Zimbabwe: Queues of Despair

If a Martian landed in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital today, he would certainly be taken aback by the length and number of human queues.

Like garden worms, the human queues twist and turn throughout the city, blocking traffic as people wait to get a chance to get money from their bank accounts.

The queues start early in the morning and last well into the night. As long as people think there is a faint chance to get a hold of their cash, they remain huddled in the queue.

If anything, human queues have become an additional indicator of the collapse of the Zimbabwean nation state, in particular, the financial system.

Due to a multi-billion percent inflation, the Zimbabwean government is no longer able to meet the paper money needs of its citizenry.

Consequently, the government resorted to limiting the amount of daily cash withdrawals that individuals can make to a paltry ZWD 500,000, less than US$1.

What this means is that ordinary people are forced to go to the bank on a daily basis to make the paltry withdrawal which is barely enough for a loaf of bread.

In a word, queuing has become a way of life in the country. Some people have taken to sleeping outside banking halls so that they are able to access their hard-earned cash.

Even professionals have not been spared from the cash crunch, and many spend days on end standing in queues to withdraw their money bit by bit.

“Every time I think of a bank queue, I feel pain in the pit of my stomach. I have been going to the bank every day, it’s almost as if I work for my bank,” said Kudakwashe Gwesere, an accountant with a local firm.

On many occasions, the queues turn violent as people jostle to be the first to get to the Automated Teller Machines (ATM).

“The elite, I believe, have already found the Zimbabwe dollar inadequate and have already moved to foreign currency. So the government gives the privilege to the senior people in the form of foreign currency, but they are not admitting it, because they are not the ones standing in bank queues. They have found another means around the problem,” said Harare-based economist John Robertson to Voice of America last week.

Surprisingly, day by day, ordinary Zimbabweans huddle in the queues as if they are in a crooked military parade, waiting and hoping.

Certainly, the Martian would be surprised at the resilience of Zimbabwean folk.

To make matters worse, Zimbabwe currently does not have a government in operation. Though President Robert Mugabe and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal more than two months ago, they have failed to form a unity government to end political turmoil after controversial presidential elections held in June.

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