Zimbabwe: Jobless workers turn to street vending—but it’s tough!

| July 6, 2015

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Grace Tshuma jumps out of bed at the crack of dawn almost every day. She rushes to the vegetable market to buy fresh produce which she resells to busy shoppers on a cluttered sidewalk. Ms. Tshuma is one of thousands of vendors who make their living this way in towns and cities across Zimbabwe.

She leaves home every morning around 4:30. Ms. Tshuma says: “I have no time to prepare meals for my children before they go to school, and I usually return home when they are about to go to bed.” At the market, she buys fruits and vegetables such as bananas, tomatoes, avocados, and potatoes.

Miss Grace

Photo: Ms. Grace Tshuma selling sweet potatoes. Credit: Nqobani Ndlovu

By 7:30 a.m., Ms. Tshuma is already occupying her regular spot on a busy street corner in the central business district of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. She settled on this spot two years ago and has worked there ever since. Ms. Tshuma makes a small profit selling the produce she buys from the markets. She has been making her living like this since she lost her job at a clothing factory in 2012.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing harsh economic times. More than 55,000 workers have lost their jobs in the past three years as companies have downsized or closed.

At first, Ms. Tshuma made enough money with street vending to take care of her three children. But the Zimbabwean government is not happy that vendors occupy and “clutter” street corners and walkways. It wants them to move. The vendors have vowed to resist relocation.

The city council allocates sites to registered vendors for a charge of US$1 to US$3 a day, depending on the location. But like many vendors, Ms. Tshuma is not registered with the authorities, and so her spot is illegal.

She says: “The money [the city council is asking for] is just too much against what I make per day. I am always on the lookout for [the] police, who frequently conduct raids and confiscate our goods.”

Nomalanga Moyo is another street vendor in Bulawayo. She agrees that vendors are constantly in fear of police raids. Ms. Moyo says: “I don’t display all my wares on this corner [to avoid having it all] confiscated. I keep [some of my products] at the vegetable market [and] I go there to … replenish stock. I do this to minimize risks.”

Police fine illegal street vendors US$5 if they catch them—a huge chunk of a vendor’s daily earnings. Many avoid paying fees and fines by simply running and hiding when police arrive.

But there are some who welcome police raids. Fikile Ndlovu is a registered vendor. He says, “I support the raids because vendors that are not registered are stealing our customers. They operate for free while [we] pay daily rentals.”

Competition is so stiff that some vendors use loud speakers to attract customers. Miss Moyo says, “Customers [don’t] just come from nowhere to buy from your stall. Either you scream yourself hoarse or you use a loud speaker.”

There are many more vendors in the streets than when Ms. Tshuma first started. And the competition seriously affects her income. She says, “I used to take home about US$15 per day but now each day I struggle to make even a small amount of money on the streets.”

Cover photo: Ms. Nomalanga Moyo selling cellphone recharge cards, bananas, sweets and others products. Credit: Nqobani Ndlovu