Queues are a common sight in Zimbabwe. They are usually associated with shortages- of maize meal, bread, fuel or sugar. But there is a new type of queue that is developing that is not associated with shortages, but rather with an abundance of a rare commodity in Zimbabwe – foreign currency.
Though the government closed down bureaus de change at the end of November, Western Union, one of the world’s leading money transfer companies, is still paying out money sent to Zimbabweans in United States dollars. Now queues are a common sight at Western Union branches.
While the government has been severely hit by a shortage of foreign currency, which is responsible for the current fuel shortage, the country is awash with foreign currency but it is in the hands of individuals who are getting it from relatives working abroad.
Measures introduced by the government to increase its foreign currency reserves have backfired. Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa ordered exporters on November 14 to remit 50 percent of their foreign currency earnings to the central bank with the remainder being held on their behalf by the central bank.
Previously they remitted 40 percent and retained 60 percent which they exchanged on the parallel market ending up with a blend rate of around $800 to the greenback.
According to the Financial Gazette, some US$30 million was cleared out of foreign currency accounts before the new measures which outlawed them. The amount of foreign currency trickling into banks also plummeted from over US$10.3 million a week at the beginning of November to US$0.5 million for the week ending December 27.
In one of its financial reports, Delta Corporation, one of the financial heavyweights on the local bourse, said that earnings from Zimbabweans working abroad are now equal to those of Zimbabweans within the country.
Reports say as many as 3 million Zimbabweans are working abroad, the bulk of them in South Africa. Some 300 000 are reported to be in Britain.