HARARE – A front page newspaper photograph with the headline: “Hundreds queue outside banks for hours to make withdrawals,” sent chills down our spines.
Whether we liked it or not it was impossible to stop the automatic flashback to five years ago.
The independent media reported that banks couldn’t meet the withdrawal requirements of depositors.
As a result limits were put on the amounts of withdrawals customers could make, ranging from $200 to $1 000 dollars a day.
Suddenly, the new phrase at every turn was “liquidity crunch” which in plain English simply means shortage of money.
A senior staff member at one bank, choosing anonymity for himself and his bank, told the press that the huge queues were only the result of ATM machines being down.
“We don’t want you to write a negative story on this one because it will have a boomerang effect, “he said.
A negative story creating a boomerang effect? How insulting it is for banks to be saying this to Zimbabweans who have all lost their money repeatedly in the past decade after a series of financial crises which most of us have yet to recover from.
Repeated devaluations including the notorious “Zero to Hero” debacle turned us all into paupers.
Pensions, insurance policies and savings were lost overnight.
We arrived at banks to find our balances reduced to zero.
Even worse were the times we arrived at banks, building societies and asset management houses to find the doors locked, staff gone and our life savings non-existent.
At no time during the worst of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis did the banks protect us, their customers.
They took our deposits and pay cheques with one hand and gave nothing back in return.
They limited the amount of our own money we could withdraw so we couldn’t pay school fees, buy life-sustaining medication, get enough food despite queuing for hours at our banks.
They stopped paying us interest.
They increased the minimum balance we had to leave in our accounts. They stopped sending us monthly bank statements.
They raised ledger fees repeatedly and introduced new charges for depositing or withdrawing cash and even counting our cash.
They even charged us when we went to the counter to enquire about the balance in our accounts.
Since the dollarisation of the economy in 2009, Zimbabwe has not become a nation of savers again — as we were prior to 2000.
No one trusts the banks with their money anymore and the continual 51 percent indigenisation threats make us even more scared of leaving our money in the banks.
Despite now trading in an international currency, the banks continue to give us minimal, if any, interest.
Putting the customer first is a mentality that still hasn’t seen the light of day in Zimbabwe.
Why is it that banks, like so many of the places where we do business, still don’t appreciate that without us, their customers, they wouldn’t have jobs, or banks?
It doesn’t take a picture or story in the paper to create the ‘boomerang effect’ banks are so scared of.
There are 10 million cell phones sending countless text messages every second, not to mention the queues we are ourselves standing in or seeing with our own eyes.
And as for the “expert” on ZBC TV on Wednesday night blaming the “liquidity crunch” on sanctions: oh please, get real!
It is time for all of us to respond to this sanctions blame game every time it is used by pointing out the fact that only 10 individuals and one company (the ZDI) remain on the EU restricted measures/ targeted sanctions list.