Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Zimbabwe gives money 'laundering' a new meaning

Published:Wednesday | July 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The washing-machine cycle takes about 45 minutes - and George Washington comes out much cleaner in the Zimbabwe-style laundering of dirty money.

Low-denomination US bank notes change hands until they fall apart here in Africa, and the bills are routinely carried in underwear and shoes through crime-ridden slums.

Some have become almost too smelly to handle, so Zimbabweans have taken to putting their US$1 bills through the spin cycle and hanging them up to dry with clothes pins alongside their sheets and clothes.

It's the best solution - apart from rubber gloves or disinfectant wipes - in a country where the US dollar has long been the currency of choice and where the lifespan of a dollar far exceeds what the United States Federal Reserve intends.

Zimbabwe's coalition government officially declared the US dollar legal tender last year to eradicate world-record inflation of billions of percent in the local Zimbabwe dollar as the economy collapsed.

The Federal Reserve destroys about 7,000 tons of worn-out money every year. It says the average US$1 bill circulates in the United States for about 20 months - nowhere near its African life span of many years.

Larger denominations coming in through banks and formal import and export trade are less soiled. But among Africa's poor, the US$1, US$2, US$5 and US$10 bills are the most sought after.

Dirty US$1 bills can remain in circulation at rural markets, bus parks and beer halls almost indefinitely, or at least until they finally disintegrate.

Still, banks and most businesses in Zimbabwe do not accept torn, Scotch-taped, scorched, defaced, exceptionally dirty or otherwise damaged US notes.

Zimbabweans say the US notes do best with gentle hand-washing in warm water.

But at a laundry and dry cleaner in eastern Harare, a machine cycle does little harm either to the cotton-weave type of paper.

Locals say chemical "dry cleaning" is not recommended - it fades the colour of the famed greenback.

Storekeeper Jackie Dube hasn't yet taken up advice of friends to start washing the often damp and stinking US dollars she receives for the garments and cheap Chinese consumer goods she sells in Harare.

It's time-consuming, she says, but notes stinky bills are a problem.

"I get rid of the worst of the notes as soon as I can in change," she said.

- AP