WITH HYPERINFLATION IN ZIMBABWE currently running at over eleven million percent, the presses at the state-owned Fidelity Printers are finding it hard to keep up with demand. Within weeks of a new banknote denomination being created — for example, the Z$100 billion note released on 21st July and worth about 7 pence — it has almost entirely lost its value. Yet the presses are crucial in maintaining Mugabe in power: just imagine what would happen if the soldiers could no longer be paid.

On 24th July, The Guardian reported an unexpected threat to the Mugabe régime: the German company Giesecke & Devrient, which supplies the watermarked banknote paper on which the Zimbabwean currency is printed, cut off supplies under pressure from the German government. Harare has anxiously been trying to find an alternative supply, reportedly from Malaysia.

Intriguingly, the newspaper also reported that Fidelity were in a panic about the European software that they use to create the new banknote designs:

A source inside Fidelity Printers said the software issue had created an air of panic. “It’s a major problem. They are very concerned that the licence will be withdrawn or not renewed. They are trying to find ways around it, looking at the software, but it’s very technical. They are in a panic because without the software they can’t print anything,” he said.

The software in question is supplied by an Austro-Hungarian company, Jura JSP GmbH. Their ’GS’ high-security pre-press software suite is essentially a layout tool for banknotes and securities that also generates all the complex anti-forgery features needed.

However, also on 24th July, and obviously in response to the press speculation, the Jura Group put out a press release that was strangely self-contradictory. It included these statements:

The software delivered in 2001 in accordance with the contract allows only for the graphic design of banknotes, and serves in particular for applying forgeryproof security features on banknotes. It is stressed here that the production of banknotes using the software of JURA JSP can be ruled out for technical reasons. Therefore, the Mugabe regime can produce banknotes anytime without the software by JURA JSP – by loosing [sic]the high security features.

It is de facto impossible to prevent Fidelity Printers and Refiners (PVT) Ltd. from using the software, since the software was installed locally and cannot be removed by JURA JSP.

Mind you, it is odd to think of there being such panic about installing sophisticated security features on billion-dollar banknotes that can hardly buy a biscuit, and will be worthless in weeks. What forger would waste their time copying that?

It is equally odd to think that the ability of a goverment to pay its troops may rest in the hands of a few graphic designers and press operators.

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IT IS USEFUL, having emailed someone who works in an office, to receive back an automated message that they are not at work today, and so you cannot expect an immediate answer. But having just received an ‘Out of Office’ message once again from a staff member of the British Computer Society — on a Saturday, note you, when I didn’t expect him to be there anyway! — I think it’s time these tools gained some intelligence.

The BCS is far from unique in relying for much of what it does on a dispersed army of volunteers, who work from home, and mostly out of office hours and at the weekend. I shall be spending much of this August Bank Holiday weekend preparing for a BCS meeting. Now, I know that BCS staff don’t spend their weekends at the office, and so does everybody else. Couldn’t the ‘Out of Office’ message system be tailored to shut down over the weekend?

(End of small rant.)