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Soldiers Accused of Harassing Customers at Zimbabwe Banks

Waiting in long lines to withdraw small amounts of cash from banks has become a way of life for Zimbabweans, but residents of Gokwe, Midlands province, say they also face harassment by soldiers who have beaten and harassed those in line for real or imagined offenses.

Sources in Gokwe said soldiers stationed at the local Grain Marketing Board depot under the so-called Operation Maguta ("Food Security") collective farming program have beaten people and inflicted humiliating punishments after accusing people of jumping the bank queue.

The sources said several teachers who sought to withdraw their salaries on Wednesday were beaten or ejected from the line by the soldiers. They said that on Monday a pregnant woman was forced to crawl for about 50 meters after being accused of jumping the queue.

Though the town of Gokwe has six banks, the inability of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to satisfy consumer and business demand for bank notes has forced people to queue for hours to withdraw the daily maximum allowance. That was recently raised to Z$50,000, which would only purchase three loaves of bread with hyperinflation daily eroding purchasing power.

A teacher speaking on condition he not be identified for told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the volatile political situation allows the soldiers take the law into their own hands because they know that even the police cannot challenge them.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...