"It's a wonder people haven't started destroying banks and looting them" – Bank Teller

HARARE, – In most countries, if you are a service-orientated kind of person, being a bank teller is a pretty good job, but not in Zimbabwe. Banking staff deal daily with sullen or irate customers wanting to get their hands on their savings, but who have been limited by law to a ceiling on withdrawals that does not cover the cost of a loaf of bread.

Teller Thomas Sibanda* spoke to IRIN about being on a frontline of the country’s economic crisis, in which the inflation rate is officially in the hundreds of millions of percent, and one US dollar now costs around 20 billion Zimbabwean dollars.

"It used to be a pleasure dealing with clients coming to withdraw their money or carry out other transactions, but that is no longer the case. The banking system has steadily been going to the dogs, and as a bank teller I feel like an undertaker at a funeral.

"Granted, the queues are not as long as they used to be following the decision by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe [RBZ] to force clients to withdraw only a maximum of Z$10 billion [US$50 cents] per month if they are withdrawing their salaries [a restriction that was recently lifted].

"Most of the people who come to the banks these days are those [who do not have payslips] and can only withdraw Z$5 billion a week [US$25 cents – a restriction that remains in force].

"What does a person do with that small amount of money when a single trip into town is now costing a US dollar or its equivalent in Zimbabwean dollars? Where does the RBZ think the people are getting the rest of the money?

"When queues were so long it was such a big challenge for us. At one time a customer jumped into my cubicle and threatened to beat me up. The police and internal security were called, but the client refused to leave unless he was given his money, and even though the bank manager had given an order that we should not disburse more money, the cash was raised to give to the irate customer.

"That kind of anger among clients is understandable. Imagine that a person comes into town and joins a bank queue as early as 4 a.m., only to be told at the close of business that he can’t withdraw his money [because of the cash shortage], even though he or she knows that his account has sufficient funds.

"Back at home his family does not have a single cent to buy bread or other basic necessities. The customer doesn’t even have the money to travel back home. What do you expect him or her to do? It’s a wonder people haven’t started destroying banks and looting them.

"It is immoral and illegal, but I’m aware there are many bank officials who have been taking advantage of the cash crisis to enrich themselves. They ask clients for huge kickbacks, or use the client’s savings to buy foreign currency, which they pocket without the knowledge or consent of the customers.

"That practice, however, seems to have gone down after a number of the bank officials, some of them very senior, were arrested."

* Not his real name