Finance and Development minister Mthuli Ncube is incensed that some businesses have now started demanding foreign currency only for certain grocery basics. We recently reported that we are finding out that more and more items are now being sold in foreign currency only including items like Mazoe, fresh milk and essential medications in pharmacies. The Minister revealed that he was very much aware of this practice and demanded it comes to a stop. See him breathing fire in the video below as he calls out the companies doing this for breaking the law. He singled out Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited who are selling Mazoe in foreign currency only.

The pot and the kettle

This is just a case of the pot and the kettle calling each other out though. The keyword from this rant by the minister is “illegal”. That is the only thing separating what these companies are doing and what the government and politically exposed people in Zimbabwe who run businesses are doing. Those in power and the government have the ability to craft laws in the form of Statutory Instruments that allows them to go around demanding foreign currency only for their wares. It began with fuel sellers who never sold fuel in Zimbabwean dollars even when they received foreign currency allocations from the central bank. The latest beneficiary of this practice is ZESA but along the way, they have been so many including Zuva Petroleum who only now sells their LP Gas in USD. Even during the brief USD ban of 2019 companies like Chicken Inn had very dubious exemptions that allowed them to continue to sell in USD when everyone else was prevented from doing so legally.

The only difference here is that the government possesses the power to make whatever they do legal even if it is outrageous. A lot of businesses in the informal sector stopped caring about what the Finance Minister had to say a long time ago. The result is that pretty much all of downtown Harare is a foreign currency-only zone. They will not accept your RTGS and they do not care that it is illegal. They know nothing will happen to them. There are too many to arrest and prosecute not that the police care. Most of those tasked with enforcing the law happily accept their allocated cold drink money from the vendors not that they would waste time arresting vendors when there are real criminals out there. Even shops owned by the police and ministers engage in this practice. The Finance Minister is fighting a losing battle. Surely he knows this. If he doesn’t then we are in more trouble than we thought.