Samantha Chipoyera Features Writer
On Monday, most Zimbabweans woke up to a WhatsApp message which read, “Buy basic commodities and keep them. The USD/bond rate is escalating at an alarming rate and the USD has disappeared. There are people who have huge amounts in the banks and have failed to move their funds. They are now hoarding basic commodities by swiping then sell onto the streets to get cash. As we speak if you have USD100 cash you will be given 122 Bond notes.
“If you want RTGS you will get 155. The rates are hiking at an alarming rate. The situation is changing every hour. Vane nzeve dzekunzwa gadzirai remagwana.”
This message set off a chain of events that have left cash hoarders and those with high bank balances in the cold as they panicked and spent all they had in their bank and EcoCash accounts.
Others who were stashing thousands of bond notes in their homes at a time the country was facing a shortage of cash in circulation regretted the decision as they also joined the panic buying madness only to figure out goods they thought would run out were still being restocked.
Some are stuck with boxes of cooking oil and cartons of sugar and rice, blankets, clothing items and zero balances in their accounts.
They now curse the rumour mill, which each day poisoned them with more and more speculation some even claiming the bond note would be phased out anytime. So toxic were the rumours that consumers were told the bond note would soon lose its value just like the way Bearer Cheques lost value in 2008.
Surprisingly, the same people ignored an official statement on the need for currency and economic reforms issued by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube.
In the statement, the minister said various measures were being put in place to accelerate economic reforms that are necessary to right sizing the economy.
He noted, in particular, that Government was aware of concerns surrounding the status of RTGS deposits, following the directive to separate these accounts from the nostro foreign currency accounts.
On this the minister assured Zimbabweans saying: “We commit to preserve the value of these (RTGS) balances on the current rate of exchange of 1 to 1, in order to protect people’s savings.”
Yet, walking into supermarkets in the central business district showed a picture of desperate cash hoarders trying to dispose their money by hoarding groceries.
Some were buying everything and anything, no matter the price just to rid the Bond note.
From cooking oil, to sugar, rice, pasta, cooking utensils, dish towels, matches, candles, weight scales, other electricals, furniture, bond paper, and other food stuffs, the cash hoarders like kids in a candy shop were running crazy and picking anything.
Unbeknown to many is that the foreign currency exchange rates, on the black market, which were responsible for the panic had plunged starting Thursday afternoon.
The same rumour mill that had been poisoning them with information since the beginning of the week also went mute leaving the cash hoarders with no clue as to what to do next.
In the confusion they kept buying and supermarket pay points and tills soon filled up with Bond notes that were scarce just last week.
So shaken were cash hoarders that some even travelled from outside Harare just to rid the bond note.
A woman who identified herself as Mrs Munyoro said she came all the way from Murehwa to dispose of all the cash she had at home.
“I read on WhatsApp that there are price hikes and the Bond note is losing value.
“I could not risk losing all my savings so I had to come to Harare to buy furniture. It’s not like I do not have furniture at home but it’s better for me to change everything that I have than to lose my money,” she said.
When the message circulated she had initially attempted to buy a car using the Bond notes but car dealers had refused.
“I wanted to buy a car with this money but the car dealers in Harare told me that they were no longer accepting bond notes and only wanted US dollars.
“I tied to change the Bond notes into US dollars but the exchange rates were very high so I just decided to buy furniture than lose what I sweated for,” said Munyoro.
Now she regrets not banking her money and says she has learned her lesson.
Another woman who declined to be identified bought a lot of Kango pots and plates at OK Mart in Braeside.
She told The Herald that she had to buy something valuable before all the money she had worked hard for lose value.
“I cannot risk losing what I have really worked hard for.
“I sell clothes and I have been keeping my profits at home because I wanted to buy a residential stand but now I just have to use that money to buy my kitchen ware before it loses value,” she said.
At Glen View Area 8 Complex it was not business as usual this week.
A lot of people flocked there to buy furniture and some of the carpenters were refusing plastic money as a form of payment as they demanded United States dollars and rands.
Ms Lindiwe Marufu, who is a carpenter at Glen View 8 Complex, said she was shocked to see that there was a lot of cash.
“I am shocked to see people buying with cash. People were keeping cash in their houses. These are the people who are very selfish. One customer bought furniture worth $2 000 and he paid it to the last cent in cash.
“If you ask around most people are neither using EcoCash nor swiping. They are buying using cash but a few weeks ago cash was not circulating,” said Marufu.
At a supermarket in the CBD, one man could be seen pushing a trolley with five irons, blenders, fan heaters, and toasters.
“I had a lots of money stashed at home. I want to get something out of it,” he said as he looked around the shop for more merchandise.
He said he had learnt his lesson, first to bank money and keep it in circulation and second to never listen to what people spread on social media.
“I have realised that most problems we have in Zimbabwe are self made. I was shocked by the amounts of money I saw people take out to pay for goods they did not even need. What were they doing with all that money at home?
“People should just start banking and keep money in circulation. This way we will not have cash shortages and speculation,” he said.
Consumer Council of Zimbabwe Chief Executive, Mrs Rosemary Siyachitema, said Zimbabweans should stop panicking as most foodstuffs are there in local supermarkets.
She also urged Zimbabweans to desist from panic buying and also to buy groceries that are enough for them.
“People should not panic as foodstuff is there in shops, they should buy what is enough for them and they should not buy in bulk so that everyone gets to buy. Let us not be selfish so that we build our economy,” said Siyachitema.
As those who panicked count their loses, the official position still remains. Prof Ncube assured the nation that they would preserve the RTGS balances on the current rate of exchange of 1 to 1, in order to protect people’s savings.
In short there is no need to panic.