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Robbers prey on mistrust of financial system

by Staff reporter
24 Sep 2021 at 09:45hrs | Views
TARIRO remembers hearing a sudden bang on her kitchen door, the kind that produces shivers. She peaked through the window and saw 10 men armed with iron crowbars. They wanted to enter.

The 54-year-old ran into her bedroom shouting "mbavha," Shona for thieves, as the men knocked down the door.

"They tied my mouth with a top I was wearing before bathing and said that I should cooperate, or they would kill me," says Tariro, who asked to use only her middle name out of fear of being targeted again.

They found US$700 in her church uniform, as if they knew exactly where to look. Then they left.

Tariro believes the robbers came after her because she used to work at a non-governmental organisation and earned United States dollars.

"They assumed I had a lot of money in my house," she says, still shaking at the memory.

Her decision to hoard cash stems from Zimbabwe's cratering economy and rapid currency changes over the past two decades that have decimated the country's monetary system and made keeping money under the bed more palatable than putting it in the bank.

Not only has such stockpiling affected Zimbabweans' ability to grow a savings account, it also has made an increasing number of people targets for robberies.

In 2009, Zimbabwe introduced a multi-currency system that made it possible for residents to use the U.S. dollar, the South African rand and other currencies. But inflation rose so much that, a decade later, the government returned to the local currency.

Officials introduced a separate account to deposit foreign currency, but all bank balances that held U.S. dollars were converted into Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL). Nearly overnight, people's money was worth much less.

Zimbabweans like Tariro stopped trusting banks. Fearing additional changes in policy, many people started keeping their foreign currency — which depreciates slower than the ZW$ — at home.

"There's no incentive to keeping money in the bank," says Farai Mutambanengwe, founder and executive officer of the Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Zimbabwe, a lobbying organisation that promotes access to markets.

As a pandemic measure, the government started allowing official transactions in foreign currency again in March 2020. But residents remain wary of unpredictable fluctuations. Even those paid through the banking system distrust it. Some prefer to buy foreign currency on the black market to preserve the value of their money.

Harrison Dumba, who works as a chef at a local restaurant, says he gets paid in local money through a bank transfer but immediately buys U.S. dollars on the black market because they do not lose value as quickly.

"I do not see the benefit of keeping my money in the bank," says the 36-year-old. "It can lose value while you think you are saving money."

Source - the independent