HARARE – Despite introducing a heavy penalty aimed at deterring would-be offenders, government is losing the war on illegal money changers in Harare as they are now fully back on the streets operating openly.
Towards the end of last year, the government crafted a law prescribing a 10-year custodial sentence for illegal foreign currency traders. And with the police at their back they seemed to have disappeared for a few weeks although they are back at their usual operating points at Copacabana and Eastgate Mall in Harare among other areas.
The illegal money dealers say there is high demand for foreign currency now because most of the people who buy their commodities in neighbouring countries require it. Some of the money changers told the Daily News yesterday they will remain on the streets because they are not employed.
“We have no option, we have nowhere to go, our business is doing well we can’t complain. The problem we are now facing is that everyone is now coming into the streets to join us as money changers,” one of the money changers said.
Another money changer said even if the police tried to arrest them they will not go anywhere.
“The police come to us every day but this is Zimbabwe we know what to do so they cannot arrest us. We are desperate and we are ready for any consequences.
“Government should avail foreign currency in banks if it wants the suffering members of the public to stop trading with illegal money changers,” another money changer said. Efforts to get comment from police spokesperson Charity Charamba were fruitless as she requested the questions to be e-mailed to her but up to the time of going to print there was no response.
Forex dealers deserted their usual selling points after President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he would bring grief to all those who are involved in the illegal trade of foreign currency in October last year.
The country has been experiencing acute shortages of foreign currency which in previous weeks triggered shocking price hikes, shortages of essential medical drugs and basic consumer goods.
The central bank holds the official exchange rate at 1:1 US dollar to the bond note, but the rate is largely only accessible to importers of essential goods like wheat and fuel, creating major demand for black market dollars.