Zimbabwe’s promotion of ‘Plastic Money’ a daunting task

GOKWE, ZIMBABWE — Zimbabwe's central bank has embarked on a program to promote the use of credit and bank debit cards in the rural areas to ease the country's cash shortages that have rocked the southern Africa nation for more than a year.

Josephat Mutepfa, a deputy director at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe at Cheziya High School in Gokwe, about 300 kilometers southwest of Harare, is urging people in this mainly cotton-growing rural area to use credit and bank debit cards instead of cash all the time. As he later told VOA, promoting the use of such “plastic money” in Zimbabwe has not been easy.

“I think the topical issue has been the issue of interest on bank accounts,” said Mutepfa. “The other issue is: where do we get point of sale? The other issue is mainly, the issue of the unknown. People are not very confident in using new systems. And we also get a lot of questions from the people when we are out here which we take into account in terms of policy direction into the future.”

He said the program was getting a buy-in from community leaders such as traditional chiefs and church pastors who would convince their subjects to use plastic money.

Attempt to alleviate cash crunch

Zimbabwe has been facing an acute shortage of cash, forcing some people to sleep in bank lines hoping for better fortunes the following day. An introduction of Zimbabwe’s own currency called “bondnotes,” which traded at par with the U.S. dollar in November last year, has not helped the situation.

Diana Mugari from Gokwe is among those who say Zimbabwe is not yet ready for the credit and debit cards the central bank is promoting. She insists on cash.

“In our shops, those with plastic money face discrimination,” said Mugari. “Retailers allocate just one teller for those who want to use plastic money and there will be long queues. At times we do not get cash back or they put unreasonable limits on cash backs. That presents a difficult position for some as they would have traveled long distances here in Gokwe to a shop with a point of sale to buy.

She urged President Robert Mugabe’s government to ensure that retailers with point of sale machines take care of those who need cash in rural areas for other transactions that cannot be done electronically.

Addressing citizens’ concerns

Denford Mutashu, the president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers, said his organization was taking note of the concerns being raised by citizens.

He said his organization’s members had suffered from cash shortages and would want consumers’ concerns addressed to adopt the use of plastic money. One of the concerns that came up was the issue of retailers charging a premium price for those using credit and debit cards.

“It was one topical issue we even got here. We actually thought that rampant in urban areas (only),” said Mutashu. “But you notice that quite a number of consumers here complaining about that. What we do as the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers, the reason why we are here is to engage. If it is bad business practice, we also educate them. Where it requires the necessity to bring in authorities then we have to do that.”

In Gokwe, Mutepfa said business people taking advantage of the cash problems would be fined as they were causing Zimbabwe’s financial instability.

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