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Small change sparks fights in coin-starved Zimbabwe
Mail & Guardian ^ | 05 Aug 2012 08:38 | Susan Njanji

Posted on 08/11/2012 12:18:40 PM PDT by DeaconBenjamin

Shouting matches and even physical fights break out each time a minibus pulls up to drop off passengers at a crowded bus stop in downtown Harare. It's all about not getting short-changed.

Hyperinflation forced Zimbabwe to trash its worthless local currency three years ago in a move that brought much needed relief to the crippled economy but created a surprising new headache: a lack of coins.

"Change is a big problem, and at the same time passengers are impatient with us. I have been slapped a few times for not having change for them," said a bus conductor Walter Chakawata.

The US dollar and the rand from neighbouring South Africa are Zimbabwe's main adopted currencies. The dollar, however, is preferred and all prices are pegged to it.

But there is not enough US small change in circulation. The result is that prices are either rounded off—making goods and services more expensive—or customers brace themselves for a fight to get their change.

The average city commute costs 50 cents. But the dearth of coins means passengers—handing over bills—are always owed change. Some bus drivers pair the passengers, handing them a dollar bill in change and leaving the two riders to sort the rest out themselves.

Often their only alternative is to buy an item worth a dollar that they can then share—a packet of biscuits, a pie or anything they agree to.

But that has not gone down well with many, who feel obliged to make an unnecessary purchase. Others complain it forces them to spend time with a total stranger. Or what if one is in a hurry? And in a country where many live on less than $2 a day, 50 cents still remains a decent sum, not to be wasted.

The fights have at times turned deadly. Last year, independent papers reported that a state security agent pulled out a pistol and shot dead a bus conductor after he failed to give him change.

In another incident, a conductor and passenger scuffling over change fell into a ditch with live electricity cables and were both electrocuted.

Initially, drivers issued credit notes in the form of coupons but they were not universal and only valid on specific routes.

Bus operators also ran into problems with fake coupons, on some days accumulating nothing but paper slips and not enough cash to pay for their fuel.

To get round the problem, a R5 coin has become widely accepted as equivalent to 50 cents, for the purposes of public transport, regardless of the actual exchange rate [currently about 61 cents].

This in turn has prompted entrepreneurial-minded young men to smuggle in coins from South Africa to sell to bus conductors.

"We have agreed with the Kombi drivers to split the dollar into rands, so they come here to get change," said Felix Munonyanya, a boilermaker who found the trade lucrative enough to quit his job of six years to sell rands on the roadside near the main working-class suburbs of Mbare and Highfields.

Not all merchants buy coins, however. Ice-cream and yoghurt vendor Locadia Chimimba conceded that "the situation is better these days because you can buy change if you want" but she herself does not and still asks customers to buy more to make up the difference.

In supermarkets, when the grocery bill does not add up neatly to a round figure shoppers are offered sweets, matchboxes, chewing gum and even condoms to compensate.

Credit notes have been another option, but Zimbabweans complain they are often printed on thermal paper that fades easily.

The country's cellphone services have stepped into the picture, offering airtime in lieu of change. Dubbed Yo-Time, supermarkets can instantly credit a customer's pre-paid cellphone with any value from 10 cents and $50.

"When we realised there was a problem of change, we thought, why not have it paid out as airtime so that people were not forced to buy sweets," said Yo-Time's creative director Walter Chipangura. "We were getting tired of sweets!"

So far, all sides seem pleased. "It has reduced the pressure. There used to be lots of shouting," said Farai Doka, manager of Spar supermarket in the middleclass Kensington suburb.

Authorities considered importing US coins but the idea was dropped when shipping costs proved too expensive—costing $2 for a batch of coins worth $1, experts said.

Two years ago bankers imported R8-million worth of coins, but these were rejected by retailers as they haggled over the exchange rate.

Ecuador, which also uses the US dollar as legal tender, uses coins of its own currency in place of US cents. But trying to mint and re-introduce Zimbabwean dollar coins is likely to bring back painful memories and meet resistance.

During the economic meltdown, it took sackfuls of notes just to buy groceries and millions lost their savings as the currency became worthless overnight.

"For me, I never want to see the Zimbabwe dollar again," said Patrick Nyakodzwe, selling airtime scratch cards and packets of biscuits for R1 each near the city's Copacana bus stop.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Foreign Affairs; Government
KEYWORDS: anticolonialism; hyperinflation; thirdworld; zimbabwe

1 posted on 08/11/2012 12:18:45 PM PDT by DeaconBenjamin
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Zimbabwe’s where 0bama needs to take his ‘hope’ and change.


2 posted on 08/11/2012 12:31:29 PM PDT by Post Toasties (Leftists give insanity a bad name. 0bama: Four years of failure and fingerpointing.)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

I guess “Hope and Change” didn’t work out in that part of the world either.


3 posted on 08/11/2012 12:33:53 PM PDT by Squawk 8888 (Tories in- now the REAL work begins!)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Re-elect Obama and this is what we’ll get here.


4 posted on 08/11/2012 12:48:06 PM PDT by ozzymandus
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To: DeaconBenjamin
I knew that some countries used the US dollar as the "local" currency but I was somewhat astounded that Wiki lists 20 countries and territories that use the dollar exclusively or allow it to circulate with other, sometimes local, currencies.

