Zimbabwe’s bumpy, costly road to a cashless future


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Bond-notes

So, do you have a swipe machine here, we asked the lady who had just served us sadza, rice mashed with peanut-butter and pork bones at our favourite restaurant.

“Not yet, soon”, came the polite reply.

A while later, in a busy downtown supermarket, same question, and a less polite reply: “We don’t take cards here; cash.”

Cash is short, and there is no real short-term solution in sight. So Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya wants Zimbabweans to switch to electronic money. But the road to a cashless future is littered with high charges, distrust of banks, poor infrastructure, and a people that simply want money they can see.

Mangudya wants 80 percent of all transactions to be electronic within five years, easing our reliance on hard cash. So, I tried to live without using cash for a few days, just mobile money and a card. What better way to show solidarity with the embattled governor, and to test how ready we are for a cashless society.

Well, it didn’t take long to realise we still have a lot to do. Government offices still demand cash, and just try whipping out your bank card when you are in front of an impatient month-end or back-to-school supermarket queue.

Where better to start my cashless experiment, than at a government agency, I thought.

I needed to replace the “third number plate” for my car, which meant a $35 fee at the Central Vehicle Registry (CVR). In a small, sweaty room, heaving with loud car dealer types, I asked the lady behind the glass window: “Do you have a swipe machine?” She shouted “next”, and rudely told me to bring out cash or step aside. “EcoCash?” I said cash, she shot back.

So, the day was still young and I was already losing my cashless challenge. No POS at the passport office or the Zesa office either.The latter has a mobile option though, which helps. But go in there and they shake you down for cash. Cash at Zinara too.

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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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