VENDORS selling drinks, fruits and snacks at most toll gates across the country are now doubling as money changers buying foreign currency at black market rates so motorists can use the local banknotes to pay their toll fees at official rates, effectively at a discount, and this happens right in front of police officers deployed at the tollgates.
Zinara charges US$2 for light vehicles or $164 in local currency, although at the rate of the last three auctions this should be $211, and most motorists are enticed with high black market rates which will see them changing just US$1 to raise the $164 as they pursue the advantages of arbitraging between rates, as economists would call it.
Zinara is still using the rate of US$1:$82, which is not only far less than the black market rates but also lower than the US$1:105,6 at recent auctions.
While it financially benefits the motorists to convert their US dollar notes with the dealers on the verges, Zinara is being deprived of foreign currency as money changers take advantage of the company’s low exchange rate.
Such illegal dealings take place in full view of the police, who at times also engage in money changing during their pay days in violation of the law.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said vending and money changing at tollgates were illegal and warned that vendors and money changers would soon be arrested.
As the police and Zinara, we have taken a common position that vending and foreign currency dealings at tollgates is illegal. The police will take all the necessary measures to ensure the illegal vendors are removed from tollgates.
“Those who resist, will be arrested. We also urged Zinara officials who are also at toll gates to conscientise the people that vending and money changing are illegal,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
“Police officers who dabble in such activities and join money-changers will be dealt with. We do not condone illegal activities by police officers. If there are police officers who are involved in such illegalities, they must be warned that action will be taken against them. The law will surely take its course,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.
Interestingly, local authorities have been folding their hands as illegal vending developed to become the order of the day, raising jurisdictional issues.
Local authorities are known for rounding up illegal vendors in town but when it comes to enforcement of the law at tollgates, they correctly cite Zinara and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development as the authorities responsible for trunk roads.
In a recent interview on the sidelines of a tour of Shamva tollgate, Zinara chief executive officer Mr Nkosinathi Ncube said plans were underway to remove illegal vendors from tollgates.
“And then, we have the issue of vendors. Shamva tollgate is one site where vendors had literally taken over. There is a lot of litter around here and motorists are being disturbed and it is an offence. There is a punishment for that. All that is being done to make sure that traffic flows, motorists are safe and the Government gets the money to maintain the roads.”
The Herald visited tollgates linking Harare and other towns and observed rampant illegal vending and money changing.
At Skyline tollgate along Masvingo Road, vendors were jostling for customers selling soft drinks, mineral water, potato chips and fruit. The same vendors were offering to change money for motorists, offering the rate of US$1:$140 for cash and U$1:$160 for swipe or Ecocash.
At Shamva tollgate along Mutoko Road, wild fruits (mazhanje), apples, drinks, water, potato chips, freezits and other refreshments were for sale.
The vendors openly traded and solicited for foreign currency while holding bond notes. They were offering the rate of US$1: $140 cash so a motorist just needed to change US$1 and top up with $24, which is a lot cheaper than paying US$2.
However, it was a different story at Melfort tollgate along the Harare-Mutare highway as the vendors had been chased away by the police and Zinara officers.
They were trading from a distance for fear of arrest because a bill board had been erected right at the tollgate barring loitering and illegal vending.
Mazhanje vendors were seated a few metres from the tollgate, some complaining that their removal was meant to create an opportunity for police officers and Zinara staff to monopolise money changing.
“We are now at the end of the month, police officers and Zinara staff have just received their salaries. When they have enough money to buy foreign currency, we are chased away like this but when they run out of money, we slowly revert to our normal business.
“They monopolise money changing during month ends and we are now used to it. We will soon go back to the toll gate when they run out of money,” said a female vendor.
When The Herald visited Dema tollgate in Seke, illegal forex dealers waving wads of bond notes were touting for clients.
They were using the same rate of US$1:$140 for cash deals and US$1:160 for Ecocash or swipe.
Vendors were selling fruit, vegetables, drinks, freezits, water and other food stuffs without any fear.