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Cash shortage hits Zimbabwe banks as thousands stranded for Christmas

A Zimbabwean man counts a big stack of money to buy some bananas in Harare 23 January 2008 as the ongoing economical crisis in Zimbabwe   -  
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ALEXANDER JOE/AFP -

Zimbabwe

Thousands of Zimbabweans lined up outside banks and currency exchange offices across the country on Thursday, some for days, in a desperate bid to get cash before Christmas.

Most are unlikely to succeed as the inflation-ravaged southern African country facing a severe shortage of foreign currency, preventing many Zimbabweans from returning home for the holidays or buying Christmas presents.

In the capital Harare, hundreds of people, sometimes with babies, were sleeping in queues with no social distancing, according to some local reporters.

"I've been in the queue since last Thursday," said Shepherd Mabamba outside a currency exchange office. "The manager has just told us that they have no money and that we should come back tomorrow," he said in disappointment.

In August, bureaux de change were allowed to sell foreign currency to individuals at a favourable rate in order to promote financial inclusion and access to foreign currency for low-value transactions.

This has led to bureaux de-change being inundated with customers seeking to benefit. "The government should just come up with a plan for the money to be deposited in our bank accounts and we withdraw it directly from our accounts," says Linos Maphosa in the queue.

The government-imposed exchange rate for the US dollar is currently about half the black market rate. 

The shortage of banknotes is a legacy of the hyperinflation 13 years ago that forced the government to abandon the Zimbabwean dollar.

In 2018, inflation hit 500 billion percent as the government printed one-hundred-trillion dollar bank notes that could barely buy a loaf of bread. All savings were wiped out.

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