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Meet ZiG, Zimbabwe's latest baffling currency

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Zimbabwe has ordered people to use the ZiG. It's a new currency the government hopes will resolve more than two decades of economic turmoil. But at a market in Harare, vendors and customers say, in reality, the ZiG is in short supply, and the American greenback still rules. Kate Bartlett has more.

(CROSSTALK)

KATE BARTLETT, BYLINE: At Mbare, the bustling main market in the capital, Harare, the dollar is still king. Here, vendor Tiri Zhiradzagois is still selling his wares in U.S. dollars.

TIRI ZHIRADZAGOIS: All we have seen is the 10-dollar note and nothing else.

BARTLETT: This is despite a government edict that everyone use the new gold-backed currency, the ZiG, introduced in April.

ZHIRADZAGOIS: We do not have the currency on the ground. And No. 2, we do not understand it because, to understand a currency, it has to be in circulation.

BARTLETT: He's not alone in his frustration. Zimbabweans have faced a baffling rotating door of currencies - from something called RTGS to bond notes - for two decades, but nothing has worked to stem the economic crisis. At one point, in 2008, the country had one of the highest inflation rates in history. Shoppers had to cart around suitcases of billion and trillion Zimbabwe dollar notes, recalls Kudakwashe Mhembere, another vendor, who said he was also still trading in U.S. dollars because no one had the ZiG.

KUDAKWASHE MHEMBERE: This reminds me of the time when Zimbabwe's inflation went way, way up, and we were to use trillons - if you still remember those days when we used to buy things with monies in sacks and stuff like that. Everyone believes that we are going where we were in the late 2000s.

BARTLETT: The ZiG was officially supposed to be 13:1 to the U.S. dollar but is already devalued and currently trades at about 20:1, vendors say.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Safe for downtown.

BARTLETT: Black-market Forex traders on the street have long done a roaring trade in Zimbabwe but have gone to ground since a police crackdown that's seen more than 200 arrested. They are now trading privately through WhatsApp.

Meanwhile, members of the elite, including high-ranking government officials, have been slammed for themselves continuing to use Forex. These so-called currency wars have been going on for decades, according to Zimbabwean economic analyst, Tinashe Murapata.

TINASHE MURAPATA: Why is government insisting on using a local currency? Again, we come back to the perennial problem over the last three decades, which is expenditure over revenue. So essentially, if we were to dollarize, then the government itself, or treasury, would be bankrupt 'cause the economy is just not generating enough dollars for government to sustain itself purely on a dollar economy.

BARTLETT: Murapata says the jury's still out on the ZiG, but he's not optimistic. In their trademark dark humor, born of years of economic and political strife, Zimbabweans anticipating yet another sharp turn have taken to calling their elusive new currency the ZigZag (ph).

For NPR News, I'm Kate Bartlett in Johannesburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA SONG, "BUS RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kate Bartlett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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