Freeman Razemba and Nyemudzai Kakore—
Illegal foreign currency traders who operated on street corners in Harare yesterday went underground for fear of arrest and losing their money, a day after Government gazetted regulations criminalising cash vending.The regulations also empower police to arrest money peddlers and seize whatever currency involved. The dealers are now conducting their business covertly, either in vehicles or areas where there are less chances of being spotted by the police. The illegal cash traders had turned such areas as Eastgate Shopping Mall, Copacabana, Roadport, Market Square and First Street into zones for the illicit foreign currency deals.
They were nowhere to be seen yesterday as they feared the long arm of the law. This came as the police yesterday welcomed the newly gazetted law that criminalises cash vending, saying deterrent sentences could eradicate the illegal money changing crime. MDC-T youths and social media domiciled Tajamuka tried to incite the illegal forex and cash dealers to demonstrate against the new law yesterday.
Police arrested three hooligans in connection with malicious damage to property during the failed demonstration. Officer Commanding Harare Senior Assistant Commissioner Elias Mvere confirmed the arrest of the three hooligans for damaging property. “We arrested three hooligans in connection with malicious damage to property and we recovered cellphones and watches,” he said. “Investigations are still in progress. We are gathering facts on the ground.”
The Herald witnessed the youths throwing stones at shops, forcing some banks and supermarkets to briefly close. Police responded swiftly by deploying in areas like First Street, Julius Nyerere Street, Africa Unity Square and along Nelson Mandela Avenue near Harvest House, the MDC-T headquarters. The rowdy demonstrators said they wanted to handover a petition to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya over shortages of cash.
Some of the criminals started looting shops. Several shops had their windows stoned, while a vehicle belonging to Zanu-PF was damaged. A Daily News reporter Mugove Tafirenyika was injured in the protest. Denford Ngadziore, a member of Tajamuka, alleged on social media that they were demonstrating peacefully and were disrupted by the police. In June, a police officer was attacked and killed by thugs that operate at Harvest House during an illegal and violent demonstration. Talkmore Phiri was among police officers who had been deployed to the Deeds Office near Harvest House on June 29, where the rogue vendors had allegedly damaged property during the demonstrations.
Police said yesterday that they would continue to enforce the law against cash vending. National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba told our Bulawayo Bureau that the law would ensure police efforts were more visible, unlike in the past when they would arrest offenders who would pay a fine and continue with their illegal business. She said deterrent sentences will discourage cash vending. “We welcome the law because it assists the police, it’s also deterrent because if someone is involved in a particular offence and they are taken to prison, they will not engage in the same crime,” said Snr Asst Comm Charamba.
She said cash vendors, just like touts, were difficult to remove from the streets due to minor penalties that were imposed on them. Snr Asst Comm Charamba said touts in some cases ended up committing serious crimes such as murder, as they always paid fines and returned to the streets. “Recently, there was a case which you all know about, where an elderly man was killed by these touts and a pregnant woman was killed last year,” she said. “What the police have been doing is that they have been arresting these touts and they pay a fine of $20 and are back on the streets.” Snr Asst Comm Charamba said police would conduct countrywide raids on illegal money changers popularly known as osiphatheleni in Bulawayo.
“In Bulawayo, they have conducted some raids on those who change money,” she said. “They conducted an operation and this is going to be countrywide.” The illegal cash dealers have sparked a black market cross rate for the bond note and the US dollar, causing panic in the economy and an artificial shortage of basic commodities. The new law empowers police to arrest suspected dealers and confiscate money and even freeze bank accounts for people suspected to be vending in cash. The police can present the money as an exhibit in court.