Thousands of Zimbabweans currently struggling to make ends meet due to the prevailing harsh economic environment in the country, have resorted to getting loans from micro finance institutions and so-called money sharks in order to supplement their meager income.
In some cases, loan recipients are getting a raw deal as high interest rates end up emptying their pockets.
A 37 year-old civil servant, who only wants to be identified as Moyo, earns $370 per month. He says this is not enough to buy food, clothes, pay fees for his children and cater for other basic necessities. At the end of last year, he decided to get a $500 loan from a micro finance company to pay tuition fees for his child who was supposed to enroll for Form One studies.
He is not alone in this predicament as a single mother and state parastatal worker, Ruth Banda, recently got a $400 loan from a money lending institution after spending almost half a year without getting her salary.
Banda says she almost lost her valuable assets when she struggled to repay her loan.
Large numbers of people in Gweru are facing similar problems as the country’s economy has been declining fast following the 2013 general elections.
Micro finance lending is not unique to Zimbabwe but not all of them or money lending institutions operate without following national finance laws. Globally, micro finance companies cater for the interests of small-scale businesses that hardly access capital from major banks.
Executives at most of these institutions declined to talk to Studio 7 but one of the workers, who also refused to speak on tape in fear of being victimized, noted that they are having difficulties in recovering loans from most beneficiaries, including civil servants that make the bulk of loan recipients.
Local attorney, Brian Dube, says individuals looking for loans should approach most of these institutions with caution as some of them are not properly registered.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe oversees the registration and operations of micro finance institutions. Despite some strict laws governing the operations of these organizations, there are a lot of unregistered money sharks who charge high interest rates.
In some cases, individuals run such operations from the comfort of their homes in what is commonly known as chimpadzo.
Dube says people who get loans from these individuals find it difficult to get some form of redress if they are cheated.
Some observers, key players in the money market and the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, say micro lending institutions generally trap ordinary people in poverty cycles that are difficult to break.
Martin Charumbira, economics department chairperson at the Midlands State University, speaking as an independent economic analyst, says micro credit can have a negative impact on people though it is designed to create employment and boost income of the poor.
There appears to be a thin line between micro finance institutions and black money market or chimpadzo dealers in Zimbabwe as high interest rates dominate the local money market in a nation currently ravaged by poverty.