Social safety nets breakdown pushes girls into crime

By Nomzamo Gwebu

Samkeliso Sibanda (18), lives in the old high density suburb of Lobengula in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. At such a tender age Samkeliso says she has been involved in criminal activities such as robberies and extortion, just to bring food on the table for her grandmother.

“I live with my grandmother and we are poor. My grandmother struggles to provide for me. She is a vegetable vendor and does not earn much from her work. At school I struggled to fit in because of the poverty,” says Samukeliso.

Samukeliso says living as an outcast because of poverty pushed her to hustle, a popular term among young people in Zimbabwe that refers to getting money by any means possible. She says that survival strategy saw her getting involved in criminal activities and almost led her to jail.

“I started dating when I was in Form 2 and I was just 14 years old. My boyfriend had a lot of money and he was always spoiling me with money and gifts. I started to bring home some food. My grandmother never questioned me about the food and money,” says Samukeliso.

Samukeliso says she did not know that her boyfriend was a robber until she was in Form Four. She claims that she was lured by her boyfriend to go to Harare, the capital city for his business activities. When they got to Harare, Samukeliso says she realised that her husband worked with other criminal elements to rob people. She says her boyfriend revealed the nature of his work and enticed her to join in on the promise of huge financial rewards.

“When he explained to me the nature of his work, I was really scared but he assured me that everything was going to be okay and that I was safe. When we returned to Bulawayo I did not tell anyone because I was afraid that my boyfriend would be arrested,” says Samukeliso.

Samukeliso says her boyfriend started to involve her in his criminal activities on the threat that if she refused, he would report her to the police for possessing stolen items.

My job was to seduce some targeted men and get information on their business activities. I would then give this information to my boyfriend who would then organise the robbery. She says for some time this worked well until one of the victims realised that she was involved in the robbery.

“We had targeted a foreign currency dealer popularly known as Ospahatheleni. I had already gone out with the target on two occasions before we planned the robbery. One day when I saw that he had a lot of money in his car, I called my boyfriend informing him about where we were and the huge amount of money I had seen,” says Samukeliso.

The robbery was unsuccessful because the alert foreign currency dealer managed to drive away. Samukeliso says the dealer suspected her and demanded her mobile phone and saw the messages with her boyfriend on planning the robbery. She says she was taken into custody and was asked to be the witness into her boyfriend’s crimes.

Samukeliso says while she is happy that she managed to escape from criminal life without jail. She says many young girls are getting into criminal life to escape poverty and that many of them are used by hardened criminals as bait. She also says if her parents were there to raise her, she could not have fallen into the hands of criminals.

“It is a sad reality that many young girls are used in criminal activities such as robberies and drug peddling. Mostly it is girls from poor families who are used by criminals. It is a dangerous way of getting money but I have learned my lesson. I will not get back to that life again,” says Samukeliso.

Creative Centre for Communication and Development, Zimbabwe