THERE was drama around Tredgold Building that houses the Bulawayo Magistrates Courts yesterday, as illegal money changers ran away at the sight of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube, who promised a crackdown on big businesses conniving with the foreign currency traders, as well as retailers who unjustifiably raise prices of basic goods.
He accused them of delighting at the misery of the majority and urged a return to ethical business practices.
Prof Ncube caught the money changers, popularly known as osiphatheleni, and managers of some of the city’s biggest retail outlets napping when he made an impromptu tour in Bulawayo’s central business district.
The Minister visited fast-food outlets first. Some people have accused cashiers at such outlets of claiming that point-of-sale machines are always down.
At some major supermarkets, Prof Ncube expressed his dismay when he was told that the price of some basic commodities like mealie meal had doubled in the last week or so.
At a supermarket located on Fort Street, an incensed Prof Ncube took matters into his own hands, tearing down a sign that advertised goods in US dollars only. Addressing a manager at the outlet, Prof Ncube said: “We want to send a message to your bosses. We are saying that they must stop these price hikes, which are totally unjustifiable. I am saying this because the next time we ask you to close and withdraw your licence, you will be out of a job and so will a lot of other people. Then the Government will be blamed for shutting down businesses when this is the only way because their behaviour is not proper.”
Prof Ncube continued: “Have you heard of the word schadenfreude? It is a German word that means taking delight from the misery of others. In English, they call it epicaricacy. That is what you’re practising. It is not good.”
At Tredgold, money changers ran away from Prof Ncube, with the few who were willing to interact with him blaming retailers for the rising cost of living.
In an interview after his tour, Prof Ncube said Government would soon crack down on businesses that were working hand in glove with the illegal money changers.
“Selling currency on the street, freely without shame, where do they get this money from? They have brand-new notes and this is unacceptable. We want to send a strong message as Government that, firstly, we are not happy with these price increases and secondly, we are not happy with movements that we are seeing on the parallel market. We are taking action on it. I saw swipe machines on the street and these people are running businesses from their cars, changing currency. Clearly, they are working with organised businesses,” he said.
Prof Ncube said Government had pinpointed middlemen operating between producers and retailers as some of the culprits fuelling price increases. So far, he said, Government had identified six companies that would soon be blacklisted, with their bank accounts already frozen.
“As Government, we are not going to tolerate this kind of behaviour, where shops are refusing domestic currency and only accepting US dollars. Both currencies should be equally accepted but there’s just a wanton increase of prices, for no reason because nothing changed between this week and last week. It’s totally unacceptable and unjustifiable and, as Government, we are forced to allow citizens to import anything in terms of basic commodities, which is what we did when we opened up the borders.”
“Then the big shops will complain and say we are informalising the economy yet it is them that are pushing up the prices. We have also just discovered that the middlemen between the producers and the retailers, the so-called aggregators, are also part of the problem. We have decided that on Monday, we are going to fine and blacklist six of them. I won’t mention their names but I have got the list and we want them to stop behaving badly. Any shop that will be behaving in that manner will have their licence withdrawn,” he said.