Zimbabweans in SA resort to underground ways to send remittances to families home

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By Josiah Mucharowana in Pretoria

Extended lockdown settings imposed by both South Africa and Zimbabwe on citizens have rendered efforts by Zimbaweans to send either groceries and remittances to loved ones back home a challenging task as coronavirus figures escalates.

Prior to the lockdown that has cordoned off airports and ports of entry, the majority of people used Mukuru Bank, a third party for Standard Charter Bank, South Africa.

Others used various cash transfers platforms which include Western Union Money Transfer, Ecocash Send Home by Econet Zimbabwe, Mama Money, World Remit, Paisa which is underwritten by ABSA bank.

South Africa imposed a nationwide lockdown from 26 March and President Cyril Ramaphosa extended by a further two weeks on the 9th of April with the lockdown measures continuing in the 42nd day.

Zimbabwe ensued with a lockdown from the 31 for a first 21 days that were supposed to end on the 20th of March. An additional two weeks were added by the authorities

Both lockdowns brought in a battery of measures that saw major businesses grinding to a halt and shops closing save for a few big supermarket chains, clinics, hospitals and a smattering of transport providers that does not include transnational air travel and bus operators.

In South Africa, alcohol and cigarettes were banned for sale while in Zimbabwe the move was revoked a few days later.

The arrival of many Zimbabweans in South Africa has also brought with it a plethora of cash transfers services to Zimbabwe some registered while others moonlight under the auspices of known businesses such as shops and bus operators.

However, since lockdown came into play, there has been a marked emergence of informal cash transfer services doing business from their lodgings.

In most instances, there are no offices, but reliability,  trust and a good track record play a major role.

These cash transfers middleman can relay money instantly either in US dollars or South African Rand depending on one’s choice and Mukuru is quite popular.

However, Mukuru rates since lockdown have been on the rise with many Zimbabwean account holders complaining of the marked increase.

Efforts to get comments from Mukuru management as why this has been so were fruitless but a dial of Mukuru rates stood at R1030 sends US$50 and R1656 sends US$ 80 inclusive of a R96 transaction charge.

At the time of writing, the South African Rand stood at 18.86 against the greenback.

A cash transfers agent popular at Bossman Bus Terminal in Pretoria simply known as Munya of Cash River money transfer services associated with Phadziri Bus services told the writer that: ” Yes, we are in business even though it is subdued because of the lockdown. We send to Harare and Masvingo, they can collect either in rands or US. Right now our point of collection in Chikwanha in Chitungwiza,”

” I hear in Harare there has been a complete lockdown mainly in the city centre, people cannot go to town,” he said adding other areas were fairly accessible by hook and crook.

A survey at Bossman Bus Terminus found the once bustling place eerily quiet. Cash transfers agents are usually within the environs. Police were on patrol and a Mukuru office nearby in operation.

Another cash transfer agent Best Express was under lock and key with supplied contact numbers unreachable.

An informal cash transfer dealer plying his trade in Mamelodi East known as Dube said they were also in business remitting money to Harare.

” Yes we are in business for monies to Harare. We charge 10 percent for every amount” Dube said.

He proceeded to forward messages from his unnamed middleman in Harare.

” I stay at Rhodesville flats, you take Samora Machel Avenue then Glenara,”

” Or you tell your people we can meet either Pennywise shops or Avondale shops”, the messages read.

Buses too have been largely used to transport goods and much-needed groceries back to Zimbabwe with Power House close to Park Station  in Johannesburg and Bosman Bus Terminus in Pretoria becoming a notable hub of goods transportation to areas as far afield as Harare and Bulawayo.

A bus terminus marshal for Coswell logistics operating at Bossman in Pretoria spoken to by the writer from his lodgings known as Saratiel Mukanga said: “It does not look good. We are in a tough time. There is no business for us. I have been home since lockdown. Sending money to Zimbabwe is challenge now.”

” Let’s see this month during phase 4 . Those who are registered might be allowed to operate. But those without permits ‘zvakadirwa jecha”, he said in reference to national phase 4 to be introduced by South Africa starting this month that would see some relaxations and amendments to the strict lock-down rules.

Others in far-flung corners of Zimbabwe used transporters popularly known as ‘ Omalaytshas’ who in most instances opted for door- to- door deliveries but cannot freely travel around South African suburbs doing collections.

The Beitbridge border though open for transportation of cargo would render drivers and assistants staff liable for a mandatory, government sanctioned 21 day quarantine once they enter the Zimbabwean side.

Previously used conduits for cash transfers are being shunned for various reasons.

” Mukuru has become very expensive for us. It’s appears they are taking advantage of the lockdown and the plummeting Rand. Right now I have some money that I can’t send to my kids in Zimbabwe, it is almost two months now since lockdown started, nobody moves’, said Loice Chipunza adding she had to approach underground people to transact money home.

For most Zimbabweans, Johannesburg and Pretoria are advantageous as they are easily accessible both by road and train which is fairly cheap.

