Zimbabwe: No Cash to go Cashless?

Adriana Siwela, a 25-year-old college student in Harare, thought she could dash into a shop for a quick purchase of a US$2 packet of biscuits. But the cashiers sent her away. Her US$20 bill is considered “big money” in Zimbabwe these days – and big trouble for shops, which often cannot provide change for them.

She had to sprint out of the shop and into the car park, where a bevy of unlicensed currency traders offered to swap her U.S. money for a bundle of Zimbabwean bills, known as Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollars. And they would only exchange the money at the official rate of 115 to the dollar, far below the informal market rate.

“It´s a frustrating situation,” Ms. Siwela said. “A transaction of a minute swells to 10 minutes.”

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The cashless society from an ethical point of view

The debate about the move towards a cashless society has been at the center of the scene for several years, now. Various angles have been taken by economists, politicians, banking institutions and sociologists. Beyond the technicalities of the debate, lies the question of freedom, of inter-citizen solidarity and of governmental responsibility. The debate cannot remain in the hands of financial specialists, it is first and foremost an ethical, political and societal issue.

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