Letter from Home – Closer to revolution than ever

Dear Family and Friends,
As early as nine in the morning at least 250 people stood in snaking lines waiting to be searched on the roadside. Three buses, one minibus, one haulage truck and 14 cars had been ordered to stop at the roadblock. This is not a description of a scene in

war torn Lebanon or Iraq, but of a simple single lane highway coming into town on Friday morning.
The passengers from all the buses had been ordered to get out, line up and open their suitcases, hold-alls and even hand bags so that they could be searched. The driver of the haulage truck had been ordered to undo all the tie downs and remove the huge tarpaulin that covered a full load of freight on his trailer. Most of the people in the string of cars that grew ever longer were having to get out and open boots and push seats forward.
The interrogations and searches were being conducted by youngsters in their late teens and early twenties. And what where all these young “officials” looking for – it wasn’t guns or bombs or drugs it was money – our own money. If people were carrying more than was “allowed” by the Governor of the Reserve Bank, it was being confiscated at roadblocks by pimply faced youths until you could prove where you got your own money from.
It has been an utterly shambolic week in Zimbabwe, which began on Tuesday when the Reserve Bank Governor knocked three zeroes off our currency and introduced a new set of notes which are to be used as money. He called them “a new family of bearer cheques.”
He said that we have three weeks to change all our old dollars into new dollars and that from the 21st August our existing bank notes would no longer be recognised as money. But it isn’t really three weeks because there are two public holidays, three Sundays and three half working days in the change over period.
The Governor then set limits for the amounts of money people and companies could change at a time – with maximum amounts being set per week. He barred all retail outlets from selling goods worth more than Z$100 million (£100) in cash to one customer and said no one could move around with more than Z$100 million in cash on them.
If there was petrol to buy – which suddenly there isn’t- Z$100 million would only just be enough to fill a standard fuel tank of a family car. Cheques were being rejected by banks if they were written in the old denominations, ATM dispensers were shut down, most shops did not have the new notes and the banks were still giving out old notes for withdrawals. Everyone I met was panicking. Most do not have bank accounts so if the banks haven’t got the new notes to exchange for the old, they are sunk and have no option except to frantically spend whatever money they have on things they can’t afford, just to get rid of the old money.
And then, worst of all, came the typical threats and intimidation so characteristic of life in Zimbabwe. Just two days after making his announcement, Gono said he was considering shortening the time period even further – to stop the crooks. He did not say what happens to the plain, ordinary, desperately poor people who aren’t crooks. People with just a few million dollars in remote dusty villages who would have to use most of their money just to get to a town with a bank.
There are apparently no exceptions for the weak, the frail or the elderly, for those who are in hospital, incapacitated or unable to travel – there is not a glimmer of compassion for the common man and woman.
Zimbabwe this week feels closer to a revolution than at any other time in the last six years. The rage on people’s faces as they stand waiting to be searched at the road blocks, waiting to have their own money taken from them, is palpable. Until next week, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

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