Been inside a bank lately

Dear Family and Friends,
If you think things are back to normal in Zimbabwe, just walk into a bank. Its something I haven't done for many months and flipping through my last cheque book reminded me of the mayhem of our banks less than a year ago

. My cheque stubs look like something from a crazy kindergarten. There’s a payment for a telephone bill of Z$400 million, another to a dentist for $41 billion. There’s a deposit of $4 trillion, 600 billion and another page showing a balance on hand of $14 trillion. One page is slashed through in red ink with the words: “NB: Aug 08: 10 zeroes removed by Gono.” And then, in October 2008, also in red ink on a cheque stub are the words: “Can’t get in bank, queues of thousands.”

It seems like a lifetime ago but in fact its just a year ago that this was happening and now of course Zimbabwe doesn’t even have its own currency – thanks to Zanu (PF) and Reserve Bank Governor Gono. Zimbabwe’s much talked about sovereignty is long gone when it comes to the economy and now we buy and sell in US dollars and South African Rand. Having been taught since childhood to save, save save, I decided it was time to get back into the banking habit. I was the only customer in the newly refurbished international bank in my home town last week. Yes I still have an account, they told me after tapping in my numbers, but it’s no longer valid. The balance left there in January 2009 of trillions, or was it quadrillions, is gone – apparently eaten up by devaluation and ledger fees, not converted to ‘real’ US dollar money.

A new account number has been allocated to me, the bank said but it’s dormant and requires a deposit of US$20 to bring it to life. No, the bank say, the money left in my account doesn’t qualify to activate the new account, you must deposit REAL money they insist. Once this has been done I enquire about a cheque book – oh no we haven’t got any yet I’m told. And an ATM card – oh please, what planet am I on to be asking such an insane question! A week later with the account open and activated I take a deep breath and embark on the first withdrawal. I am the only customer in the bank and my shoes click loudly as I cross the polished floor. The lady at the enquiries desk is applying her make up and doesn’t stop as I stand in front of her. She won’t tell me if my expected transfer has arrived. She says I have to fill in a slip before she can tap the number into the computer. She doesn’t have any slips, I’ve got to get them from a man sitting at a desk back at the entry door. I walk back across the banking hall, the man is busy chatting and laughing to someone on the phone. He ignores me until he is finished. I fill in the slip back at the enquiries desk while the lady carries on with her face decorating, mirror in hand, lips pouted.

Finally with a completed cash withdrawal slip in hand I approach the only teller on duty. I am still the only customer but have to wait because the teller is busy – chatting to a friend. At last I’m noticed, the friend steps aside and I am served. My greeting to the teller is ignored. My slip is checked, ticked and stamped and then all the information is copied, written by hand into a ledger. This fools me completely because the electricity is on and the computer screen at the tellers side is working. The teller takes my ID, withdrawal slip and ledger book and disappears. When he reappears he says: What about my commission? What commission I ask, saying I wasn’t informed there would be any commission and saying that I know the depositor paid bank transfer fees and commissions at the other end. “No,” he says, you have to pay a commission.” I am then told to deduct the amount and change and countersign all the amounts written in words and numbers on the now stamped and signed withdrawal slips to allow the bank its commission.

Finally, after 17 minutes and now with one other customer in the bank, the money looks like it may be forthcoming. The teller shouts out through the bullet proof glass to someone in the back to bring him bank notes. They only have small denominations it turns out and finally these appear in a locked steel box. Checked and rechecked below the counter, the teller finally pushes a pile of notes across to me. No, I say, I wish you to count the notes to me. “What?” he says. I repeat my request and he rolls his eyes and with an audible sigh, the bank notes are counted to me. 26 minutes later and again the only person in this very well known international bank, I leave. Will I be back soon – I don’t think so. This is the face of Zimbabwe for investors and tourists, what a shocking disgrace both for a country and an international bank.

Until next week, thanks for still reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

Post published in: Opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *