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A Day In Court With The 65 Arrested Money Changers

“Kana tiripano tese, ndiani arikuchinja mari muroad boys” a money changer jokingly said to his three compatriots outside Court 1 at Rotten Row.

They were waiting for the list of arrested ‘illegal foreign exchange traders’ to be announced by the lawyers on duty. They had come to the court in support of their fellow trader who had been arrested on Independence Day in a covet raid organized by undercover Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) detectives.

“Pane anoziva full name yaLodza here?” another asked as they waited.

The four of them looked at each other and laughed realizing that they didn’t know the government gazetted name of their arrested brethren.

“Enda paEcocash utsvage zita rake nenumber dzake,” one of them finally interjected.

Following the announcement of the new ZiG currency, ZRP at the implicit orders of the President and Reserve Bank Governor embarked on a blitz arresting money changers scattered across the malls, streets, bus termini, and shopping centres of Harare such as Market Square, Fourth Street, Ximex, Kamfinsa, High Glen, Machipisa, and Makoni. Between 16 and 18 April, at least 65 people were arrested. Their bail hearings only commenced this week. Of the arrested, most were youthful, the majority men.

Outside of the court waiting for the court proceedings to begin in addition to the other money changers who weren’t caught during the raid, were the wives, and children of the accused. One of the women approached the entrance to the court. In each hand, she was clasping onto the hand of her two children. She asked the police officer by the door if she could enter the court and wait for the bail hearings to commence. The officer by the door nonchalantly informed her that her children were not allowed in the court so they would have to wait outside. She didn’t voice her disagreement, or plead with the officer, tears started flowing again as she turned around and sat with her children by the benches outside the court.

The state lawyers finally arrived at the entrance of Court 1 and announced that because of the number of cases, two courts would be used, Court 1 and Court 6. Half of the gathered crowd proceeded to Court 6 with the remainder rushing into Court 1 hoping to find a seat amongst the four benches. The four benches took up as many people as they could but the majority of the people searched for a place to stand in the sides of the courtroom as the police officer shouted for silence, and threatened to arrest anyone whose phone rang or spoke during the court session.

“We have enough space for all of you to sleep in the basement of this building if you carry on making noise.” Hushed giggles escaped from some of the spectators, while the rest stared at the officer with daggered eyes.

Once the room was settled, two State lawyers and an interpreter wearing nice suits walked in and took their seats at their allocated desks.

“All rise,” said the State Lawyer.

Those seated quickly got to their feet. The Magistrate looked tired or angry or was both tired and angry, walked in and sat down.

The Magistrate was handed 32 folders which represented the 32 bail applications she would be dealing with for the next five hours. The first eight cases were relatively fast. In these eight cases, the accused wearing brown overalls were represented by a lawyer who informed the court that they would provide written bail application submissions and the State lawyers responded each time by telling the court that they would respond to the submissions, and the Magistrate informed them to return two days later to hear her verdict.

The ninth case was the first one where the accused had no legal representation and was therefore going to defend himself as what is called in court lingo, ‘self actor.’ By now, half of the spectators in the court had left presumably because the person they had come for was one of the first 8 cases with legal representation.

As the ninth accused walked in, you could tell something was different. His skin was ashy as if he hadn’t put on Vaseline after washing his face in remand prison. When the interpreter asked him which language he preferred, his voice was barely a whisper; the Magistrate asked him to speak up. The State attorney’s voice was now a lot firmer and morbid as he laid out the State’s case against the self-representing accused.

The State lawyer detailed that undercover detectives from ZRP with state-issued USD10 had offered the accused who was supposedly trading in foreign currency along Cameron Street. He was wearing an Econet bib, holding hoards of cash in his hand. The lawyer went on to say that the accused was being charged with breaking two specific laws which read as follows:

Section 167 Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act which states that:

Any unauthorised use or possession of credit or debit cards:

                (a) without authority, manufactures, copies or uses;  or

             (b) without reasonable excuse, possesses; any credit or debit card belonging to another person shall be guilty of unauthorised use or possession of a credit or debit card and liable to a fine not exceeding level eight or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or both….

And Section 5 (1) of Exchange Control Act read with Section 4 Exchange Control Regulations of 1996 reads:

Unless permitted to do so by an exchange Control authority no person shall, in Zimbabwe!

(i) buy any foreign currency from or sell any foreign currency to any person other than an authorised dealer; or

(ii) borrow any foreign currency from, lend any foreign currency to or exchange any foreign currency with any person other than an authorised dealer;

The State went on to say that they viewed these actions of the accused as undermining the government and central bank's efforts to stabilize the economy because the accused was trading ZiG which “isn't officially in circulation.” The actions of the accused were tantamount to economic sabotage, causing harm to the economy.

The State lawyer sat down and it was now the turn of the accused to plead his case for bail. Speaking timidly, he told the Magistrate that his only crime was being at the wrong place at the wrong time wearing an Econet bib which the police for the last five years had decided was the uniform of all money changers. His voice grew in strength with every sentence he completed.

“Mari yavanoti ndangandakabata maBond Note asisashandi andirikubatanidza kuti ndiwane maZiG. Imwe yese ma$1 akawanda aisvika $52 ne50 Rand.”

“Ndokumbiro kutongwa ndiripanze nokuti ndinaBaba naMai vandinochengeta, uye nemukadzi wandave nemakore 28 ndichigara naye murudo.”

The accused finished his defense gripping tightly onto the accused’s bench. He was followed by twenty-four other accused who were all accused of the same crime under different circumstances. Some were caught with multiple bank cards, some had two or three cell phones with numerous transactions. In each case, the court asked the Magistrate to deny bail because the accused had a high risk of absconding from court because of the nature of their very serious offense which increased their chances of not returning to court by fleeing the jurisdiction through the country’s “porous borders.”

And each time, like a choir singing solo acts, sang the same song pleading their innocence, that they were merely vendors who had been caught in another of the police’s raids against vendors.

With the last bail application heard, the Magistrate stood up and left court. By then the only people that were left were the state attorney and four forex dealers who had come to see their friend, who it turns out was one of the 24 who had no legal representation.

“Haa, Lodza amira mira,” said one of them.

“Agona. Busy kutisunga vachisiya maShark vachispina mari,” responded the other.

“Waona here Craig. Anga anegweta. NdiRunner wa…”

The four young men walked out of the court and passed the lady with the children who was now standing by the door asking the police officer who had previously denied her entry if he could tell her when she would have to come again to hear the result of her husband's bail application.

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Been thinking, is

"And Section 5 (1) of Exchange Control Act read with Section 4 Exchange Control Regulations of 1996 reads:

Unless permitted to do so by an exchange Control authority no person shall, in Zimbabwe!

(i) buy any foreign currency from or sell any foreign currency to any person other than an authorised dealer; or

(ii) borrow any foreign currency from, lend any foreign currency to or exchange any foreign currency with any person other than an authorised dealer;"

Legal? Does it not contradict the fact that we're in a egal multi currency dispensation since it would effectively make all informal lending an illegal activity since most of that lending even between friends is in US$ 🤔


From my understanding, the illegality or loans between friends is that you are not an 'authorized trader' to loan. Regarding the multicurrency angle, I think the lack of alignment of our laws through different SIs has led to contradictory laws


An incredible witness!

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