Money changers raids: Tenants suffocate over rentals

Many money changers who used to be on the streets have gone into hiding while some are currently wallowing in remand prison awaiting trial after having been arrested and charged of violating the Exchange Control Act.

MXOLISI Ndlovu (43) looks dejected as she walks out of a bank in central Bulawayo.

The mother of three is a victim of circumstances as she cannot acquire the much-needed foreign currency legally.

As a tenant, who earns in local currency, the Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG), she hates month ends as she has to scavenge for foreign currency to pay rentals.

“I hate month ends, my landlord demands rentals in United States dollars. I cannot get it (foreign currency) legally, the banks are dry,” Ndlovu lamented.

Her predicament is faced by the majority of tenants popularly known as lodgers as property owners demand rentals in United States dollars.

“I am left with no option but to hustle for the greenback through other means. I hope the government will come to our rescue. The money changers have since left the streets and it is now a daunting task to get forex in Bulawayo,” Ndlovu added.

The raids on illegal foreign currency dealers, popularly known as money changers, in various cities and towns to protect the ZiG has negatively impacted tenants.

Many money changers who used to be on the streets have gone into hiding while some are currently wallowing in remand prison awaiting trial after having been arrested and charged of violating the Exchange Control Act.

About 9 000 suspected illegal forex traders have been arrested across the country since the introduction of the ZiG.

The blitz against the illegal forex dealers is ongoing.

National police spokesperson Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the operation was being carried out nationally, adding that the law enforcers had partnered the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

“The operation we are carrying out in partnership with FIU is targeting all illegal forex dealers in all parts of the country,” Nyathi said.

In most towns and cities, a paltry of hardcore money changers is still operating after devising ways to evade arrest.

Indications in Bulawayo and other areas are that the police blitz has largely affected the lives of the majority of citizens who rely on illegal forex traders to get foreign currency.

Essential goods and services are still being priced in foreign currency, especially in small retail shops.

An illegal forex trader operating in Bulawayo’s central business district, only identified as Nqobizitha, told NewsDay that they are operating in fear as they can be arrested.

“The atmosphere is tense. We can get arrested anytime, but we have to survive. We are trading cautiously. People need the US dollar out there and we are the only source,” Nqobizitha said.

“I cannot risk being arrested. The only way to continue operating is (by) dealing with my traditional customers who are able to communicate and locate me. Doing this on the streets is not safe anymore.”

Most property owners said they would not accept rentals in local currency as they are also accessing goods and services in foreign currency.

Bulawayo United Residents Association chairperson Winos Dube lashed out at illegal foreign currency dealers for sabotaging the ZiG and urged the government to address the chaos.

“The issue of illegal forex traders is not something we can play around with. What they are doing is illegal. What we want is that they get licences to conduct  their business legally than what they are doing on the streets,” he said.

“It won’t bring problems to our economy in the event that they follow legal procedures. We expect the government to play a leading role in this situation. We don’t want this chaos at all.”

Dube added: “The economic fundamentals are the ones that must drive the illegal forex dealers out of the dark trading corners of our economy, not the police batons and sjamboks. The confidence that will be bestowed in our ZiG currency by the government ministries, departments and agencies will be the indicator of the survival of the ZiG as a currency.

“The official currency exchange agencies are the benchmark of any normal functioning economy, not threats, beatings and arrests. Illegal forex dealers are not the problem, but the envisaged economic fundamentals are not visible.”

In 2017, government gazetted a law to curb illegal cash and foreign currency trading, with offenders facing a mandatory 10-year jail term.

However, no meaningful convictions have been made on perpetrators.

Today, Ndlovu, like many other tenants, bears the brunt of a flawed economic system.

As she earns in local currency, her landlord demands rentals in US dollars, making life difficulty for her.

She prays that one day, the government will step in and alleviate her predicament.

Related Topics