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Vendors mourn lost livelihooods as Mbudzi interchange displaces them

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LILIOSA Chivende sits uncomfortably on an empty 20-litre bucket while carrying one of her two toddlers on her back, tightly wrapped to protect her against the nippy weather.

RUVIMBO MUCHENJE

Braving the winter chill, she constantly keeps an eye on passers-by and motorists, hoping to clinch a sale.

 Her wares are neatly packed on a makeshift stall made of cardboard boxes and bricks. She, together with hundreds of other vendors, sells bananas, cooked groundnuts and cigarettes for a living. Welcome to Harare’s Mbudzi roundabout, an informal marketplace where running battles with law enforcement agents are a daily drill.

One can find nearly everything — from cigarettes to goats — hence the name “Mbudzi”, Shona for goat. Here informal vendors, who now constitute the bulk of Zimbabwe’s unemployed, wake up early and return home late at night, hoping to cash in on the endless stream of travellers who board long-distance buses plying the Harare-Beitbridge highway, as well as local commuters going about their business.

As hunger continues to stalk many urbanites on account of a floundering economy, many have turned to street vending, moonlighting, handouts from relatives in the diaspora and, in extreme cases, donations from well-wishers. Amidst the hustle and bustle, a man approaches Chivende’s stall, asking the price of bananas.

Suddenly, her face becomes radiant as the prospect of gaining a few Zimbabwe dollars lifts her spirits. Her joy does not last long, however, as the man decides to leave without buying. With urban-to-rural migration intensifying and piling pressure on infrastructure and amenities in major cities like Harare, policymakers continue to grapple with congestion both within and outside the capital city’s central business district.

The Mbudzi traffic circle, which connects Harare’s high-density residential areas, including Glen Norah and Southlea Park, has been a nightmare for most motorists during peak hours.

 Apart from an increase in vehicular traffic, many people like Chivende have found a place where they ply their trade, a makeshift space they call their workplace. Now that the government wants this changed to decongest the Mbudzi roundabout, locals have received this new development with mixed reactions.

While this may be sweet music to motorists, the economic fortunes of the mother-of-two who has fended for her children for years at Mbudzi are about to change for the worst. Although the government has decided to tackle the traffic congestion menace, Chivende and other street vendors survive on this very urban “chaos”.

“I stay in Southlea Park and I come here every day to sell my stuff to make a living. The interchange will negatively impact my business because moving away from here means finding new customers and even less sales, whereas here I have regulars,” she said.

“We will definitely move so we will look for alternative locations but since it will be a new area we do not know how things will go. One thing I know for sure is that the wellbeing of my family will be negatively impacted.”

Next to her is a second-hand clothes vendor (name withheld) who has been eking out a living from this spot. She is tending to a colleague’s baby who has gone looking for change up the road. In the coming few days, Chivende and other vendors have to face the new reality as the new road interchange takes shape. Life as she knows it is now uncertain.

“Things have become difficult, our customers can no longer afford to spend on clothes. On a good day you get a dollar or so, meaning I can go home, buy vegetables and have sadza every night with my family, which is better than sitting at home,” she said.

Business has not been as rewarding, but what is more worrying is that her continued presence at the roundabout, where she has been selling clothes since the beginning of Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, is coming to an end as the vendors must make wag to the new traffic interchange.

 Mehluli Sibanda, who sells both new and second-hand clothes, also faces the same predicament. Sibanda says he began selling apparel near the traffic circle after his initial business of selling mobile phone cards in the central business district was forced to shut down by strict Covid-19 restrictions.

At the peak of the respiratory infection, only people designated as essential workers were allowed to move freely around. Sibanda, sadly, was not one of them.

“Money has been difficult to come by. Initially you would go home with about US$20 or US$30 but, of late, if you are lucky you will go home with just US$5 or US$10,” said Sibanda. “If we move from here, it will be difficult to survive,” he laments.

United States-based applied economics professor Steve Hanke says at 595%, according to his calculation, Zimbabwe has the highest inflation rate in the world, making it one of the most difficult places to live in.

Official figures show that the country’s year-on-year inflation rose to 256.9% in July from 191.7% in June. Innocent Ruwende, Harare City Council communication officer, told The NewsHawks that there are unoccupied vending stalls at Sunshine Bazaar and surrounding areas where the vendors can seek licensed working space.

“They have not been paying to City of Harare save for those in the big Mbudzi Market and these ones will not be affected. All those selling along the road are illegal so we just urge them to seek space at our legal sites while we are working on building other sites. They can choose Mbare, for fruits and vegetables, Coca-Cola and Sunshine Bazaar,” Ruwende said.

But as the economy continues wobbling precariously, not many street vendors would be in a position to pay statutory monthly fees and other taxes.

For the ordinary citizen, the struggle continues as Zimbabwe heads for the 2023 elections, with bread and butter issues uppermost on everyone’s mind.

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