Many Zimbabweans spent Christmas on Tuesday bereft of cash - and consequently of traditional holiday festivities - as banks ignored instructions from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to keep distributing new bank notes and kept their doors closed.
Customers lined up at automated teller machines but could only withdraw Z$5 million, a pittance in an economy where inflation has roared out of control. Economists as well as consumers harshly criticized Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono for what they described as a botched operation to increase the supply of bank notes.
The central bank late last week issued new notes in denominations of up to $750,000 in an effort to relieve an acute shortage of cash which it blamed on hoarding by black market dealers in foreign exchange and commodities. But economists said the central bank should have issued much more currency, and in much larger denominations.
Reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported.
Shortages not only of cash but of food, water and electricity made Christmas 2007 one of the least festive ever for Zimbabweans, who have little to look forward to in 2008 as the economy continues to unravel after eight years of intensifying recession.
The new head of the International Monetary Fund mission in Harare told diplomats recently that the economy is entering “uncharted territory.” Robert Sharer reported an “exponential upswing" in inflation since March, comparing conditions in Zimbabwe with those seen in Weimar Germany following the First World War. His comments followed a research visit to the country by three IMF economists last week.
Some independent economists peg inflation at around 100,000%. Zimbabwe's Central Statistical Office stopped issuing official inflation reports several months ago, saying there were not enough goods in stores for it to make accurate calculations.
Economist Johnson Masvosva, a Zimbabwean who has relocated to Texas and visited the country recently, told reporter Blessing Zulu that the situation there has become desperate for ordinary people who must chase scarce goods at ever-rising prices.
In Zimbabwe's second-largest city of Bulawayo, Christmas Day for many residents was just another dreary day of work in the fields or searching for something to eat. Those fortunate enough to have family members abroad to send them remittances had the means to celebrate – though even they had to deal with shortages of water.
Correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported on the city's grim Christmas.
Many other Zimbabweans around the country shared disappointment this Christmas, though a few managed to find a way to enjoy the holiday. Reporter Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye talked with a few of them and filed a report.
Despite pervasive gloom, religious leaders preached a message hope on Christmas Day. Christian Alliance member Lawrence Berejena acknowledged that the Christmas spirit was dampened by rising poverty and shortages, but said Zimbabweans, who are mainly Christians, could survive by holding onto their faith and trust in God.
Bishop Trevor Manhanga, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and a member of the Ecumenical Peace Initiative, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that Zimbabweans experiencing hardship should look to a brighter future.