In time-honoured street hawker tradition, Kaitano Kasani is using charm and persuasion to get people to sell him their tattered US banknotes.
Kasani, 42, bellows through a megaphone as he walks through Glen Norah, a township in Harare, in the sweltering November heat.
“Bring all your old and torn notes. I have a good rate today. There is no other better deal in town,” Kasani shouts.
A woman brings a torn $20 note (£15) which Kasani inspects before handing her $15.
In Zimbabwe’s beleaguered economy, buying and selling half-shredded banknotes has become the latest hustle.
“Most of my clients are shocked that I actually buy such money. They love me for that,” says Kasani, showing a handful of filthy dollars which would be rejected in supermarkets or other businesses.
Zimbabweans are suspicious of banks and prefer to keep their money under pillows and beds. In previous crises, hyperinflation wiped out millions in savings, particularly in 2008. Now, there is a lack of favoured banknotes as they wear out faster than replacements come into circulation.
Shortages have led to the government telling banks and retailers not to reject old or worn US dollars, but many defy the order. A lack of exports means fewer new notes in circulation, and Zimbabweans are re-using increasingly grubby notes. Dealers either mend them or sell them on to others who will bribe or otherwise persuade senior bank officials to exchange large quantities.
“These torn notes are more valuable to me than new ones. These old notes, when taken to the bank, will be replaced at the same value, yet we would have bought them at nearly half the original value, depending on how bad they are,” says Kasani.
“All I need is the serial number and the necessary features for me to take.”
Kasani sells old notes to business people and other cash dealers at 80% profit.
His new business has sustained his four children after he lost his job in manufacturing two years ago.
“This is quite lucrative; I actually got some assets through this business. I was one of the first people to buy such money in Banket [north-west of Harare] and other surrounding areas. It is just that the trade is now flooded, so I may have to concentrate on other things,” he says.
The country decommissioned the Zimbabwean dollar after it was destabilised by protracted periods of hyperinflation. It was reintroduced in 2019 despite warnings from economists that the country did not have enough foreign reserves to sustain it. At that point transactions in US dollars were prohibited, but as cash shortages threatened business, the government backtracked to allow traders to accept the US currency again last year.
Now, shortages of small US dollar denominations are leading to a boom in torn notes dealers.
In central Harare, 36-year-old Munengami* keeps an eye out for plain-clothed police patrolling in a popular area for illegal trading. Dealers, some with babies strapped on their backs, endure constant run-ins with police, who have launched a campaign to remove illegal money changers.
A government crackdown blames traders for a plunge in the value of the Zimbabwean dollar. Money dealers say they are being scapegoated for the government’s economic failures.
“They know that we are not the problem here. We do not have the power to raise the exchange rates. Government needs to deal with those businessmen who flood the streets with local currency, which automatically reduces the value of the dollar,” says Munengami.
Zimbabwe’s vice-president, Constantino Chiwenga, has warned of harsh measures against traders, with the government setting up an intelligence unit to fish out “saboteurs” and “fraudsters”.
As the Zimbabwe dollar continues on a “death spiral”, losing ground against the US dollar, economists have called on the government to make the US dollar the only unit of exchange. But the finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, ruled that out.
“We cannot adopt the US dollar alone as the official currency. You were there before and there were queues at banks, huge foreign currency deficits and you had deflation. That was because of the US dollar,” he says. “It is not a good idea, and it will be suicidal to do so.”
Economist Clemence Machadu says the crackdown on illegal dealing is futile.
“The government is firefighting, and that explains why we really haven’t seen much of a change … We should get down to brass tacks and deal with root causes, which are really rooted in supply, and not symptoms of the problem,” says Machadu.
Carefully applying glue to a $20 note, Munengami explains how he makes a living.
“I am a teacher by profession and the day I converted my salary to US dollars and got $50 [£37], I knew there was no future for me in teaching,” says Munengami.
“I buy torn notes to sell to my clients. It is more profitable than forex [foreign exchange] vending since I determine the price. I sell these notes to shops and businesspeople, at 20% profit.”
A few yards from Munengami, Amina Banda, 34, does a deal with a man inside a parked SUV with her baby strapped on her back.
“I am always nervous that the police will arrest me, but this is how we operate on the streets. I do not trust anyone, so whenever a transaction happens, I always maintain a safe distance so I can escape. Sometimes, the police come in plain clothing disguising themselves,” she says.
“I have a family to feed so I have to stick to the streets.”
*Partial name used at the request of interviewee
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Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion
Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.
On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.
“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.
Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.
On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.
A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.
The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.
After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.
Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.
Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.
Her death comes after that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.
While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.
“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.
The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.
According to a statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.
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Polish state has ‘blood on its hands’ after death of woman refused an abortion | Abortion
The family of a Polish woman who died on Tuesday after doctors refused to perform an abortion when the foetus’s heart stopped beating have accused the government of having “blood on their hands”.
The woman, identified only as Agnieszka T, was said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she was admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa on 21 December. Her death comes a year after Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.
According to a statement released by relatives, the 37-year-old was experiencing pain when she arrived at the hospital but was “fully conscious and in good physical shape”.
The first foetus died in the womb on 23 December, but doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation, and Agnieszka’s family claim “her state quickly deteriorated”. The hospital waited until the heartbeat of the second twin also stopped a week later, and then waited a further two days before terminating the pregnancy on 31 December.
Agnieszka died on 25 January after weeks of deteriorating health. Her family suspect that she died as a result of septic shock, but the hospital did not identify the cause of her death in statement issued on Wednesday.
“This is proof of the fact that the current government has blood on their hands,” the woman’s family said in a statement on Facebook. The family also uploaded distressing footage of Agnieszka in poor health shortly before she died.
After the termination of the pregnancy a priest was summoned by the hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, Agnieszka’s family said.
Her death follows that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was denied an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined.
Agnieszka’s family claim that contact with the hospital was very poor and that the hospital refused to share the results of Agnieszka’s medical tests citing confidentiality guidelines. They say the doctors “insinuated” that Agnieszka’s rapidly deteriorating state could be caused by BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and suggested she ate raw meat. The hospital did not reference this claim in their statement.
According to the statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. It is not clear whether an autopsy has been ordered.
Agnieszka is survived by her husband and three children.
The Guardian has contacted the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital for comment.
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