Some of these countries are small island territories for whom using the US dollar makes sense. These include Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands and others.

But there are some large countries that rely on Washington for their currency and monetary policy. Some are friends, many are foes. Vietnam, Ecuador, Panama, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, Haiti, El Salvador, Lebanon, Nicaragua and many others use the US dollar. Total population of these countries approaches 170,000,000. Amazing.

5 posted on 08/11/2012 12:53:51 PM PDT by Former Proud Canadian (Obamanomics-We don't need your stinking tar sands oil, we'll just grow algae.)
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To: Former Proud Canadian

I traveled to Russia several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The US dollar was the preferred currency.

Official prices were in rubles, but the exchange rate was posted and shopkeepers all had calculators.


6 posted on 08/11/2012 1:13:38 PM PDT by CurlyDave
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To: Former Proud Canadian

I traveled to Russia several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The US dollar was the preferred currency.

Official prices were in rubles, but the exchange rate was posted and shopkeepers all had calculators.


7 posted on 08/11/2012 1:14:10 PM PDT by CurlyDave
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To: Former Proud Canadian

Bermuda too uses the US dollar interchangeably with their own dollar, 1 for 1


8 posted on 08/11/2012 1:14:47 PM PDT by muir_redwoods (Legalize Freedom!!)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

It costs $2 to ship a $1’s worth of coins?

Guys? What?


9 posted on 08/11/2012 1:15:05 PM PDT by null and void (Day 1300 of our ObamaVacation from reality - Heroes aren't made Frank, they're cornered...)
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To: Former Proud Canadian

Cuba also pegs their currency to the US dollar. Talk about ironic.


10 posted on 08/11/2012 1:17:14 PM PDT by JerseyanExile
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To: Former Proud Canadian

“...Total population of these countries approaches 170,000,000. Amazing.”

When we go down the dumper economically, we’ll be taking a lot of others with us. Misery loves company.


11 posted on 08/11/2012 1:22:22 PM PDT by carriage_hill (Harry Reid [PERVERT-NV] has Vickie-the-goat in lingerie & stiletto heels, tied-up in his office.)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

They can’t afford bus fare but still want their cell phones?


12 posted on 08/11/2012 1:44:20 PM PDT by bgill
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To: Former Proud Canadian
"I knew that some countries used the US dollar as the "local" currency but I was somewhat astounded that Wiki lists 20 countries and territories that use the dollar exclusively or allow it to circulate with other, sometimes local, currencies."

I used to get the "dollar discount" from locals who preferred greenbacks over their own stuff. It sucks when your national currency is nothing more than monopoly play money. Sometimes it gets worse, and the govt. makes it illegal to use foreign currency. During my time in Romania when the Ceausescu regime fell, I paid for a dinner with six people using a carton of Kent cigarettes. My father told me of doing that in Paris during W.W. II, and I never quite believed him.
13 posted on 08/11/2012 2:17:06 PM PDT by PowderMonkey (WILL WORK FOR AMMO)
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To: null and void
Maybe FedEx® Super-Duper™ Priority-Overnight™ Express-24x7™ Go-Thru-Hell-Personal-Anywhere-Anytime™ Delivery might, but I'd think a massive oil tanker-sized ship, could do it a lot more economically.

Just wondering what the weight ratio of 1,000 bbl crude is to 1,000 lbs of coins, is. My calculator just melted...

14 posted on 08/11/2012 2:33:58 PM PDT by carriage_hill (Harry Reid [PERVERT-NV] has Vickie-the-goat in lingerie & stiletto heels, tied-up in his office.)
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To: JerseyanExile

Ironic? Look at the list. Nicaragua, Vietnam, Lebanon, Panama, each one invaded at one time by the US.


15 posted on 08/11/2012 4:50:11 PM PDT by Former Proud Canadian (Obamanomics-We don't need your stinking tar sands oil, we'll just grow algae.)
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To: ozzymandus
The public needs to realize that the Democrats are elitists and keeping everyone down is their goal.
Ultimate control over resources and energy can get us there in a flash.
Just look at what they have done in three short years.

I pray this election that people will begin to pay attention instead of
just towing the party line.

16 posted on 08/11/2012 7:12:21 PM PDT by MaxMax (If you're not angry, you're not paying attention)
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To: Post Toasties

Zim is what Cook County, IL would look like without the rest of the state to keep it in check.


17 posted on 08/11/2012 7:14:15 PM PDT by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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To: Former Proud Canadian

El Salvador used to have a big US dollar counterfeiting problem.


18 posted on 08/11/2012 7:19:57 PM PDT by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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To: Post Toasties

Zimbabwe’s where 0bama needs to take his ‘hope’ and change.

Obama’s hope and change is bringing Zimbabwe here.


19 posted on 08/11/2012 7:21:48 PM PDT by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: bgill
They can’t afford bus fare but still want their cell phones?

In many developing countries cell phones are much cheaper than we get in North America, and its cheaper to throw up cell towers than land line infrastructure so that's what the majority end up using in place of traditional phones. So instead of change they were giving people air time credits to phones they already owned.
20 posted on 08/11/2012 11:31:59 PM PDT by battousai (Conservatives are racist? YES, I hate stupid white liberals.)
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