Bulawayo’s illegal forex traders remain defiant
By Andile Tshuma
It was business as usual yesterday for illegal foreign currency dealers outside Tredgold Buildings in Bulawayo and other parts of the CBD, as police said a major operation against osiphatheleni was on the cards.
During a tour of Tredgold Building last week, Chief Justice Luke Malaba warned osiphatheleni and other people involved in illegal activities around the building which houses the Bulawayo Magistrates Courts, saying there was an urgent need for them to be permanently flushed out of the area.
In 2018, Chief Justice Malaba also bemoaned the illegal foreign currency exchange activities around the environs of Tredgold Building while commissioning three additional courtrooms at the Bulawayo High Court resulting in police clamping down on the money changers.
At that time, police sealed off the parking area around the building but the operation was short-lived and illegal forex dealers made a triumphant return.
Since then, the illegal money changers have been operating freely at the place they call “World Bank”.
Last week’s warning by the Chief Justice does not appear to have moved the illegal forex dealers as they stay put.
When a Chronicle news crew visited the forex dealing hot spots in the city, illegal forex dealers were lining the streets, with some sitting in the comfort of their cars waiting for customers.
At Tredgold Buildings, it was business as usual.
At another busy forex hotspot along George Silundika Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, one can almost tell that something is amiss as all parking slots are taken by mostly luxury vehicles, yet there is no much business that can explain the high vehicular traffic.
All communication starts and ends with facial expressions, a nod, a wink, and on rare occasions a phrase “s’tshintshe” meaning “let’s trade”.
Parallel market rates that have been steady for a while started moving after Government dumped the interbank rate and liberalising the forex market last week.
A R100 note trades for $150 cash and $230 via electric money transfers while US$1 fetches $39 on electronic transfer and $30 cash. For the past weeks R100 was going for $120 cash and $200 via electronic transfer while the US$1 was at $30 electronic transfer and $23 cash.
Some illegal forex dealers who spoke to The Chronicle said forex dealing was the only trade they knew as they had been initiated into the business some years ago due to joblessness.
An illegal forex dealer who only identified himself as Mr Musindo said he will take “the trade to the grave” as it was the only means of providing for his family.
“We have been operating here; way before the coming of the US dollar in 2009. The US dollar has come and gone, but we are still here and serving the people. It will take a lot for police and Government to get rid of us. People that talk of getting rid of Osiphatheleni are the same people who see everything wrong with the taxi industry that employs thousands of youths in the country,” he said.
“They are the same people that craft laws that target helpless vendors who sell cabbages and arrest them as if they are selling drugs. It’s easy for people to speak like that when they speak from the comfort of offices with aircons. We have no pension, no salary. If we leave the streets where will we go? Forex dealing will not die.”
Another forex dealer who spoke to the publication but requested anonymity said she has never had the opportunity to be employed formally but has taken her children through school with proceeds from the illegal business.
“I worked for this woman as a maid, and she initiated me into the business of changing money when her children outgrew the need of my services in the early 2000s. I had the option to go back to Madlambudzi where I had come from but she told me I could stay and be her runner for money deals. She weaned me off after a year. Now I married another forex dealer, we have a house and cars and our kids pay fees in forex,” she said.
Bulawayo police Spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube in an interview yesterday said police will extend a heavy hand on illegal forex dealers as they try to restore sanity in the city.
“May I issue a strong warning to illegal forex dealers that we are coming and their presence is just temporary. This time it shall be a different situation altogether. They must be warned. The police force will ensure that law, order and sanity prevail in the city,” said Inspector Ncube.
Bulawayo Town Clerk Mr Christopher Dube could not be reached for comment yesterday but recently he said one of the biggest challenges’ council faces is that it does not have arresting powers.
“We have a problem of people doing business from cars and parking all day at particular spots. These forex dealers have a lot of money and parking tickets are not a problem to them. The only way to address this problem is to arrest them for conducting business on the streets.
“Which toilet facilities do they use when they spend the day transacting in cars? The problem is that as local authorities our powers are limited. We need to have arresting powers so that we are able to deal with the vices that are inconveniencing the public,” said Mr Dube. The Chronicle