Posted by zi.editor on August 26th, 2008 in News & Updates.
The technology is supposed to be very simple. Someone somewhere in the world sends you some money via their closest Western Union office and in ten minutes time you can collect it from your local Western Union office.
That’s what Namatai Hamandishe was told by her husband who recently moved to the United Kingdom to look for work, as many Zimbabweans have done. So when he informed her after two months that he had sent her some Pounds from his first salary she got very excited and made plans to travel to the nearest Western Union office- 20km away in Harare. She and her five month old baby got onto a bus from the town of Chitungwiza very early one morning to go and collect the money.
By half past seven she was in the CBD. Her plan was to get her money, get out of town and be back home within a few hours. Someone she asked directed her to the Karigamombe branch of Western Union. There was a queue there, something she hadn’t anticipated. She was used to long winding queues at the banks, but here at a place that doled out money in forex!?
She says her heart sank when she saw how long the queue was. When she went to join it, the man at the end told her that this branch was only serving 85 people on that day and he was number 85 so she needed to try a branch about three blocks down the same road, Samora Machel Avenue.
The queue at the other branch was three times as long and, as she realised very quickly after joining it, was not moving at all. Someone she asked told her there was no money and the branch was expecting it at lunch time.
That was the beginning of a ten day ordeal for Namatai. Ten days when she came into town every morning, sometimes as early as 4am, but there were always excuses. On one day she actually got to the front of the queue after seven hours of waiting, only to be told that the amount that her husband had sent her had cents in it and as they had no coins they could not process it. Despite appealing with them to keep the cents and just give her the dollar amount, they refused, saying they had to give her the exact amount.
In the end she had to ask her husband to recall the money and send a rounded amount. So, ten working days after she first received the news about her money, she finally got it.
Namatai is one of many Zimbabweans who have to bear the ordeal of waiting hours and sometimes days for their money at Western Union offices in the capital. The officials at the counters say that sometimes there is no money. There are times when they give out money only to people who are receiving rounded figures and then sometimes they give only to people who are receiving only up to a certain amount of money, for example a maximum of US$100.00, to make it go round to as many people as possible.
In an economy where very few have jobs (it is estimated that 80% of people are jobless) or receive meaningful salaries, many Zimbabweans now rely on financial support from their relatives in the Diaspora. There are many ways to get the money home: Through friends and colleagues who are travelling. Through convoluted transfer systems that enable the receiver to get Zimbabwe dollars in their account. Through goods and services purchased in the UK, USA, Australia, etc and delivered in Zimbabwe. And through money transfer agencies such as Western Union.
Time was when you could walk into any branch of Western Union in Harare and walk out a few minutes later with your money, but since November 2007, something happened that regular users of the agency still don’t understand. Almost overnight the queues grew long and their money was not readily available.
A ten minute promise of technological convenience has been stretched into ten day fables of total frustration.