Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Zimbabwe hit by bank-note shortage


A Zimbabwean mother feeds her child outside a bank while queueing with other residents of Harare to withdraw cash.


A severe shortage of Zimbabwean banknotes has led to riots in Harare as people have shattered banks' plate glass windows and desperate workers, including police and army troops, have camped outside banks to wait for deliveries.

The country's escalating economic collapse has forced President Robert Mugabe to hold crisis meetings with his ruling party to determine how to proceed with negotiations with the opposition.

The country's banks have been besieged by queues of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of depositors demanding to get money from their end-of-month pay cheques. In a hyper-inflationary situation where a loaf of bread costs 1,000 Zimbabwean dollars (about US$1) and groceries for a week easily tops 30,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$30), there are not enough dollar notes in circulation to meet demand.

In some bank branches women sit on the floor and knit as they wait for the bank to portion out meagre amounts of their money, sometimes only enough to buy two loaves of bread.

Printers are operating 24 hours a day producing currency notes, but they cannot meet the pressing demand. The government is trying to raise foreign currency to place an order with a German company for new notes.

Confronted with this latest economic crisis on top of hyperinflation of 360 percent, unemployment of 70 percent and drastic shortages of food and fuel, President Mugabe admitted to a delegation of church leaders early this week that negotiations with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were needed to address the economic crisis.

Mugabe, 79, and in power for 23 years, then met with his cabinet and the politburo of his ruling Zanu-PF party.

Officially, in the state press, Mugabe's message has been that party leaders can have only one each of the farms looted from white owners. But Mugabe is also devising strategies of how to deal with pressure for inter-party talks, which is coming from the church leaders as well as from the South African President Thabo Mbeki He is also facing pressure from within his party, as several ambitious regional barons jockey to succeed him.

"People within Mugabe's party are saying, `What are you running if your government cannot even produce enough banknotes?' But the shortage of bank notes is only the ears of the hippo, there are huge problems building up against Mugabe, economic and political problems," said Everjoice Win, spokeswoman for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Committee.

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