As I board one public commuter in the commercial city of Malawi, Blantyre an argument starts. The conductor is on the neck of a female passenger asking for another bank note for the fare from Limbe to the Central Business District.
The rest of the passengers learn the conductor is irritated by the lady who drew the bank note from her bra.
The conductor says it is indecent of him to receive the bank note. This is not the first time I have come accross such an incident.
But for businessperson Charles Mayenda, receiving payment from ladies for whom delving bank notes from their bras is not as disheartening as how Yamikani Pensulo (not real name) deems it.
Mayenda tells me that what matters to him is that he gets money for the goods or services and not the ‘location’ from which the bank note is drawn from.
“You see, my business should see me get me the returns, and questioning my customers about where they keep the money will entail showing no trust and mutual respect to them. I would be showing no mutual respect should I question let alone deny receiving money from them,” says Mayenda.
However, Pensulo feels keeping money in bras is more of lack of morals arguing that with the respect Malawian women are culturally accorded, at least they should keep money in handbags.
“I have felt bad receiving bank notes from my female customers’ bras. Receiving it has only been justified with the fact that I come here to make money otherwise it is embarrassing and women have to stop that act,” he tells me.
Apparently, Ethel Liwonde (not real name) whom I came accross in Blantyre with notes in her bra says she sees no problem because the value of the money rests in what it can purchase and not where it is kept.
“We also need to reckon that most female clothes are pocketless. Men’s clothes have that privilege. We say men not carrying any bags or wallets but for us women, the task of having handbags can sometimes be restless. In the bras, we have a little more space to keep the cash. There is no problem with this in my view,” she says.
In Malawi, willful defacing and soiling of banknotes is illegal, according to legal instruments that the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) operates under.
Recently the RBM issued a stern warning on how people handle money.
In November 2018, police stormed a wedding in Lilongwe where they arrested four people for dancing and stepping on bank notes.
It has been common practice in weddings and other celebratory events for people to splash money and step on it while dancing.
But RBM’s Director of Communications and Protocol Mbane Ngwira tells me the bank has over the years been involved in exercises meant to see Malawians handle bank notes with care.
According to Ngwira, people also need to know that keeping money in bras and other damp places also renders them with a health risk, a thing which the RBM believes justifies an argument that personal health risks cannot be interfered with when they can be avoided.
“The bank has an ongoing programme on sensitization of members of the public on currency handling malpractices which include keeping currency notes in bras and other damp places. One of the reasons is indeed the spread of diseases apart from the reduction of the life span of the note. Every damp note is a home of bacteria and other micro-organisms which may transmit diseases. It is indeed our responsibility to provide clean notes at all times and this can only be achieved with the cooperation of the general public,” he said in an email response on Tuesday.
Ngwira added: “The sensitization is done through Televisions, radios, workshops, public outreach just to mention a few. Although any genuine Malawi kwacha currency is legal tender and should therefore be accepted for transaction purposes, issues of risk to personal health cannot be interfered with when they can be avoided. In this regard, members of the public are requested to adhere to the safe handling and care of notes provided through our sensitization programmes.”
In the meantime, the RBM is hoping that the RBM Act 2018 which is expected to be operational by April 2019 will assist in setting the pace against any form of mishandling of currency. Among other things, the Act has seen the punitive measure for offences of mishandling currency revised to K5.0 million.
Two years ago, the RBM disclosed that it is to spend K13.2 billion for replacing damaged bank notes in the country. The huge cost of replacing the currency follows poor handling of money which causes damage to the notes.
The central bank also disclosed that the cost of replacing damaged currency had gone up by K3.2 billion in 2017 since K10 billion was used for a similar operation in 2016.
While electronic payment has been promoted by RBM, it appears people like Liwonde and other batch of women keeping money in bras are not bothered at all.