Economics - Southern Africa - Zimbabwe - Finance
Zimbabweans relive harsh memories of last Christmas
Its only a few days before Christmas but its not a festive season for many Zimbabweans.

Long queues for cash have resurfaced countrywide as most financial institutions were caught napping by the huge numbers of people that have thronged banking halls over the past few days to withdraw money to prepare for the festive season.

On Tuesday morning some clients could be seen jostling for ticket numbers from security guards outside banks in the capital, Harare. They were hoping to be the first to be served on Wednesday when banks open. Tuesday is a Unity Day holiday.

Last year, the only public sign of the holidays was the queues outside banks on Christmas eve, as workers desperately tried to withdraw their salaries.

Anyone who wanted to buy rice, sugar or soap had to go to neighbouring South Africa or Botswana. This year Harare’s stores are full, decorated with “Seasons Greetings” and huge portraits of Santa Claus hanging on walls.

In a statement, central bank chief Gideon Gono said the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was not responsible for the queues and blamed lack of funding from treasury.

Gono said most of the banks did not have enough notes to cover demand associated with the festive period. He said the central bank could no longer perform its core function since it "was acutely under-funded by treasury, leaving the institution with no capacity to independently perform the lender of last resort function, let alone to import currency for banks".

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, availed in his 2010 national budget statement US$10 million to the central bank to cover it’s operations.

Cash shortages were last experienced following the dumping of the inflation-ravaged local currency in preference for other currencies such as the United States dollar, British pound and South African Rand earlier this year as banks struggled to pay public workers in hard cash.

But the cash shortages soon disappeared after the International Monetary Fund offered technical support to improve Zimbabwe’s payments system to enable banks to disburse foreign currency allowances to thousands of civil servants more efficiently.

This Christmas is the first in many years that Zimbabweans are going to be able to enjoy after a unity government between sworn enemies President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formed last February managed to end political tensions and halt a sever recession that had ravaged the country for the past decade.

Christmas is celebrated in Zimbabwe by over three-quarters of the population, who are mainly Christians. The day is marked by attending a morning church service, visiting friends, feasting and drinking.

Monica Dambara said for US$20 dollars a family in Zimbabwe could have a good Christmas as they could buy rice, chicken and drinks. “In Zimbabwe it’s all about rice and chicken, a little bit of salad and beer, US$20 dollars will do,” she said.