HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Harare resident Alice Mhandara spent a U.S. dollar to take the bus into town to answer the government call to trade in her old Zimbabwe dollars, but she left the bank in disgust when her 90 trillion in old currency wouldn't even cover the bus ticket home.
Starting this week, Zimbabweans started trading in their stashes of the defunct local dollars for U.S. dollars as part of a process to phase out a currency that hasn't been used since 2009 and features bills with at least 12 zeros. But few have taken them up on their offer.
"I used a dollar just to get into town. I will need another dollar to return home. Tell me, where will I get that dollar when they are offering me 36 cents for 90 trillion (Zimbabwe) dollars?" she asked clutching a plastic bag with her Zimbabwe notes.
At its worst, in 2009, inflation ran 230 million percent and the government was printing a 100 trillion dollar note — that is now worth 40 cents.
Economic decline led to a collapse of the Zimbabwean currency in the 2000s and it finally had to be abandoned in favor of U.S. dollars and South African rand.
The trade is part of a process of phasing out the local currency for good, says the government.
"Zimbabweans are excited. At least we are giving them something for the notes," Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya told the Associated Press Monday.
But the few that have taken up the government on its offer have been disappointed.
"Surely, $1.40 for all that money?" said Elijah Risinamhodzi, a 67-year-old pensioner trading in 410 trillion dollars. "And to think I have been keeping that money for years and years; this is so unfair. People have loads and loads of these notes at home but they will not exchange them for such peanuts."
Others fear the trade-in is just a prelude to revive the local currency — a plan the government denies.
"Zimbabweans are so traumatized and as a result there is no confidence among us as a nation," said bank governor Mangudya about inflation. "We are trying to end that trauma by officializing the death of the Zimdollar."