Zimbabwe’s illegal forex dealers use WhatsApp to find clients, evade police

Zimbabwe clamps down on black market trading it blames for devaluing its newly launched ZiG local currency.

Zimbabwe money trader
An informal money changer checks old US dollars at a marketplace in Harare, Zimbabwe [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Harare, Zimbabwe – The entrance to the main gate at the Budiriro shopping centre, a busy mall south of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, used to be a hive of activity where informal forex dealers had set up makeshift “offices” on the pavement.

Now the area is all but abandoned.

The smartly dressed young boys and middle-aged men who would stealthily trade foreign currency with shoppers have not set foot there in weeks to avoid police raids.

In Zimbabwe, which has been beset by a decades-long economic crisis characterised by hyperinflation, a 54 percent unemployment rate and highly volatile local currencies, the more stable United States dollar is the preferred medium of exchange.

Everyone from state utilities to street vendors accepts payment in US dollars. Because of the popularity of the greenback, black market forex dealing is a thriving side hustle with thousands earning a living from the practice.

In April, in the government’s latest attempt to stabilise the economy, Zimbabwe’s central bank launched a new currency, Zimbabwe Gold, or ZiG.

Soon after, Zimbabwean police began cracking down on informal forex dealers and arresting them in their numbers. The authorities blame illegal currency dealing for distorting the exchange rate and devaluing the local currency, and want to ensure the ZiG is accepted and does not lose value rapidly like its predecessor.

To date, more than 70 street forex dealers have been arrested. But instead of curbing them, it has driven them underground and towards more creative means of doing business.

Forex trading in Zimbabwe
Illegal money changers in Harare, Zimbabwe [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

At a tuck shop about a kilometre from where he used to work at Budiriro shopping centre, forex dealer Darlington Murazva* has set up a makeshift office.

The stocky 30-year-old scrolled through the WhatsApp messaging app on his Samsung smartphone, and pressed play on a voice note that arrived in a group chat he’s in with other foreign currency dealers and vendors.

Post published in: Business

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