Most weekends especially monthends, both Bossman and Park Station Station teminuses are a beehive of activitiy as Zimbabweans shop groceries or clothes for dependants and children in nearby shops giving bus operators to take home.

Another Zimbabwean in Capetown Naboth Manyame told  the writer it was hard surviving under lockdown since people are not going to work hence they cannot earn.

” You are better off you enquire about sending money. You have the money. Here we are so dry. I think there is no other way to send money right now besides Mukuru or that one for Ecocash Send,” he said from CapeTown.

Previously, he said there have been a few bus operators linking CapeTown and Harare directly with Chihwa tour operators being popular.

Investigations revealed a small parcel of either clothing or groceries about 50 to 100 kilogrammes would be transported from CapeTown to Harare for R800 on average.

Bus drivers and assistants would also act as conduits for informal cash transfers.

However, the trend seems to have plummeted owing to increased armed robberies targeted against bus operators in recent years with Coswell Logistics being the most recent casualty along the N1 road between Zebediella and Polokwane.

58 passengers lost valuables including money and cellphones with the bus driver Thembane Ngwenya escaping death by a whisker as two bullets missed him.

On the other hand,  groceries have seen a gumut of online merchants engaged in creative ways to avail groceries in Zimbabwe with Malaicha.com taking the lead.

However, there have been concerns by users as the application is not user friendly and there were reports of mismatched goods ordered on the platform to those received Zimbabwe.

The platform also is reportedly cumbersome on registration requiring either passports, asylum permits or driver’s licences which the majority of Zimbabweans in South Africa do not have.

” Yooh I am tired. It is my second time now trying to open an account with them but it seems luck is not on my side. The application says unclear identification but I would have finished doing everything’, said Rosemary David.

Since February 2020 , a Zimbabwean increased fees for passport as a measure to source paper and materials mainly imported from outside the country.

An emergency passport to be obtained in three working days now costs US 318 for those in the diaspora through Zimbabwean Embassies while those applied through the normal route cost ZW 150 from ZW 53. Those applying in Zimbabwe for emergency passport cost ZW600.

Reportedly, there has been a backlog of 400 000 passport applications at the Registrar’s office which receives an average of 2 000 new applications daily yet it can only service 400 a day.

Ever since Robert Mugabe’ s almost four decades of calamitous reign highlighted by economic ruin, there has been an ever growing appetite by Zimbabweans to get passport and jump ship into the diaspora.

The current government has also presided over incremental economic ruin struggling to reign in on the melting pot characterised by perennial fuel and food shortages.

This year, the World Food Programme recently indicated there were 7, 7 Zimbabweans currently who are ‘ food insecure’.

Users of the Malaicha platform also complained of a limited catalogue of goods on offer back in Zimbabwe adding they should also include building materials, furniture, laptops and phones.

Some users also complained about the 30 percent they charge for door-to door-delivery countrywide which  has been seen as exorbitant with others say the courier promises is not always fulfilled in some instances recipients taking long distances to gather the ordered groceries.

Enquirers on Malaicha.com contacts to get comments were futile.

As of 09 May, the official figure for coronavirus in South Africa as announced by Health Minister Dr Zwelikhize stood at 9420  positive cases identified, 3983 of recoveries and 186 were confirmed deaths.

Zimbabwe had 35 confirmed cases, 5 recoveries and 4 deaths. Over 6000 screenings and diagnostic tests have been done.

Worldwide, there have been 4,06 million cases of which 1,39 million have recovered while 280 thousand deaths have been recorded globally.

President Ramaphosa recently addressed the nation introducing measures to ease the nation into partial lockdown in phases from phase five through to phase one which is the ultimate abolishment of curfew measures.

According to fact checking site Africa Check, an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa, the bulk of whom are illegals without proper documentation and cannot be accommodated in formal employment. The majority survive  doing menial jobs in construction, as maids and gardeners.

As a goodwill gesture, South Africa Visa requirements for Zimbabweans and instituted a Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit that sought to, record, recognise and grant legitimacy to Zimbabweans who had been living in the shadows for a long time playing cat and mouse with South African immigration.

Permits were accorded on relaxed grounds with some of the requirements such as Identification documents, passports,  supporting documents waived to speed up the process.

The majority of Zimbabweans run away from political instability, economic crisis and violence that characterised the Robert Mugabe years continuing to date.

In the wake for coronavirus, the South African government only availed stimulus package for its citizens and businesses as cushion from downsized economic activities.

The move saw government assisted child support, disability, old age grants increased considerably.

Those out of employment are to receive R350 a month for six months starting this April.

It remains to be seen how the new phase 4 will impact on Zimbaweans wanting to work and give remittances back to loved ones back in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile South African police minister Bheki Cele has indicated the current lockdown settings of level four will continue unabated.

“We don’t know when level 4 ends. We are busy stopping and searching those cars,” he is quoted saying earlier this week.

Josiah Mucharowana is a journalist in Pretoria, Feedback: joemasvokisi@gmail.com. WhatsApp +2784 587 4121