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Vending for a living in Zimbabwe

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Monday, January 22nd, 2007 by Jameson Gadzirai

The increasing turmoil brought about by the harsh economic conditions has resulted in the mushrooming of many vendors along the streets of Harare. Street vending in Zimbabwe is a cocktail ranging from fruits and vegetables, flowers and medicinal herbs, rat poisons and pesticides, green backs and the much needed fuel.

Welcome to Temba Mudzengereri’s world. He’s a flower vendor plying his trade with a friend of his at the Newlands Shopping Centre. His voice has graced the parking bays of this complex for 6 months now. A professionally packed bouquet goes for at least Z$4,000.00, and on a good day Temba gets as much as Z$15,000.00. Next to him is Nicholas, a 26-year-old fruit vendor with nicely combed hair and a winning smile. “We have been here since 2003″ he tells me with a smile. Temba runs off to meet a potential customer. His face lights up with the possibility of compelling the potential client to choose his fruits rather than the other vendors. Expressions of repulsion or morbid aloofness often meet his salesman’s smile, but he shrugs them off, confident that he will come across someone who will eventually buy his wares after lengthy cajoling.

Harare vendorsNicholas has a younger friend in tow; his name is Arnold. Both have cultivated that kind of trust which is key to all business partnerships. Street vending for the two is a way of life that has generated employment and secured a decent income. Like many others, Nicholas and Arnold rent accommodation in the southern surbubs of Harare for as much as ZIM$25,000 a room which they pay for through the proceeds they get from their vending.

The job of a street vendor is no walk in the park. The ever-increasing municipal police presence has made it difficult to exhibit all the wares on the street whilst maintaining the decency that comes with everyday labour. Many vendors carry just enough wares to allow them to disappear the moment municipal police arrive at the scene. Book vendors are a case in point. They have resorted to looking like regular streetwalkers and putting up posters along the city’s pavements advertising their wares. They usually stand at a distance and only provide assistance to potential customers who venture to read the posters showing particular interest.

A case of government criminalising efforts to make a living?

I think back to Operation Murambatsvina and I realise that the Mugabe regime will not formalise informal vending as long as it do not suit the greater political agenda. My memories bid me to ask Temba and Nicholas how their experience has been with the authorities.

“The Municipal police are an everyday menace,” Nicholas volunteers. “They come here at least twice a day,” Temba juts in, adding, “We run away each time they come, they say we do not have licences to trade, but they will not give us the licences”.

Vending for a living in Harare is a tough process demanding bravery in the midst of adversity.

Jog your mind into action on a Monday

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Monday, January 15th, 2007 by Jameson Gadzirai

There are two kinds of frogs in Zimbabwe. One is the mark – time – by – the – puddle – till – someone – kicks – me – frog. The other is the adjust – to – the – rising – temperature – of – the – water- till- I – boil frog.

The first type of frog has grand ideas and is full of energy. It cringes and remains stagnant at the face of crisis, however. Forward is never for this frog, unless of course, when someone comes from behind and gives it a hard kick.

Yet life for these frogs could never have been worse. They are mellowed into silence by a regime touting growth and development yet practicing the reverse. Prices of goods rise at the batting of an eye; their sons and daughters sing foreign anthems and estrange their children with foreign lore; the very dignity of individual labour is sacrificed each day to appease temporal needs that grow by the day.

These are the problems they face every day; the puddles of quagmire they dare not traverse. Left to themselves, they would wait till the puddle dries, then, tired and weak, they will pass through arid lands to safety. Others will be lucky to get sharp kicks at the back, which make them leap over the puddle to safety. The unfortunate ones, the ones that find themselves smack on Harare’s potholed roads meet bitter fates. You often find bits of them stuck under the wheels of the latest mercedes s100′s, or is it the E-V12 Brabus tuned mercs?

The second frog is the tolerant type. It means no one harm, and when harm does come its way, there’s always a solution. They make do with perilous trips down south, where they get mountain-sized groceries and trudge back home to feed near starving children whose future is bleak. They see Zimbabwe’s suffering as the poor person’s burden. Yet they will not cry. No, they never will. You’ll probably be the one who will cry at their wake one day, celebrating a life crushed by a system so obscene it breaks the backs of its own children.

Pockets of expression continue to dwindle by the day. Government seizes property and destroys homes. It ignores efforts at effective economic engagement. It dehumanises her people.

The fruits of Zimbabwe’s toil shall not be found at the bottom of each individual’s pockets, but in the smiles of the contented many. Moved by common need, we all shall become relevant if we collectively agittate for action.

The clarion call to rebellion against the self and its inclination towards greed and self-gratification resonates in the air.

Get your mind a jogging this Monday and you will be surprised at how good it will make you feel. The great minds that decide to face the challenge head on will be the great minds that will be remembered in time.