Zimbabwe Lawyers Take President Robert Mugabe to Court Over Quasi-Currency

100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar
A man holds up a 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar note, in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, June 12, 2015. Opposition groups are concerned that the government's introduction of bond notes could herald a return to the failed Zimbabwean dollar. Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo/Reuters

Zimbabwean lawyers are taking President Robert Mugabe to court for issuing a presidential decree permitting the introduction of a quasi-currency, which they say is an attempt to reintroduce the failed Zimbabwean dollar through "the back door."

Mugabe invoked the Presidential Powers Act on October 31 to amend the law governing Zimbabwe's central bank and allow for the introduction of bond notes, which the bank has described as a U.S. dollar equivalent.

The African country is suffering a crippling cash shortage and banks are limiting withdrawals to between $40 and $100 per day, according to Reuters. But while the government is attempting to sell bond notes as a solution to the crisis, critics fear they could herald another period of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe. In 2008, the Zimbabwean dollar suffered exponential inflation, so much so that a loaf of bread could cost 10 million Zimbabwean dollars and the central bank printed a 100 trillion dollar note.

Advocates from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) filed an application to the High Court Monday, asking for the court to overrule Mugabe's decree.

One of the lawyers involved in the application, Dzimbabwe Chimbga, tells Newsweek that Mugabe's use of presidential powers was "unconstitutional." Chimbga says that the act can only be invoked in an emergency, which he maintains is not the case, since the government has mooted the introduction of bond notes since April.

"The new [2013] constitution gives parliament the primary legislative authority and the president can only enforce laws that have been put across by parliament," says Chimbga. "So what we object to is the president, who is a different arm of government, giving himself the powers to legislate."

The Zimbabwean central bank said in September that it would start circulating the bond notes by the end of October and that it expected $75 million worth of the notes to be in use by the end of 2016. But the notes have still not been introduced, and Zimbabweans have been queuing for hours at banks to withdraw cash in advance of their circulation.

Following the hyperinflation period of 2007-08, Zimbabwe ditched its own currency and introduced a multi-currency basket. Nine currencies—including the Chinese yuan and South African rand—were legal tender as of February, CNN reported.

Chimbga says that the introduction of bond notes is a false start in dealing with Zimbabwe's cash crisis. "The bond note is being equated to the U.S. dollar, but we know that the bond note does not have transferability," he says. "In other words, you cannot take the bond notes to the bank and say, 'Give me pounds.' It's only a 'currency' in Zimbabwe. In essence, it's not actually money."

Chimbga says that the application filed gives the government 10 days to respond. Newsweek emailed the Office of the President and Cabinet for a response, but received no timely reply.

Zimbabwe has seen widespread protests against Mugabe's administration in 2016, including a stay-at-home protest organized by the #ThisFlag movement, headed up by Harare pastor Evan Mawarire.

Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 and, at 92 years old, is the oldest serving head of state in Africa.