EcoCash services remained intermittent or non-available yesterday, causing major business losses and much hardship since the platform handles 85 percent of Zimbabwe’s transactions and 99 percent of mobile money transfers.
Cassava Smartech Zimbabwe, EcoCash’s parent company, and EcoCash itself were almost non-committal and giving very little information, except to say that the platform upgrade, which started on Saturday and was supposed to be complete on Sunday evening, had been completed.
The only comment was: “All EcoCash core services are stabilising well. We, however, continue to monitor the platform’s performance and will keep the market updated.”
This irritated users who, more than anything, want to know when normal services will resume and the company came in for severe criticism for keeping customers in the dark.
While it became possible for some clients to buy airtime and data yesterday, payment requests were still a problem, being recorded on the sender’s phone but not the receiver’s phone, and the supermarket short-cut systems were still down.
This made buying goods and services basically impossible, hitting everyone from the largest supermarkets down to vendors and black market forex dealers.
Business was very slow for most formal and informal operators.
Even the Government is losing, since without transactions no one is paying the 2 percent transaction tax.
Business in Harare’s Central Business District yesterday in both formal and informal markets was subdued.
Major retail shops like OK, Pick n Pay and Food World had far fewer customers transacting than usual and they were forced to use bank debit cards, which not all people have, or scarce cash.
In Pick n Pay’s Sam Nujoma branch, as customers were being informed through a public address system that no payments could be processed through the EcoCash system as it was still down.
Dejected customers abandoned trolleys and baskets filled with groceries in the supermarket alleys.
Foreign currency dealers were not spared.
Some of them resorted to using the inter-bank transfer commonly as Zipit (ZimSwitch Instant Payment Interchange Technology) to carry out their transactions.
“We have resorted to Zipit to do our business although this has greatly affected us as people prefer the EcoCash platform which is quicker and more convenient,” said a forex dealer who operates at Eastgate Mall.
The situation was the same at fuel stations where people were struggling to fill up their tanks, with many motorists resorting to buying at roadsides in US dollars for anything between US$1,05c and US$1,20c.
A customer at Total Service Station along Nelson Mandela, close to Parliament, said they were struggling to get fuel due to the ongoing EcoCash upgrade.
“Our money is locked in our EcoCash accounts and we cannot access it. To make matters, worse we are finding it hard to transfer it to our bank accounts so that we can buy using swipe,” said the customer.
Ms Vimbai Matarutse, a vendor at Copacabana, said business was low yesterday.
“Business was very low today (yesterday) because most of my clients buy using EcoCash. We have lost a lot of business and might even sell some of my fruit and vegetables at a loss or risk throwing them away when they get bad.”
Economist Langton Mabhanga criticised EcoCash for failing to inform customers adequately on the developments during the upgrade.
“The failure by EcoCash to contain the works within the scheduled time and the failure to communicate adequately amounted to corporate neglect to its subscribers, individuals and businesses who must have lost transactional time of their businesses.
“Furthermore, the warp might have throttled the collection of the intermediated money transfer tax. Businesses are often built by loyal customer support.
“Ordinarily, customers would want to be kept abreast and recognised through sustained and proactive communication,” Mr Mabhanga said.
According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz), the EcoCash mobile money platform accounts for approximately 99 percent of the total mobile money transfer services that take place in Zimbabwe.
The remainder is handled by NetOne and Telecel platforms.
According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), EcoCash handles over 85 percent of all electronic transaction by volume and has grown to become the de facto national payments platform.
The system moves billions of dollars’ worth of transaction that include the purchase of goods and services, payment of bills — including utility bills — sending of money from person to person, and the movement of funds to and from one’s bank account.
The EcoCash platform is estimated to have over 10 million registered customers, and about 180 000 merchants and agents.
The platform has become central to doing business for both individuals, companies and Government departments.
Due to its market dominance, the EcoCash platform is also central to the collection of the two percent Intermediated Money Transfer Tax which has become a major source of Government revenues.