Zimbabwe: Shoplifters, predators preying in the pockets of retailers

By Alan Rushesha – Everyday, except for Sundays were business transactions would be low in the central business district or simply to confess her sins to God, Theresa Kavhiya (not real name) desperately waits at a bus-stop for the cheapest transport to ferry her to town. Before leaving her home in the early hours of the day off to work, Kavhiya puts on a ‘heavy-glittering’ make-up and wore her favorite African attire, typical of Nigerian movie icons style of dressing. This dressed to kill fashion is done probably to disguise security guards manning the shops in the CBD so that they assume it is one of richest customers.

This has become a daily meal for Kavhiya who have turned shoplifting into a profession, making a living from shoplifting and tend to be more skilled. When this reporter tricked her into believing to be part of the shoplifters crew, also commonly known as ‘shop dambus’, it gave her enough confidence and courage to explain some of the techniques used
in the process and how it started.

“It started nine years ago after my parents chased me from our Chitungwiza home when they have discovered that I was pregnant. In a desperate measure to bring food for myself and my unborn child, my best friend introduced me to the game (shoplifting) and now I am the only senior members left,” she said.

As she recalled, her first assignment was stealing a chocolate and a perfume from the rakes near the cashing point in one of the biggest supermarkets in the country back in 2001. From there, she was unstoppable as she could steal goods from supermarkets ranging from needles, toothpastes, cotton, cooking oil mealie-meal and whole range of items that hitherto could only be found in conventional shops.

“It is very possible to walk out in a busy supermarket with a five-litre container of cooking-oil between my thighs” she testified. But how is it possible for someone who is slim to squeeze big grocery items between her ‘pencil sized’ thighs? “I usually wear baggy clothes, making it more difficult for the security guards to notice anything.”

She has used the same modus operandi for close to a decade and she has been able to play hide and seek games with a handful of mounted state-of-the-art cameras in various supermarkets across the country.

Another ‘self-crowned’ shoplifter based in Kwekwe said they move in groups when ‘invading’ shops preferably supermarkets and other Chinese-owned retails whilst putting on dark sunglasses so as to avoid direct eye contacts with fixed security cameras also commonly known as Closed circuit television (CCTV) and security guards.

“We move in groups so as to grab the attention of some shop-assistance. One of our group member moves around the supermarket pushing a trolley whilst pretending to be reading a grocery list on his hand. And whenever he finds less congested area, free from security camera(CCTV), he drops some of the groceries on the floor so that one of the female can pretend to pick something from the floor before firmly grabbing the stolen goods  between her thighs”, he said.

After accomplishing their mission, the group of shoplifters rush to their regular buyers without wasting any time and sell the stolen goods at a wholesale price before sharing equivalently the spoils of the day.

According to one relative of a prominent shoplifter in Chitungwiza who chose to spoke on conditions of anonymity confirmed his brother managed to buy a residential stand in Kwekwe after he shifted from practising his illegal activities to neighbouring countries such as Botswana and South Africa.

“I have a brother who has bought a stand through shoplifting and of late, he has crossing boarders,” she said. When contacted for a comment, a handful of retail managers expressed
anger at the shoplifters’ ruthless behavior saying they were robbing them of their hard-earned cash. “Can you imagine working tirelessly in the field and someone from nowhere come to harvest without the owner’s approval, it is totally unacceptable,” fumed one shop manager who works along Samora Machel avenue.

Meanwhile, a number of leading supermarkets in the country have resorted to using advanced technology such as Electronic article surveillance (EAS)- a technology used to identify items as they pass through a gated are and security camera aimed at reducing cases of shoplifting which has become a major setback to retailers across the country.