The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
IN November last year following an unending cat and mouse game between authorities and foreign currency dealers, President Mnangagwa through the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act set the maximum sentence for foreign currency traders at ten years.
The sentence was supposed to deter those engaged in the illegality and yes, for a time they developed cold feet while law enforcement agencies in plain clothes made sure they desert the street corners of the country’s towns and cities.
For a while, there was sanity. Strangers wouldn’t be asked if they wanted to change money and even the mapostori known and easily identifiable by their white head gear had changed into something obscure.
In Bulawayo they moved from their traditional area of operation at Tredgold Building which ironically houses the courts after the intervention of Chief Justice Luke Malaba to an area between Charter House and Bulawayo Main Post Office and were later cleared off the streets by the police after the introduction of the ten-year jail term.
But now they are back at their base. They have disregarded and despised both the ten-year jail sentence that lurks in the country’s statutes and the warning by the CJ that the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) would not tolerate such illegality right at the courts’ doorsteps.
Both the police and that JSC have expressed concern at the return of the foreign currency dealers in the streets and have promised stern action. Theories of connivance with authorities continue to play with accusations that both the police and city council officials officers look at them with dismissive tolerance and surprising passiveness.
The argument by the JSC has been that Tredgold Building is where the city’s magistrate courts are housed and must be revered and not be seen to be the pot from where economic illegalities of such damaging reputation are brewed and nurtured.
The building has however, failed to impose itself and has been treated less than the outside of a nightclub — with ridicule and mockery that does not befit its standing. The pronunciation last year by CJ Malaba that it was “unhealthy” for such things to be carried out on the doorstep of the courts made easy the work of clearing the area by the authorities but it was for a little while too.
Judiciary Services Commission Acting Secretary Mr Walter Chikwanha however, reaffirmed the Commission’s stance saying the Tredgold Magistrate’s Court should not co-exist with illegality.
“Our position has not changed. We can’t have illegal activities going on at the doorstep of our courts. We can’t have pirate taxis, vendors, illegal money changers and a lot of noise at the court building. Having such activities happening outside the courtroom is really unprecedented and obviously unacceptable,” said Mr Chikwanha.
He said the effect of the disorder was that people would not have confidence in the justice system.
“We wrote a letter to the Bulawayo City Council for them to see how they can relocate some of the people (vendors) so that there is some semblance of order outside the court. We want people who come to that court to have confidence in the system,” said Mr Chikwanha.
He added that the ten-year jail sentence was effective as there was no change to it. National police spokesperson Asst Comm Paul Nyathi said police were making arrests and they were receiving reports from across the country.
“We have been receiving reports from across the country on arrests. We may not be privy to what will happen when they are taken to court but arrests are being made. We have not failed. Our officers are effecting arrests and are on the ground throughout the country. I also want to warn the money changers to desist from engaging in their illegal activities,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He however, urged a multi-sectoral approach to the problem saying the police, the city council and the courts should work together to ensure there was normalcy.
Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni said the handicap was that municipal police have no arresting powers and called on the powers that be to establish municipal courts and give municipal police arresting powers.
“Our problem is dealing with illegal money changers because our municipal police have no arresting powers. If our police had arresting powers and the city had municipal courts to prosecute offenders for blocking streets and pavements, it would be easier for us to enforce our by-laws. The answer here lies in giving our metro police all the powers of a national police force and creation of municipal courts which will enforce our by-law. Otherwise as it is, the money changers, vendors, pirate taxi drivers will continue playing cat and mouse with national police force to the detriment of public safety and decency,” said the mayor.
“The kombis at Tredgold are exploiting on the laxity of legislative enforcement mechanisms. As a city we are however, making a lot of interventions, as you know that Egodini terminus is now closed for construction and some of our termini are now within the city confines.
We are working with the three companies running commuter omnibuses to urge their drivers to observe designated parking bays.
“As for vendors and money changers, the national police must deal with that menace. The CJ had suggested that we close the section of Fort Street near Tredgold. The challenge with that is that we are talking about the heart of the city. We fear that there will be a lot of congestion in the CBD if we were to do that. We have however, placed the issue before our town planning people for an opinion on the feasibility of such a measure. But in the interim we are pursuing the 3rd Avenue and 6th Avenue redesign approach to see if it works to our advantage,” he added.