Thieves take advantage of distrust of the financial system

HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Tariro remembers hearing a sudden knock on his kitchen door, the kind of shuddering. She peeked out the window and saw 10 men armed with iron crowbars. They wanted to come in.

The 54-year-old woman ran into her bedroom shouting “mbavha”, Shona for thieves, as the men smashed open the door.

“They tied my mouth with a top I wore before swimming and said I had to cooperate or else they would kill me,” said Tariro, who asked to use only his middle name for fear of ‘be targeted again.

They found $ 700 in his church uniform, like they knew exactly where to look. Then they left.

Tariro believes the thieves sued her for working for a non-governmental organization and earning US dollars. “They thought I had a lot of money in my house,” she said, still shaking at the memory.

His decision to accumulate money stems from Zimbabwe’s crater economy and rapid currency changes over the past two decades that have decimated the country’s monetary system and made money under the bed more palatable than put it in the bank. Not only has such storage affected the ability of Zimbabweans to set up a savings account, it has also made more and more people the target of theft.

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In 2009, Zimbabwe introduced a multi-currency system which allowed residents to use the US dollar, South African rand, and other currencies. But inflation has risen so much that a decade later the government reverted to the local currency. Officials introduced a separate account for depositing foreign currency, but all bank balances containing US dollars were converted to Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL). Almost overnight, people’s money was worth a lot less.

Zimbabweans like Tariro have stopped trusting banks. Fearing further policy changes, many people have started to keep their foreign currency – which depreciates more slowly than the ZWL – at home.

“There is no incentive to keep money in the bank,” says Farai Mutambanengwe, founder and CEO of the Zimbabwe Small and Medium Enterprises Association, a lobbying organization that promotes market access. .

As a pandemic measure, the government resumed allowing official foreign currency transactions in March 2020. But residents remain cautious of unpredictable fluctuations. Even those paid by the banking system are suspicious of it. Some prefer to buy foreign currency on the black market to preserve the value of their money.

“There is no incentive to keep money in the bank. ” Zimbabwe Small and Medium Enterprises Association

Harrison Dumba, who works as a chef at a local restaurant, says he gets paid in local money by wire transfer but immediately buys US dollars on the black market because they don’t lose value that quickly.

“I don’t see the point in keeping my money in the bank,” said the 36-year-old. “It can lose value when you think you’re saving money. “

The coronavirus has caused even more economic hardship as closures and reduced travel affect jobs. The Republic of Zimbabwe’s National Police Crime Bureau recorded nearly 3,500 thefts last year. Between January and March of this year, the police had already counted more than 2,300 burglaries.

The US State Department has indicated that the money stuffed in pillows and pockets was a motivation for the thefts. “Criminals have specifically targeted businesses and residences known to house or store large sums of money,” according to an April 2020 security report.

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Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, YPG Zimbabwe

Tariro examines property that has been damaged by thieves in search of money.

Zimbabwean officials acknowledge the increase in crime but downplay its link to a failing monetary system. Ruth Mavhungu-Maboyi, deputy minister of the interior and cultural heritage, attributes the rise in violence to the increasing availability of firearms and the lack of police vehicles.

She points to a string of recent arrests – including those of seven suspects in recent burglaries – as signs that authorities are working to reduce crime. But she also insists on the need for residents to trust banks.

“Does keeping your money at home really help?” ” she says. “Instead, it can be stolen. Encouraging people to keep money in banks is a matter of safety.

The rise in crime has not only had financial consequences; he had psychological ones. Since the attack on his home, Tariro has found it difficult to trust people.

“My life hasn’t been normal since then,” she says. She has rented her house to other families, so she doesn’t have to live alone. She panics when the dogs bark. And she spends money immediately because she doesn’t feel comfortable saving it anymore.


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Don F. Davis