I’m convinced Zimbabweans have an affinity for black markets. At the moment, we have a black market for fuel, foreign currency, groceries and over the past few weeks one for mobile data has emerged.
“What is this guy talking about now”, you may be wondering? Well, it’s the new eLearning data bundles and how people who aren’t students or educational institutions are now incentivised to illegally get these bundles.
What’s the problem?
Well, because Zimbabwe is going through hyper inflation (again) the cost of goods and services continues to rise and rise. The cost of mobile data has followed this trend and consumers have to live with multiple price hikes every month.
eLearning bundles offered by all 3 mobile network operators are significantly cheaper than the standard data bundles. For example, if you’re buying the 10GB eLearning bundle -priced at ZW$200- you’re charged ZW$0.019/MB. For the 8GB private WiFi bundle -priced at ZW$500-, you pay at ZW$0.062/MB. A simpler comparison is the fact that 10Gb eLearning data costs ZW$200 whilst an 8GB private wifi bundle costs ZW$500.
Therein lies the incentive for a black market to exist. Since people discovered there’s a cheaper option, they are flocking to that and the way these bundles are bought has provided the perfect opportunity for chancers.
When the bundles were announced, Econet outlined the buying process as follows;
- Each school pays on behalf of its students/teachers/employees and collects money from parents or SDA’s (50 recipients minimum);
- The school provides mobile phone numbers to be credited with the data bundles to Econet.
This process allowed Econet employees (and employees at other mobile networks) to interfere and sell the “cheaper” bundles to people. Those selling the bundles have done so by creating WhatsApp groups and buying for 50+ people at a time at a certain price.
Below is a message sent in one of the groups notifying group members of a flash sale
We are going to open a new batch tmrw morning between 8am and 9am.
For now we only have the 10 gig package which is going for 480 rtgs.
Please take note that there was a slight change in the process and data now takes 24hours to be activated in your phone from time of payment.WhatsApp Group
I’m not sure what determines the pricing since it isn’t exactly the same as the eLearning bundle but one would assume that’s the price you pay on the black market and is split as profit among those involved.
It’s no surprise that the eLearning bundles have resulted in a black market, since Yo Mix data is pretty much in the same place nowadays. Where subscribers used to wait for discounts spontaneously nowadays its easy to find a group where people are randomly selling data at a discount.
Dog eat dog world
Now I’m not going to tell you not to buy data from these sources because most of you are adults and know the risks that come with these kinds of offers. Just like you can buy petrol that will destroy your car’s engine on the fuel black market, things go wrong from time to time on the mobile data black market as well.
A few days ago, a message from the aforementioned group notified group members of scammers who were taking advantage of other users;
Good day to you all.There’s an issue that has just been brought to our attention.Some people in here are scamming others pretending to be us. Please take note we don’t visit people’s inboxes for payments because we do everything transparently
Recently, Econet support informed a customer who had been scammed that they would not offer any assistance for the resolution of this dispute – suggesting they go to the police instead;
Please be advised that the number to which you sent your funds to is not an official Econet contact. For fraud cases, we would advise that you make a police resort for full assistance.Econet support on Twitter
Yes, Econet is aware of this and they recently announced a new buying process to try and make it harder for the people selling the data to do so. The new process is as follows;
- All eLearning bundle requests are to come directly from institutions. None should be through study groups or classes;
- Invoices should only be presented to institutions with customised email domains referencing the institution i.e. @msu.ac.zw or @falcon.co.zw (not Gmail).
Has this worked? Well, I’m not entirely sure the extent to which it has or has not worked but today I saw a message in one of those groups that notified participants that the data is still being sold. Make of that what you will.