The Sunday Mail
Mbare, the sprawling suburb just a mere six kilometres from Harare’s central business district, is a vibrant settlement teeming with the beats of Africa.
Siyaso, the tough market found in Mbare, is a popular place to visit, selling anything one can imagine from wood, metal, synthetic or plastic-based products, furniture, fence, steel products, engine repairs, timber to metal supply as well as new and second-hand hardware and spare parts.
Urban legend has it that even helicopter parts can be sourced there. The place is almost synonymous with the township, attracting droves of locals and outsiders.
It is a home of small to medium enterprises where, like MacGyver, they will fix anything out of something.
Beneath this veneer is a hard-working young population eager to be protagonists of their country’s progress.
On weekends particularly, the action spills onto the streets, with vendors selling anything from used clothes to recycled glasses of cider and beers, to hats and fruit.
Here, one man has what another man needs, and what another man wants another man has.
The young men at Siyaso will move mountains to get to your heart and wallet.
They are marketers and demagogues.
Township economies are often sidelined for not being competitive or innovative enough. Yet, there are success stories here that defy odds.
“If you are looking for timber of any type of wood, you find it here,” says Mr Simba Mangena, the operations manager at Pure Timbers, one of the scantly built places.
His father owns the place.
Pure Timber started in 2005 when they were selling timber along the Harare- Mutare road. Today, they have grown from roadside sellers to a reputable supplier of timber here in Harare and outside townships, turning over about $100 000 annually with 15 employees.
“We had a thousand dollars. We grew from that and raised capital and we also received a loan. We didn’t realise that this could one day be big.
“It started with the locals, then it spread out. People started coming in with their associates and colleagues,” says Mangena.
Mangena’s father is a magnet not just for locals, they are also a case study for aspiring entrepreneurs hungry for ideas.
“People come here for advice when they are about to open their businesses. We advise them on passion and investing in something they are interested in,” adds the elder Mangena.
Mr Fanuel Takwira also owns a chair and table-making unit, specialising in metal works.
“I supply schools in and around Harare and others come as far as Mt Darwin to get chair and table frames for their schools here,” he says.
Takwira’s plan is to venture into woodwork so that they can make both the frames and wooden blocks and sheets to the material they make.
He plans to recruit someone with knowledge in woodwork.
“I have been running this table and chair business for seven years and as of now, I don’t have a property lease agreement,” he says.
Township entrepreneurs also have issues owning properties.
Most of the people here, just like Takwira, say they are struggling with acquiring loans from banks because they don’t have proper documents for their properties.
The three-tier pricing system is affecting their businesses, with the foreign currency to import raw materials being the biggest headache.
Another major challenge is rentals. If you are a newcomer to this industrial hub you have to fork out money and give it to third parties, the money which should have gone to the city council.
The entrepreneurs are crying foul about this practice and pointed fingers at councillors.
They say the city council should intervene in such cases because they are losing a lot of money.
Harare City Council’s spokesperson, Mr Michael Chideme, says they are aware of third parties who are taking money from innocent people at Siyaso, even at the famous Mupedzanhamo.
“People should pay their rentals to the city council so as to improve their working environments and not to third parties as this will not help them,” he says.
Despite the odds, Siyaso is a perfect example of how business can thrive in townships like Mbare.
Mbare is involved in diverse economic activities, ranging from spaza shops, street vendors, hair salons, shebeens and minibus taxis, to mechanical services, manufacturing and burial societies.
These are largely micro enterprises with low capital and a low skills base.