Mat South’s remote districts left behind in currency switch

The country last month abandoned the inflation-ravaged RTGS dollar and replaced it with what is now called the Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG), which is backed by gold and other precious metals produced in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s latest currency switch has left many people in remote parts of the country, especially in border areas confused and unsure about how to protect their savings.

The country last month abandoned the inflation-ravaged RTGS dollar and replaced it with what is now called the Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG), which is backed by gold and other precious metals produced in Zimbabwe.

It was the sixth time Zimbabwe was relaunching its currency since a devastating economic crisis intensified in 2008, forcing the country to dollarise for the first time.

In 2016, the government introduced the bond notes and coins, which were supposed to be at par with the US dollar as it tried to address cash shortages.

The bond notes were largely rejected by Zimbabweans and by 2019 their value had plummeted, forcing the government to end a decade of dollarisation by introducing the RTGS as the sole legal tender.

Market watchers said by the time it was abandoned the RTGs had lost 70% of its value in the first three months of 2024 and inflation was hovering around 2 647% — the highest in the world.

It was against such a background that the ZiG was viewed with skepticism, especially in border lying areas where the use of the local currency has become minimal in more than two decades.

In Mangwe District’s Madabe Village, which is close to Zimbabwe’s border with Botswana in Matabeleland South, villagers said they were in the dark about the new currency over a month after it was introduced.

The South African rand and Botswana pula are the most common currencies circulating in the area, but villagers feel that their exclusion from Zimbabwe’s financial systems denies them many opportunities to sustain their livelihoods.

Women, who are involved in grassroots economic activities such as cooperatives and savings clubs, said the lack of information about the ZiG in their communities was proof that the authorities did not care about the wellbeing of people living in remote parts of the country.

Sipho Moyo, a 57-year-old grandmother who runs a poultry project and is part of a savings club from Madabe Village, said she was skeptical about the new currency because there was an information blackout following its introduction on April 5.

“I don’t know anything about the ZiG,” Moyo said.

“I heard that there was a new currency, but there is no information about it.

“We cannot have trust in a currency that we are not familiar with because we have not seen how it looks like.”

She bemoaned the fact that Zimbabwe had undergone numerous currency changes to the extent that it becomes confusing to ordinary people.

Zimbabwe’s dollar has been renamed many times as the monetary authorities try to deal with different episodes of hyperinflation. The currencies include bearer cheques, agro-cheques, bond notes, RTGs and now the ZiG.

“I fear being scammed because it will be difficult for an elderly person like me to adjust to the frequent currency changes,” Moyo said.

“Here we use mostly the pula or rand. Local shops never accepted the RTGs and we see the same happening with the ZiG.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by villagers in neighbouring Matobo District where the local currency is almost non-existent.

Evis Dube (46) from Lingwe Village said she only heard about the introduction of the new currency through social media.

“We are yet to see the ZiG,” Dube said. “We hear that there is a new currency through social media posts.

“The most dominant currency here is the rand and very few people use the US dollar.

“We are eager to see this new currency because we are also citizens of Zimbabwe. As it is, we never got to see the RTGs until it was phased out.”

She said villagers wanted to be educated about the new exchange rates so that they would not shortchanged in business transactions.

Siduduzile Siziba from Bhidi Village said currency instability was one of the reasons young people in areas such as Matobo were being forced to migrate to other countries in search of better economic opportunities.

“My children left the country because the economy is not doing well and the RTGs had no value,” Siziba said.

“One couldn’t use the RTGs to budget or plan anything. We just hope that things will be different this time around because we are tired of changing currencies.

“The government must help educate us through our community leaders and sending its officials to come and talk to us.”

Another villager Mabusi Moyo from Zamadube Village said people were eager to use the local currency, but there was little information about its existence.

“We actually want to use our own currency,” she said.

 “There is this challenge of businesses not having change for smaller denominations because we are using foreign currency and people end up losing their money.

“We want our ZiG, which will make transactions easier.”

National Consumer Rights Association spokesperson Effie Ncube said people in remote areas were still not aware of the ZiG and this was limiting their participation in the economy.

“Many people in Zimbabwe, especially in rural and other remote areas, have not seen, let alone used the ZiG currency,” Ncube said.

“They just hear rumours or news about its existence. This is happening weeks after it was introduced.

“Without sufficient information on the monetary system people cannot plan their lives properly.

“They can be victimised and manipulated in many ways. For example, because of insufficient information people in rural areas are being defrauded by unscrupulous individuals, who go into rural areas to take advantage of poverty and hunger to purchase livestock for a few ZiG notes, claiming they are at par with the US dollar.

“This will further impoverish the already poor households.”

Bulilima West legislator Dingumuzi Phuti said he was doing his part as a community leader to educate people in his largely rural constituency about the new currency, but urged institutions such as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to take a leading role.

“Speaking as a legislator, I am from the community right now where I was teaching people about such things,” Phuti told Southern Eye on Sunday.

“Among many topics I take time to explain to people that the government has introduced the fifth strongest currency in Africa and the strongest in southern Africa, which is called the ZiG.

“That's my contribution as an MP and I challenge other financial institutions, especially the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to do road shows that should go to rural areas, growth points and small towns to promote the use of the ZiG.”

Phuti, who is also the Information, Communication Technology and Courier Services deputy minister, said awareness campaigns on the introduction of the new currency must not be confined to urban areas.

 “I don't think we should continue using this one size fits all approach of saying because there have been awareness campaigns running in Bulawayo and Harare already the same can’t be said in rural areas,” he said.

“We have to devolve in the spirit of devolution to go down to communities that still  need financial inclusion out there so that they understand the ZiG as a new currency, both as electronic money and as  cash if it can be available in that form.”

Zimbabwe will continue to use the multicurrency system until 2030 where the ZiG will circulate alongside the US dollar, rand and pula, among other currencies.

*This story was produced with support from the WAN-IFRA Women in News Social Impact Reporting initiative.

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