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Bulawayo's street 'shops' flood city by night

by Staff reporter
21 Jan 2023 at 08:23hrs | Views
FILLED to the brim with groceries ranging from foodstuffs, toiletry to skin care products, a pushcart — commonly known as iScania in the streets of Bulawayo — is strategically positioned at a busy corner of Fort Street and Sixth Avenue in the city centre.

Shoppers, among them bargain hunters, crowd around the woman manning the mini shop.

It's 7.45pm on a Wednesday night and business is evidently booming judging by the number of customers that are buying from the street vendor.

Defying a heavy downpour, the seemingly undeterred woman continues with her business.

United States dollar notes exchange hands between "shopowner'' and customers like confetti at a wedding.

The streets of the city centre come alive at night.

As dusk falls on the dimly-lit city centre of the City of Kings, primarily in areas close to commuter omnibus ranks, a stream of home-bound workers flows into a sea of informal traders selling a mixture of groceries, fruits and second hand clothes among other items.

The crowds of night-time street traders have literally taken over the streets of Bulawayo and business is good for those that have ventured into the trade.

It's a dog-eat-dog business for the night-time street vendors as they jostle for customers. They are all aware that a small window of opportunity is available to make money as much as they can before home-bound customers dry up.

Silindisiwe Moyo is a primary school teacher who ventured into the night-time street trading business by chance, four years ago, and she has never looked back since then.

"My friend who used to sell here at this corner fell sick in 2019 and asked me to sell some of her merchandise while she recovered. I would knock off from work and come here at around 6.30pm and sell the groceries and she would pay me a commission, which really helped me supplement my salary," she said.

"Unfortunately, she passed away a few months later, but because I had an idea of how the business was run, I decided to continue selling groceries here at night and it's been four years now."

It's a strictly cash-only business in local and foreign currencies, from South African rand to United States dollars. Moyo, who is a Grade Six teacher at a local school, is happy to put in the extra hours "hustling" in the streets after long hours in a classroom.

Of course, I won't leave my profession to sell groceries at night full time, she says with a chuckle.

"Just look at how many of us are selling exactly the same products on this street alone. The entire city is now flooded with traders selling one commodity or another at night and competition is very stiff," said Moyo.

"I'm happy with the money that I make every night because it goes a long way in supplementing my salary. Since we demand cash, it also helps me to get transport money for my two teenage daughters who go to school every morning."

We jokingly ask her if we can buy two loaves of bread using the mobile money transfer service EcoCash and she flatly refuses.

"There is an unwritten rule among us vendors that EcoCash is not accepted here. The other vendors will be very angry with me if I accept EcoCash, I'm sorry," she says.

Street trading, day or night, is illegal in the city of Bulawayo.

Selling under the cover of darkness has its advantages to the night-time street vendors as they don't have to worry about Bulawayo City Council (BCC) municipal officers confiscating their wares for violating by-laws.

Speaking on condition that the Saturday Chronicle news crew does not capture a picture of his face, Thomas Chideu who sells bread agrees to talk to us.

He sells an average of 80 loaves of bread daily, but what is astonishing is that he sells the commodity just a stone's throw away from a Baker's Inn outlet.

"Customers prefer buying bread here because they can also get eggs, milk, and sweets for their children from my colleague just next to me. It's a one-stop shop that is very convenient for them," said Chideu.

"My bread is very fresh. In fact, I buy it from Baker's Inn and Proton Bakeries before coming here every night."

Up the road, next to a popular clothing shop that has been operating in Bulawayo for decades, is a group of young men and women selling footwear.

Youths call the footwear sneakers and buyers are allowed to try them.

Ranging from US$15 to US$25, the sneakers come in different colours, labels and sizes.

"My older brother buys the sneakers from Zambia and Tanzania. He travels there every monthend and my job is to sell them here," said a young man who only identified himself as Richard.

"This corner next to Edgars Stores is very busy and all my customers know where to find me daily between 6pm and 9pm."

To avoid nimble-fingered customers from stealing from him, Richard only displays one sneaker and keeps the other one in his car.

"What will anyone do with one shoe, I only give a customer the other sneaker once they pay. I'm not worried about municipal police because I only sell my stuff at night during which they would have knocked off," he said.

Night-time street trading is a lucrative business that has mushroomed in the streets of Bulawayo.

Both customers and traders embrace each other as the business is conducted under the cover of darkness.

Source - The Chronicle
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