Cash-loving Germans show Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation trauma can reverberate through generations


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At the time, President Robert Mugabe’s government had printed a ZW$100 trillion that could not buy a loaf of bread.

By the time the government ditched the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009, adopting a system of multiple foreign currencies — chiefly the US dollar and South Africa’s rand — the transacting public had long abandoned the currency.

At the time, local United Nations agencies were using an exchange rate of ZW$35 quadrillion (a thousand million) to one US dollar.

Although the informal dollarisation restored a small measure of confidence in the banking system, with deposits rising from about $200 million in February 2009 to $6.2 billion at the end of 2016, officials estimate that at least $3 billion is circulating outside the formal system.

This has as much to do with Zimbabwe’s highly informalised economy as it is due to two rounds of bank failures in the last 13 years, as well as the 2008 hyperinflation.

Zimbabwe’s foreign currency crisis, largely blamed on the collapse of the country’s productive base and the attendant dependence on imports, has compounded the situation and triggered a bank note shortage that has seen government actively promoting the use of electronic payment platforms.

Early this month, RBZ governor John Mangudya announced that card and electronic payments now made up 70 percent of all retail transactions.

Following my encounter with the cashier at the Wurst und Durst takeout in Hamburg’s working class Wandelhalle mall, checks with similar outlets established a German truism —  geld stinkt nicht — which literally translates to ‘money does not stink,’ so there’s nothing wrong with it.

However, a dinner visit to the impressive French restaurant Cafe Paris on Rathaustrasse, also showed German business is not particularly enamoured of cards.

The eatery, with an expansive, eye watering wine list, only takes American Express cards.

Our party, which ran up a four-figure tab at the last shout, settled the bill with a combination of cash and two colleagues’ Amex cards.

A group of young diners at a table nearby, settled its bill entirely with cash.

Surveys consistently show that an overwhelming majority of Germans believe it is safe to pay with cash, which they believe allows them to keep track of transactions while keeping them out of debt.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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