Even in the best of times Zimbabwe is poorly supplied with bills and coin due to its monetary system of mixed hard currencies, particularly the US dollar and the South African rand, which creates liquidity constraints
Many thousands of Zimbabweans this week found themselves in a familar plight, unable to obtain cash from banks around the country ahead of holidays starting Thursday with celebrations of Unity Day - when rival liberation parties including President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU made peace in 1987.
Banks in Harare, Masvingo, Mutare and Marondera were swarmed by customers in the past few days as last-minute holiday preparations triggered cash shortages.
Sources said affected banks include the Zimbabwe Banking Corporation, Agribank and the People’s Own Savings Bank or POSB.
Observers said conditions were exacerbated by civil servants rushing to withdraw their bonuses as well as December salaries.
Sources said the police were called in Tuesday to Masvingo’s Agribank when clients threatened to beat up staff because the institution had run out of cash.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association Chief Executive Sifiso Ndlovu, among those unable to obtain cash, said many state workers and others were unable to draw their pay.
Economist John Robertson said long bank queues indicate the Zimbabwean economy is still heavily cash-based as many consumers eschew ATMs and credit cards.