The security guard at FXA Bureau de Change in Musina on the South African –Zimbabwe border speaks fluent Shona. She doesn’t even have an accent. She has good reason to. More than 90 percent of the bureau’s clients are Zimbabweans, mostly Shona.
The bureau runs a roaring business since most commercial banks in the small town close their foreign desks at 11am. It closes its doors at 4pm. Though there was little holiday traffic on December 28, the bureau had run out of cash, twice, by lunch-time. Scores of Zimbabweans had to be given numbers to come back the following morning.
When asked by an angry Zimbabwean woman, who couldn’t do her shopping that day because she was stuck with her travellers cheques, why a bank ran out of cash, she asked in return: Imi vanhu imi, mari munomboiwana kupi? (You people, were do you get all this money?)”.
She said the bureau had already run out of money twice yet more people wanted to cash their travellers cheques. She said some Zimbabweans were cashing as much as US$190 000 in travellers cheques at the bureau.
Zimbabweans queue as early at 6am at the banks and the bureau de change to cash their travellers’ cheques. Not to be outdone, there is also roaring business at the bus terminus where people change their money on the black market. Even shop assistants offer to cash your travellers’ cheques on the black market provided you are going to buy from their shops.
Though it is illegal to carry more than $5 000 cash across the border, one of the money-changers who was counting his stock at the end of his working day, had so many bearers’ cheques he could have filled two large trunks.
He too had run out of rands. He had a favourable rate, changing Zimbabwe dollars at the rate of $340 to a rand. A woman close by wanted $400 for every rand. Even the receptionist at the lodge nearby referred those who wanted to put up for the night but had failed to cash their cheques to the black market to change enough money to pay their deposit and the balance the following morning.
No one seems to care about the currency blackmarket. Police watch as the money changers do their business. They are more concerned about border jumpers. Three bus loads of Zimbabwean border jumpers were seen being escorted to Beitbridge on the afternoon of December 28, the Home Affairs lead truck blurring its siren to let the buses through unstopped.
Musina now appears to be the “New Dehli” of Harare. Asian shops are dotted all over the town selling almost the same products. Their business is tailored towards Zimbabweans rather than the locals. Green washing soap, cooking oil and tissue paper seem to be favourites and they are sold in boxes.
South Africans watch in awe as Zimbabweans do their “wild” shopping. The situation is the same at the border. The queue of imported cars is sometimes longer than that of travellers on foot, except when a bus arrives.
As one watches all this, one is left wondering: “Where do the Zimbabweans get all that foreign currency?”