy grenades with little warning. It will not be surprising if they make a surprise announcement just as the notes go into circulation.

Most banks currently have a withdrawal limit of $1000 ZWL per week. Again a paltry amount given the about exchange rate. That will not even be enough to pay for ZUPCO rides to and from town let alone buy vegetables for the week. The gods at our central bank will need to address this too.

You cannot ban the black market away

The biggest lesson from all this is that you cannot ban or wish the black market away without addressing the underlying problem. It’s a lesson our beloved government will do well to heed. People need and want cash. They will find a way to have it and those who have it will find a way to sell it-legal or not. Banning Ecocash agents, cashing in and cash out did not stop the problem. You cannot ban your way out of shortages.

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