Zimbabwe Slashes Retirement Age As Cash Runs Out

Zimbabwe is so desperate for cash it has cut the retirement age for members of its enormous uniformed forces from 60 years to 50.

Only those who fought in the 1970s liberation struggle are allowed to remain in service until 65.

In another cost-cutting measure this week, Zimbabwe freed nearly all its female and juvenile prisoners as it cannot feed them.

The Ministry of Defence recommended amendments to the Defence Act, which will see all soldiers now retiring at 50, unless they're asked to stay on by the defence minister.

This is likely to affect scores of still-serving top army chiefs and their subordinates, according to civil service statistics.

Economists say Zimbabwe needs to reduce the size of its public service by more than half because at present it consumes more then 80 percent of government revenue.

Zimbabwe is also trying to fall in with advice from the International Monetary Fund as it tries to secure a loan for the first time since 1999.

The economy is so short of cash it has cut withdrawals to about R3 000 a day and so teachers have to queue for two days a month to withdraw their monthly salary.

Many ATMs are closed now so those who want to withdraw cash usually have to go into a bank to secure money from tellers.

Lower-paid workers can only afford bank fees at two local banks and the post office. Other banks have dramatically increased charges in the last month. Even South Africa's Stanbic has massively cut the amount of cash it will allow to be withdrawn from its top earners.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa tried to cut annual public service bonuses last year, but President Robert Mugabe insisted the double cheque be paid, but long after the end of the year.

The economy also contracted dramatically after Mugabe's Zanu-PF party won disputed elections in 2013 and nervous bank account holders withdrew about R12 billion over the next year. Some suspect most of that cash was exported, legally, as there were no limits on taking money out of the country following establishment of an inclusive government in 2009 and adoption of the US dollar and other foreign money as the national currency

One businessman who has a R5 million monthly wage bill said on Friday that he was queueing at his bank for the second time in two weeks for cash to pay his workers.

He asked not to be named but is a major food producer: “I have found some cash, from someone, but will have to pay him between five and 10 percent premium to get the cash.

“This is going to affect my profit margin very heavily,” he said.

Another, much smaller, businessman said he was unable to draw R2 400 from his account on Friday but his bank said it would call him when it received supplies of cash.

Zimbabwe uses US dollars as cash since the Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned in 2008 when it became worthless after years of hyperinflation.

Now central bank governor John Mangudya says he wants Zimbabwe to “evolve” from US dollars to the South African rand.

“The US dollar makes our exports too expensive,” he said in an interview with Independent Newspapers earlier this month.

He has also said he will soon introduce “bond” notes, designed and printed in Europe, and that these notes are secure because they are backed by a US$200 million loan from the Afreximbank.

“These notes will be deposited as a 5 percent bonus for exporters,” he said.

“We also have to reduce imports.”

But many are suspicious the notes will be reprinted in Zimbabwe and lead to another financial collapse.

Mangudya, widely respected in the financial sector in Zimbabwe, introduced change, known as bond coins, minted in South Africa in 2014 as there were no coins for change for US dollars, and shoppers were then usually given sweets or credit notes. The bond coins are accepted and used all over country.

“Bond coins and bond notes are different” said a businessman.

“How do we know they won't print these bond notes in Zimbabwe, as they did before?”

The largest bond note will have a value equivalent to about R320.

Prices for most goods in shops, mainly from South Africa, have not gone down significantly as the value of the rand decreased by about 35 percent in the last year.

“We won't be putting money back into the banks now as there is no point,” said the food exporter in despair.