I have heard of numerous stories of daylight robberies. Some are very scary, and others are mind boggling. But, while we fear that it might happen to us, it never seems probable. I still am wrestling to understand how I could have been robbed in the middle of the city of Harare before dark, without being manhandled as such. How does that happen?

It did happen to me one Friday in late January this year. I had decided to pass through the city centre after work so I could do some window shopping as I needed to buy some clothes for a very important function that was coming in a few weeks. It was opportune time because during the week, I am usually extra busy at work. I went into a boutique with exquisite dresses, and I spent quite a bit of time in that shop trying out various attires and taking pictures that I would send to my sister so she could help me choose what was best. I left the boutique and headed to where I normally caught a minibus home. As I approached Robert Mugabe Street and Rezende Avenue, there was sudden commotion on the pavement. It was not clear whether it was the police trying to hurdle with the vendors who populate most pavements, or robbers trying to steal from goodness knows who. It was so bad and so weird. I remembered a nasty story I had heard earlier in the week where this man murdered people in open places and escaped to Mozambique. I quickly decided to move from the pavement to the roadside and maybe I would cross to the other side facing oncoming traffic. I noticed that a man smartly dressed in a suit followed me to the roadside. I shall call him Tawanda. I assumed he possibly was trying to escape the pandemonium as well. I didn’t pay much attention to him, but I noticed he was carrying a small bag. 

More people were moving to the roadside and in that hustle and bustle, someone dropped money in front of me. It was rolled up and tied by a plastic band. My immediate thought was that possibly it belonged to a money changer who accidentally dropped it as he tried to escape the mayhem in the pavement. A man in his forties that I shall call Nxumalo picked up the money. Then I noted Tawanda picking up pace and he whispered to me as he passed that he was interested in the money. He caught up with Nxumalo and they walked in front of me. I could hear their conversation concerning splitting the loot. I was not interested and so decided to cross the street to walk far from these people. I was surprised to note Tawanda following me. When he caught up with me, he told me that Nxumalo had picked a lot of money and it should be shared. I did not understand why he should be talking to me as I was not interested. Though I tried not to pay attention to him, he walked even closer to me and said that the money should be shared among the three of us as I had seen Nxumalo pick it up. I began to feel uncomfortable as it seemed I was being forced to partake in something I was not interested in. I became confused as Tawanda kept insisting that I was going to get part of that money and then he asked me to hold his bag while he went into a shop. He did it in such a way that not agreeing to what he was saying was a threat. While I was getting more and more uneasy, I thought maybe I was worrying unnecessarily. This person looked like a smart and decent person who would not do crooked things. He then let me know that Nxumalo had picked US$480 and R350 and he insisted I must get a share of it otherwise I would tell on them. That then sounded like a veiled threat, and I began to really worry where all this was leading to. I told Tawanda I was not interested in getting a share of the money and that he should take the share they meant for me. He was not having any of that. He then said I should be the one sharing the loot. What was this? This man kept insisting that I should do things his way, as he was now breathing down my neck. I suppose I looked scared and that prompted him to say I should not try to make a scene, otherwise … A hundred thoughts ran through my mind. What on earth was this? I could not get any logic out of what this man was saying. I began to wonder who would rescue me? How could I show people around or even vendors on the street that I was being threatened? That this decently dressed man was not what he seemed? Should I scream? But that would only make me a spectacle.

I tried to signal to the vendors as we walked on, but no one noticed the plea in my eyes. We were two people who were walking side by side and people do not even stare at you. Probably some people thought we were partners. They are busy minding their own business. He then directed me to go to a food outlet where I would share the money. The accomplice was following, not too far away. I now was visibly scared holding tight to my laptop bag where I had also put in my phone for safety in these crowded streets. Tawanda was so close to me I could not run away in the crowded street. I was paralysed with fear, wondering what weapon he might have in his attire or in his bag. I prayed silently. I silently recited one of my favourite scriptures try and calm my tattered nerves. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me’ Psalm 23:4. I was drowning in fear. All I felt was Tawanda’s menacing presence. Sometimes, when I cannot even pray, I just keep repeating the name of Jesus in my mind. The Bible says His name is a strong tower. The righteous run to him and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).

When we got close to the food outlet, he insisted on holding onto my laptop bag so that I would not run away with their money. I tried to protest, in vain. So, I let go and held on to my wallet.  He took it, emptied it of all the money and only left my medical aid card and my vaccination certificate as well as a few other papers. He gave me the money to share. Surprisingly, it now was tied in a red sock. Tawanda told me he would wait at the entrance next to a lady who was selling some sweets and some airtime. I went into the bathroom to do the task quickly and be on my way home. From my position in the bathroom, I could see Tawanda waiting at the entrance. I had been instructed to share the $480 into 200 and 280. My knees were knocking, and my hands were clammy and shaking as I tried hard to untie the sock. When I finally managed, all that was in the sock was a roll of papers. I immediately knew I was duped. I had been robbed. I quickly walked out but Tawanda and his friend had disappeared. I looked to the left and to the right. There was no Tawanda and there was no Nxumalo. I asked the lady who sells airtime at the entrance what had happened to Tawanda. She said she had not seen him. It was futile to ask as there were many people going in and out of the food outlet, and others moving up and down the street. I could not cry. I quickly ran to the nearest police station to report the robbery. I was surprised that the police seemed to know about Nxumalo. Similar cases to mine had been reported. They were hunting for him, but he seemed slippery. The police comforted me by saying I had not been harmed and that was good, because seemingly, other cases reported that day included injuries to the victims. I did thank God that I was not physically harmed.

I took a kombi home in a tearful state, shaking uncontrollably. The kind and sympathetic landlady gave me spare keys to enter my room. I took some tablets for headache and went into bed, but I could not sleep. Though I did not want to, my mind kept rewinding and playing out the scene of that early evening. I even started wondering how it was that as Tawanda commanded and pushed me to do things I did not want to do; I was hearing no other voice but his. I was at his command and mercy. The spell had only broken when I was at the police station and had my voice back. I prayed. I prayed so hard and cursed those men. I do not think I ever dozed off to sleep.

The following day, family, friends, work mates showered me with well wishes, it was all so comforting. Some victims are harmed. I was not. I lost some precious things. But what is more precious than life? That was cause enough to be thankful for health and wellbeing. The ordeal showed me how vulnerable we are and how the mercy of God protects us always. What boggles my mind still is how everything else closed on me and all I could hear and obey was Tawanda’s voice. Was I under some spell or hypnosis? Could it be true that some of these robbers use muti (some spell binding charm)? I really do not know. Suffice that the Lord was my Shepherd during the trauma.  

In the days that followed, my friends accompanied me from work for a few days leaving me where I caught my transport home. I could not face the route alone at first. I also spent a lot of time praying with my house mate and some of my fellow church members who kept checking on me. I even pray that these robbers may have an encounter with Jesus and be transformed. There are many other people who like me are helpless while undergoing a threatening situation. But I want to say, we really are never alone. He who promised to be with us wherever we go is always there. All we need to do is call on his name.

Nontuthuzelo Khumalo is the pseudo name of the young lady who fell victim to robbers who daily scam people in the streets of our cities. We respect her privacy in remaining anonymous, but are grateful for her story and hope it will help someone in a similar predicament.