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Zimbabweans sell just about anything

Flea-markets are sprouting at almost all available spaces at shopping centres in the city’s high-density areas. 
Women and men line up at the flea-markets selling fish, pieces of meat or repackaged commodities ranging from rice, cooking oil to maize-meal.
It has become so common to see rows of vegetable stalls on almost every street in Harare’s poor suburban areas.
In the evening, the traders troop into the central business district (CBD) to sell goods such as vegetables, tomatoes, oranges and pirated CDs virtually suffocating the capital that was once known as the Sunshine city.
Almost everyone is selling something in search of the elusive American dollar or the South African rand, which officially came into use following the introduction of the multi-currency regime by the shaky inclusive government last year.
The inaccessibility of American dollars — also known in local street lingo as “MaObama” a name derived from US President Barack Obama’s surname — is a cause for worry for the majority of Zimbabweans.
Driven into extreme desperation for the greenback, some people even sell commodities which one would easily pick up from rubbish bins.
One such person is Onias Sithole, who operates a “street hardware” in Harare’s Warren Park D suburb.
At his “hardware”, a makeshift shack, there are rusty bolts, nuts, and nails some which look like they were unearthed from a compost heap.
The father of four, who only returned from Botswana early this year where he worked as a gardener, said he sells anything that comes his way to make ends meet.
“If I get a dollar or two from here every day, I am ok,” Sithole said. “It will enable me to feed my small family.”
His wife Ellina, a former receptionist with a manufacturing firm in Harare’s Workington industrial area, sells green vegetables just outside their lodgings in the same suburb to complement her husband’s daily takings.
The firm she used to work for closed shop in 2005, at the height of the economic meltdown which resulted in the closure of nearly 70% of the manufacturing companies countrywide.
Traders and hawkers in Mbare’s Mupedzanhamo and the Green Market are more aggressive and, at times, abusive.
They shout at the top of their voices to draw customers’ attention chanting: A dollar for two T-shirts and your child will look smart.”
Some literally drag customers to their stalls — just to make them part with the most sought after greenback.  It is survival of the fittest in the hawking business.
One has to be innovative or even cunning to survive or else they get booted out of business.
Unable to keep up with other traders in the Green Market, 36-year-old Tonderai Chikotore who hails from Buhera, now sells goats some 10 kms outside Harare, at a place popularly known as PaMbudzi.
He buys the goats from rural areas – put them in lorries or on top of buses – taking them to Harare where there is a ready market.   
“It brings higher returns but it is very risky because in most of the cases I don’t get proper documentation to transport these goats,” Chikotore said.
“In most cases, you have to bribe the police all the way from let’s say Buhera and that erodes the profit margin.” 
Goats cost between US$25 and US$50 depending on their size.
Two weeks ago, goat traders in Harare lost 188 animals after police, city council and animal welfare organisations, raided them on accusations of mistreating the animal.
Some animals spend the whole day roped on the same place with nothing to eat.
Money changers are back on the streets but it is no longer big business as it was during the Zimbabwe dollar regime.
They now survive on the small profits margin for exchange mostly for the America dollar to the rand or vice versa.
First, it was the Nigerians and other foreigners running small cubicle shops but locals have followed suit.
Property owners have virtually decimated the once spacious buildings, turning them into little cubicles.
They rent them out to small traders, who sell goods ranging from clothes, motor vehicle spare parts to hardware.
In rural areas, villagers have resorted to barter – a mode of trade that died nearly over a century ago.
They exchange their chickens, goats and even cattle for buckets of maize because of desperation.
Analyst say with 90% of Zimbabweans out of employment, poverty has turned the majority of Zimbabweans into “entrepreneurial wolves.”
Those who formally employed are not getting enough forcing them to supplement their incomes through vending or “dealing”.
Civil servants who formed the bulk of the workers in the country earn US$180 per month, an amount far below the poverty datum line (PDL).
Oxfam International, a global humanitarian organisation, says over 80% of the country’s population lives on less than US$1 a day.
Consumer watchdog, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), says a family of six requires US$487 per month to lead a normal life.
Prosper Chitambara, a development economist with the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (Ledriz) said no economy can be sustained by vendors and hawkers.
He called for the revival of the economy to enable it to absorb the multitudes of street traders, most of whom are skilled and professional people.
“This is symptomatic of the challenges bedevilling the economy,” he said. “No economy can be sustained by informal traders.”
Chitambara said four out of every five people were in the informal sector in the country.
It will take time for the multitude of school leavers and retrenchees to be absorbed into formal employment in an economy destroyed by President Robert Mugabe’s policies.

 

 

BY CAIPHAS CHIMHETE AND JOHN MOKWETSI

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