Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
It is 7pm at the western edge of Harare central business district (CBD). Multitudes criss-cross in various directions in ghostly figures that have no obligation to greet each other.
Unlike in the village where it is mandatory even for strangers to greet, in Harare, each brain minds its own business and only a familiar face triggers greetings.
A commuter omnibus turns from Rotten Row into Samora Machel Avenue, headed for Warren Park suburb.
Mambo Dhuterere, the musician of the moment, is blaring at a potentially deafening volume from the vehicle radio.
The conductor lowers the gadget’s volume for audibility, Mambo Dhuterere’s powerful voice is reduced to a thin shriek.
The conductor asks for payment; the damage is $6.
Coins and notes are conveyed from the back, row-by-row, the mathematics has been getting more complex lately, kombi crews now favour the gradual movement of their dues.
He collects money from the first two rows and all appears in order, jokes are being thrown for ambience.
On the third row, the conductor frowns and wrinkles immediately become concentrated on his forehead.
He appears unamused and sternly asks a question that betrays his agitation;
“Vabereki hatidi miedzo, abhadhara ma25 cents ndiani? Ndipeiwo mari inotenga! (Who has paid using these 25 cent coins? This money is no longer legal tender. It has no value!),” the conductor exclaims.
The exchange between the passenger and the conductor goes on for a while, the lady is pardoned, but endures a hellish journey home.
She, like many other Zimbabweans, is a victim of the country’s all-powerful street economists.
When they decide, even economic fundis are left grappling for answers.
Each money launch is accompanied by aggressive publicity in all decent media, but when the money loses its buying power, the decisions are made in dark alleys.
Ever since the introduction of bond coins, there has been a silent death of small denominations led by the informal sector.
The 25 cents coin is “officially” out of circulation, suffering the fate of its smaller siblings — 10 cents and 5 cents — which are now long forgotten.
In Domboshava, the 50 cent coin is now being rejected, if there is no intervention, it will become another addition to the list of coins that used to buy.
Who is pulling strings?
Kombi operators who have been the chief culprits concede culpability, but convey the blame.
They say there is a bigger force.
Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators secretary-general (GHACO) Ngoni Katsvairo says the value chain beyond them is rejecting the so-called small coins.
“Although a lot of people are putting the blame on us, we are not the source of the confusion. Service stations across the board are refusing small coins, the same is being said by those we buy our spares from,” says Katsvairo.
Sometimes service stations only accept $100 — which only buys just above five litres — in coins and the rest has to be electronic money.
The whole downtown ecosystem now appears averse to the money.
“We used to use those coins to pay our workers, but lately, they too have been refusing them saying they are not being accepted in most places they buy,” Katsvairo says.
What happens when they find themselves in possession of coins, do they throw them away?
“Main supermarkets have been our refuge, they still accept coins, so every now and then they are kind enough to give us bigger denominations,” says Katsvairo.
Kombi operators have the easier option of banking the money they earn, but instead they relay the pain to commuters.
Following the value chain, service stations claim their refusal of the money is in the interest of efficiency.
A petrol attendant from one of the leading service stations in Harare says fuel prices are making their lives difficult.
“Petrol prices are going up, people are paying over $1 000 for fuel.
“Imagine having to count that in 25 cents coins, we would spend the whole day.”
It is not clear whether the decision is an instruction from their management or their own discretion.
Some fuel retailers say they still accept all legal tender.
Zuva Petroleum Chief Executive Officer Bethwell Gumbo told The Herald their workers have no such instruction.
“We have not given a directive to any of our workers to reject money.
‘In any case, we bank our money, so there is no need for us to insist on specific denominations,” Gumbo says.
Although there is a bureau de change on almost every street corner, some businesses still appear blind to their existence, especially those that sell spares.
Their penchant to acquire foreign currency from clandestine sources has fuelled their attitude towards the coins.
“Bureau de changes do not give us money when we need it, so we resort to street corners for forex.
“From the start, they made it clear they do not accept coins, so we have no business accepting them,” says Masimba, a spares seller who runs his shop around Kaguvi area.
Not all downtown retailers are shunning 25 cent coins, but those who are accepting have slapped a premium on them.
Officials need to sit down and find a name for the situation prevailing in quasi-formal pockets of the economy.
What used to be the three tier pricing system, has extended, there is now a price for bank transfers, mobile money, notes, higher denomination coins and lower denomination coins (where the 25 cents falls).
It appears the regulators are unaware of the fate some of the money they preside over has met.
Economist and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s (RBZ) Monetary Policy Committee member Eddie Cross says they will be looking into the matter.
“This is the first time I have heard of that, and I don’t know why people are rejecting these coins.
“Maybe it could be that inflation has reduced the value of coins to the extent that they are no longer desired,” says Cross.
It appears the direction the economy takes is not being determined by those who took time to study Economics.
“There is a different layer of experts, the proverbial ‘Wall Street of Zimbabwe’”.
Even the exchange rate is dictated by those with their backs against the wall, literally.
From the comfort of the vehicle boots and street pavements, they analyse monetary policy, budget statements as well as monetary policies.
What they say appears to be plucked from conjecture and permutations whose source remains unknown.
Now they have rendered 25 cents and its younger siblings irrelevant.
Which begs the question, who decommissions money?
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