Street money changers lament the good old days

One Tuesday afternoon at Ximex Mall in Harare, the shopping public had a busy day picking up $5 notes that were being thrown from a slow moving vehicle in honour of a street money-changer who had just passed on.

Ximex Mall in Harare.
Ximex Mall in Harare.

Some could not resist the lure of the US dollar during the days of the Zimdollar and they followed the vehicle all the way to its destination.

In those days night spots, drinking places and hotels were dominated by the flashy spending men from the streets. Then Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, Gideon Gono, was so shocked by what he saw at the five star Meikles Hotel, where the money changers were spending money like water, that he made a public statement about it.

Business was brisk. There was a high demand for the Rand as many people were travelling to South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. Those going to other countries came in search of the US dollar. Others were buying the Rand for keeping at home for speculation purposes as the exchange rate was not as it is today.

At that time, it was common to see the money changer with wads of all sorts of currencies in hand, waving passers-by to come and sell their Rands and US dollars as he had bags and bags of the ZimDollars – because it could still buy something in the supermarkets.

The best friends of the money changers were the foreigners or Zimbabweans living abroad. With only US$50, one could afford to stay at Meikles Hotel after changing forex on the streets.

But all that changed dramatically. The introduction of the multi-currency system saw the fall from grace to grass of the money changer. Nobody went in search of the US dollar any more. Even the newly found system of buying a one dollar note for R8 for a 20 cents profit has been abandoned as commuter omnibuses now demand a fare of $1 for two people. This has left the money changers with nothing to show for their whole day stay either at Copacabana, the Ximex Mall or any other places in the City Centre.

One of them, Tamuka Mazhambe, lamented “Times have never been this hard. These days, I cannot even afford a plate of sadza which costs $1. Nobody is coming for the money.”

When asked why he was still getting into town every day he said he was used to the routine and it was now difficult for him to stop it. “Even if I spend the whole day at home there is no entertainment as there is no electricity to at least watch television,” said Mazhambe.

A once flamboyant guy now cannot afford to buy himself a bun that costs only one rand – although he used to buy everyone a beer including the owners of the place or the managers of the hotel.

Maxwell Matenga, who had relocated to Harare from Chegutu for this money changing business, said “Brother, things are tight. When I came from Chegutu every day was like Christmas, but there is no money on the market now. Nobody is coming to buy the money I have. But I cannot go back to Chegutu because there is no employment. All the companies have closed down. I have no option but to soldier on in Harare.”

Cuthbert Chiutsi, who used to sponsor a social soccer team during the good old days of the Zimdollar, says he is hopeful that it will one day return and he will be back into business.

“There is no way we will continue using currency which is not ours. One day, the Zimdollar will return and we will be back in business,” he said. In the past, the money changers were the envy of the youths as they ran luxurious lives driving all sorts of cars around the streets. They even boasted at drinking places telling those with degrees to have their ‘degrees buy beer’ for them.

Taxi owner Sam Hamandawana jokingly said one money changer would hire two taxis when going home after a beer drink. One was for himself and the other was for his leather jacket.

Post published in: News

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