The sun has just set in Harare. It is winter and by 6pm, darkness hovers over Zimbabwe’s capital city, signalling the end of yet another day.
news in depth BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
But for some in several streets, it is the beginning of tomorrow.
The lights here in the once prime First Street are not so brightbut one can see over a hundred people lying on the pavements wrapped in blankets spread out over cardboard boxes.
Far from First Street, along Robert Mugabe Way — a street named after the president who has presided over the country’s economic chaos — a group of 15 men dressed in jackets and long coats have lit up a fire using cardboard boxes and plastic to keep warm.
For the uninitiated, it may appear as if all these are homeless people, but for those who know about the country’s cash crisis, these people could be anybody — teachers, pensioners, nurses or traders — in a bank queue to withdraw their money the following day.
“I will have to sleep in the queue because if I come tomorrow it will be too late.
“I will not get any money. Last time I was here at 3:30 am in the morning and I was number 406 in the queue so I came back again at 4pm.
“I am glad that today I am the 20th in the queue but I cannot go back home because the security guards check our numbers regularly during the night to weed out those who stand in the queues on behalf of others,” a woman who identified herself as Amai Two said, showing a piece of paper with the number 20 on it, her place in the queue.
For Amai Two and other Zimbabweans, spending the night in bank queues is more than just sleeping on a cold hard pavement.
“A lot of things happen during the night,” said a man who identified himself as Tatenda.
“Soon you will witness vendors coming to sell their wares, street children begging, and pastors coming to attempt to convert us to Christianity.”
To bear witness, this reporter joined a group of men who were part of a queue and were huddled on one corner close to CABS’ First Street branch.
It immediately became apparent that bank queues have become melting pots for political and social discourse as well as platforms for preachers to spread the word of God and lure new congregants.
Apart from the free discussions on allegations of corruption levelled against government officials, the impending 2018 elections, the likely candidates and results, and general issues around the current social and moral issues in the country, it emerged there are preachers who — in the dark of the night — visit bank queues to evangelise.
As witnessed by this reporter the preachers, who come in suits often armed with a Bible and a set of fliers for distribution, employ the same strategy as ordinary afternoon street preachers who just start their sermons until they get the attention.
The only advantage the bank queue preachers have is that they have a group of people on one place already and they can go for 30 minutes, sometimes up to an hour on one queue before moving to another.
“Good evening Zimbabweans, I am here as a messenger from God coming to save lives, and to tell you that as you queue in the bank for your money, your troubles will be over only if you receive Christ as your Saviour…” shouted one preacher as he started his sermon along First Street targeting those queuing at CABS and ZB branches, which are situated adjacent to each other.
For 30 minutes he preached mostly about prosperity, handed out fliers and invited people to church sessions in Glen View before he bid them farewell.
The prosperity and miracle gospel rush in the country which has seen new churches being established everyday has resulted in an aggressive fight for congregants among the new churches.
While some use the conventional ways like distributing fliers, flighting newspaper and television adverts, and preaching on street corners, there is a new crop of preachers who are targeting people in bank queues.
The Standard visited four other bank queues where security guards and other people confirmed the trend.
“Yes, they target the time when the city is quiet, like towards midnight and they just come and start preaching.
Others come in the afternoon,” said one security guard who refused to be named.
The Standard’s attempts to interview some of the preachers were unsuccessful as they were all evasive.
Apart from the preachers, it appears vendors and other salespeople have also adopted the same trend of visiting banks at night to sell their various wares.
With the advent of mobile money, some enterprising vendors accept instant ZIPIT or Ecoash transfers for foodstuffs.
A man who identified himself as Patrick Moyo said, “My bank allows me to transfer money to my Ecocash account and I can be able to buy food for the night from vendors who accept mobile money transfer,” he said.
If he could transfer his money elsewhere, then why did he have to sleep in bank queue, this reporter asked.
“You see, I live in Madziwa (Mashonaland Central province) and many services still require cash so I would rather spend two nights in a queue so that perhaps I can get $100 to get me through some errands that require cash,” he said.
The vendors who sell their wares to those in the bank queues are part of the hundreds of night vendors in the city and activity only dies down way after midnight and this is the time when those in bank queues can manage to steal some sleep before the city wakes up again in the morning.
Sadly for some, after spending the night in the queues, the banks will not have cash in the morning and sometimes start serving people after mid-morning.
Others do not give out any cash until the end of the day. Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 after it was ravaged by hyperinflation and became worthless.
The dollarisation of the economy brought back short-term relief for depositors but the cash shortages have returned because of the poor performance of the economy.