Welcome to Zimbabwe, a nation of entrepreneurs! We are now a nation where at any given time, someone is trying to sell you something. Whether it’s the politicians who are trying to sell us the idea that everything is working and the economy is looking up, your co-worker selling diapers or the vendors selling anything and everything else on the prime real estate that is Harare’s CBD, (known affectionately as ‘town’). No matter who you are in Zim or where you live, we are all knee-deep in the hustle. We have to. Our survival depends on it.
But not all vendors are created equal. Ten days ago, Minister of Local Government, Ignatious Chombo issued an ultimatum that vendors who have done an enthusiastic job of colonizing First Street mall and many more streets adjacent, must move to vending-appropriate sites or else. Or else? Or else the army will swoop in and show these vendors a thing or two. The army?! Not so fast, says the army via Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who denied they would do any such thing. The plot thickens…
Since the initial proclamation, the deadline has been shifted to June 26, to give the vendors a little more time to think about what they’ve done, I presume. As if this couldn’t get any stranger… The vendors have vowed they are not going anywhere, especially to sites that will charge them exorbitant fees when they could just continue to pay nothing where they are selling their wares right outside Barbours. More importantly, the designated vendor areas would cut them off from easy access to customers casually making their way to kombi’s on their way home every night. This is the crux of the matter. If you want to make money in business, it is all about Location! Location! Location!
And volume. Unfortunately for government, town (the city centre) is an entrepreneur’s dream. Customers are every which way you turn, on their way to and from work every day without fail. And with this new vending trend of occupying 95% of the pavement, vendors are guaranteed to get your attention, as you try to carefully avoid stepping on their wares. You don’t want to topple that pyramid of tomatoes, or step in that bag of sugar beans, or accidently slip your foot into those flip flops for sale, or step on those text books, or knock over those phone covers, or fall into that pot of maguru. What?! Is someone actually selling cooked food on the sidewalks of Harare’s grimy CBD? Yes! Literally, anything goes.
It’s all gone a bit mad really.
It’s hard to know what to make of it all. I mean, this is the heart of the matter. Maybe you don’t buy your lunch from the lady selling it out of her car boot in Avondale (although, I have done and it is cheap and delicious). Maybe you prefer to walk, commute or drive to Mbare msika and buy your tomatoes there. But time is money. Not everyone can go out of their way to these ‘designated’ vending areas. That is why vendors on the pavements exist. They specialize in convenience. They are also taking advantage of the fact that when you see something in your face, you might just buy it, before even thinking about whether you actually need it.
That’s right, it’s classic advertising. Those shiny, bright red tomatoes weren’t something you thought you needed until you almost stepped on them on your way home from work that evening. Next thing you know, you’re taking them home. An impulse buy. And that, is where the volume comes in.
The moral of this story is: vendors and their plight present an interesting conundrum. Yes, vending in the city is out of control and needs to be addressed: some retail standards, some hygiene, some space to walk on the pavement! But on the other hand, vendors also need to make a living. They have found a good location that regularly sees a high volume of people who either work in town or pass through on their way to and from work every day. This is a business strategy that means the difference between school fees or no education for the next generation.
In case we have forgotten, it is imperative to understand that jobs simply do not exist. If we are so offended by vendor attempts to make a living, then jobs MUST be created for them. Their needs are the same as ours: we are all trying to survive. We are all vendors. Maybe you are vending from your living room in the suburbs. Or maybe you are vending from your legal stall at the Borrowdale flea market. The point is, we all have to survive no matter what. Let us empower those who perhaps don’t have ‘approved’ real estate to sell their wares. Let’s make sure that we all have a means to not only survive, but to thrive with dignity.
Main Image from www.zimbabweelection.com