Ximex Mall: Hustlers’ eternal paradise
Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
As construction machines and personnel barricaded and began tearing down the infamous Ximex Mall, Harare’s “hustlers’ paradise” and haven for cellphone thieves and dealers, many people thought it was the last they were seeing of vice around the CBD.
In many circles the demise of Ximex Mall, which began in March this year after the National Social Security Authority announced that they were pulling down the mall for an up-market multi-storey complex linked to the Joina City, was sweet news.
They didn’t know how long the process to clear the area would take! The dealers have stayed on and the numbers seem to be increasing everyday as activities at Ximex Mall have continued unabated with no end in sight. For the dealers here, news of the destruction of Ximex Mall initially sent shockwaves but they soon learnt to live with the reality and without the walls.
“That news was devastating and it just meant we were in trouble as we did not have any other place to sell our wares, especially the fact that most of the places such as the Copacabana and Market Square were already swarming with our colleagues although these targeted customers from western suburbs who did not care much about trendy phones or other sophisticated gadgets we were selling,” said a dealer who has been at Ximex Mall since the turn of the century.
With the doors at the mall chained and bolted and tenants having found alternative space at other shops while others completely closed shop, the vendors and dealers did not abandon their posts as they continued “trading”. “We could not abandon our trade because this was the only place we could work from. We did not have offices here and the street was and is still our office. We just moved on with business,” said another dealer.
But as the Ximex Mall shut its doors, some of the dealers turned to unorthodox means of gaining access to the building to relieve themselves or to conduct other illegal activities, raising the ire of the police and the public in general. The police intensified raids at the mall as they tried to get rid of the ills that were associated with the place.
“The place had been turned into a virtual dumpsite with the dealers and passers by throwing litter into the abandoned building. The dealers turned the middle-market shopping mall into a down town shopping centre and that was beginning to be a cause for concern for the authorities,” James Tongai of Mufakose said in an interview yesterday.
However, with growing echoes of discontent vibrating across the corners of Harare, NSSA moved in and engaged a contractor to raze the building in preparation for the construction of an upmarket five-story building that will be linked to Joina City across Jason Moyo Avenue.
And as the contractor moved onto the site in March, many were of the belief that at last the dealers would get off the area.
The dealers have not only stayed put but the numbers seem to be increasing by the day amid concern that with the ongoing demolition, disaster could occur at the site.
“That site has become a danger zone, especially with the construction activities. There are dump trucks and other heavy machinery that could pose a danger to the dealers who have taken over the walkways constructed for pedestrians,” Mr Gary Hickerby of Acardia.
NSSA contracted Drawcard Enterprises for the demolitions and the site manager Mr Leonard Mutedzi agrees that the dealers are at risk when an accident happens.
“That area is hazardous especially for the dealers who do their activities a few metres from the construction boundaries. We have seen some days when they only respond to a sound or boom that they scamper for safety but anything can happen when an accident happens,” he said.
Mr Mutedzi said they had instructed their security personnel to move the dealers away but they faced resistance. He said because of the growing numbers it was important for the police to move in to restore order. “As a contractor, we do not want anyone within our boundaries but the dealers have taken over the hoardings (walkways) that are there for pedestrians so that they do not walk on the tarmac, but it seems the dealers have found shades and benches for free,” he said.
He, however, said his company had completed the demolitions and would be moving out of the site.
A vendor who identified himself as Dread said despite the raids by the police they would continue with their activities as it was their only source of income.
“The police raid us almost three times a day and we are charged for obstructing traffic, humans and vehicles, but we are always back on the streets after paying admission of guilt fines. This is our work place. We are educated but because there are no jobs we are here to make the most of the opportunities available. We do not steal from anyone and all that we do is legal and above board,” he said.
While the streets around Ximex Mall are teeming with the dealers, adjacent buildings especially the take-aways, salons and other offices, have become places to conclude the deals. ZRP Harare Metropolitan Provincial spokesperson Inspector Tadius Chibanda was not readily available to comment although police sources confirmed raids on illegal dealers. The raids have, however, been dismissed as ineffective amid allegations that police details who raid the dealers are engaged in corrupt activities.
Ximex Mall once belonged to the late property mogul Sam Levy who converted the former Duly’s car showroom, first into a department store and then a shopping mall. Ximex Mall, the dealer’s paradise, has over the years grown from a mortley illegal foreign currency dealers to aggressive vendors working with the latest phones, Ipads, laptops and other electronic goods.
In the years preceding the economic downturn that reached unprecedented levels in 2008, Ximex Mall housed some shops that sold designer clothes such as South Central, trendy hair salons and a number of internet cafes.
Also at the mall was the famous Pub and Grill bar which turned to be a meeting place for several people who had time to while up during the day. It is also at these venues that illicit deals are believed to have started especially when Zimbabwe started experiencing cash flow shortages as the Zimbabwean dollar started plummeting.
Ximex Mall became the haven for, initially, money changers, as each new denomination or note introduced by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in their fight against galloping inflation, quickly found its way to that mall. The mall became THE PLACE for the illusive Zimbabwean dollar as inflation bit into the economy.
However, as Zimbabweans became more innovative in a bid to beat the economic challenges, shrewd dealers at Ximex Mall also turned the leaf as they started dealing in foreign currency.
When the whole country was squealing under the effects of the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, dealers at Ximex Mall became the trend setters, driving the latest vehicles, wearing some of the best clothes that the United States dollar could buy while they also drank the then illusive beer brands especially those imported from South Africa. Ximex Mall dealers enjoyed imported lagers such as Hansa Pilsener when they were still going for US$30 per six pack as they bought these without batting an eyelid.
And when Zimbabwe’s erstwhile mobile operators starved the populace of handsets, dealers at Ximex Mall were selling a mobile phone starter-pack for $200. The dealers were making a killing as people in the Diaspora started sending foreign currency into the country. As the country officially adopted the multi-currency system in 2009 many people thought the development spelt doom for the dealers as the US dollar and South African Rand became legal tender.
But the survival tactics that had seen the dealers at Ximex Mall survive the proverbial cat’s nine lives saw the emergence of a very viable market for cellphones.
It also brought the belief that once you lose your phone either by accident or the hand of a cunning thief, it would be heading straight to Ximex Mall where the dealers used their “dollar” power to buy the latest gadgets on the market for a song.
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