TURNING GOLDEN LEAF INTO FORTUNE . . .Vendors cash in on windfall

23 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views
TURNING GOLDEN LEAF INTO FORTUNE . . .Vendors cash in on windfall

The Sunday Mail

Veronica Gwaze

THE late afternoon wind whipped through the Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) on Glen Eagles Road in Harare, stirring dust around the haphazard sprawl of makeshift vending stalls.

Loud music battled it out with the rhythmic chants of a furniture vendor, creating a chaotic symphony that pulsed with the heartbeat of commerce.

Talent Ushe, his face etched with fatigue despite his practised smile, weaved through the throng. Formal trousers are hung across his shoulders, a silent advertisement in a sea of brightly coloured merchandise.

Unlike the vendors hawking fruits and phone chargers, Ushe’s target audience was not the casual passerby. His sights were set on the tobacco farmers, men and women he hopes have deep pockets following months of back-breaking work under the scorching sun.

For the past two months or so, the TSF area has at times become home for the father of two.

A resident of Mbare, Ushe decided to frequent the place with the changing seasons. His days have been a monotonous rhythm of early commutes, the relentless sun beating down and the ever-present pressure to make a sale.

A good day might bring a profit of US$10, enough to feed his family. But some days stretch into agonising bits of emptiness, forcing him to spend the night huddled among his wares, a thin blanket his only protection from the encroaching chill.

For now, the TSF is his song of survival. He keeps on hustling, hoping one day the rhythm will turn into a more harmonious tune.

“It is my third year here and this is a tough one. Business is low because farmers are opting to use their few dollars to buy maize and foodstuffs,” said Ushe.

For close to a year, Shalom Ngidi has established herself permanently as a flea market operator at the centre. Prior to that, she only conducted business from the place when the tobacco auction floors were open.

Her target clients, for second-hand clothes, are farmers of the golden leaf.

Before migrating, she used to operate in Harare’s Central Business District.

“I got fed up playing cat and mouse with Harare City Council officials and decided to relocate and set up a flea market here. I took the risk during the tobacco off-season, when there was no activity, and business was low. However, more people later joined me,” said Ngidi.

At present, there are now hundreds of businesspeople, including transport operators, who are conducting business in the TSF area, both legal and illegal. Illegal money changers are also in the mix.

Ngidi said during the tobacco selling season, she can pocket as much as US$80 per day, while off-season sales can drop to as low as US$10 per day.

 Chaos

The Harare City Council has reportedly erected more than 50 vending stalls since the start of the tobacco selling season.

Vendors occupying these booths are required to pay fees varying from US$50 to US$200 depending on the site and size they occupy. The fee is supposed to guarantee a “permanent” vending space for the entire selling season.

However, investigations by this publication reveal that council officials visit the place regularly, demanding a “protection fee” of as much as US$3 per day.

“The receipt that I got after paying my US$200 only saved me for three weeks. After that, they started demanding US$2 or US$3 each time they came to my stall,” bemoaned Nyarai Moyo.

Farai Mlambo is equally disgruntled.

Criminal elements, dressed in plain clothes and claiming to be police officers, are also milking the desperate business operators dry.

“They come intimidating us, which makes it difficult for us to even ask to see their identification cards or demand receipts for the US$5 payments they force us to pay,” said Mlambo.

“I operate from this place even when it is not a selling season. Besides the bogus police, we have to deal with rogue political activists, who also demand money from us.”

The council’s head of corporate communications, Stanley Gama, is singing from a different hymn. He said most of the traders operating from the market are not paying anything to the local authority, hence the need to set up structures that bring sanity.

“The challenge is that most of those people are not even paying anything. We are planning to set up a proper market, reallocate the spaces and be able to keep tabs on the place,” he said.

“We are planning to soon enforce the law by removing them from that place. Furthermore, anything paid to the council should be receipted, but, above all, business operators need licences to operate freely in their designated spaces.”

 Ticking health time bomb

Winnie Jackson, a food vendor, feels there is need for the authorities to bring order and hygiene to the TSF market.

There are no proper ablution facilities for traders. They often use TSF facilities that are, however, often reserved for farmers.

Water supply is also erratic.

Behind the makeshift vending sites, traders and farmers have created a dumpsite, where they dispose of garbage. Some use the space as toilets.

“We are worried about the health situation here. It is a matter of time before disaster strikes.

‘‘Some of the vendors also spend the night here, sharing the small space with farmers, exposing everyone to airborne diseases. Theft cases are also rife,” said Jackson.

With the space too small to accommodate the farmers, traders have found alternatives in the car park, pavements and vending stalls, where they endure the long cold nights.

 Danger

Others are simply reckless.

During a visit by The Sunday Mail Society crew, a woman only identified as Mai Maka was busy peeling potatoes while chips were cooking on a gas-powered fryer.

Her baby lay barely a metre away from the fryer.

“I am very cautious about how I operate because I know the potential dangers of using gas and even the boiling cooking oil near my child. If I had a choice, I would leave her home,” she said.

Places like this naturally attract women of easy virtue and farmers often fall victim.

While some get paid for immoral services rendered, others are teaming up with criminals to rob unsuspecting clients.

“Most of the farmers fall into these traps due to desperation. They need food and accommodation, so these ladies take advantage of that and promise to take care of them until they (farmers) get paid,” explained Tafadzwa Mangezi, a vendor.

“The prostitutes are often patient enough to treat the farmers well but once the farmers get their money, they tip off the criminals, who pounce and rob them.”

 Sanity

The Harare City Council has set in motion plans to formalise the TSF market. According to the plans, the revamped market is expected to be ready for business in the next selling season.

In the meantime, businesspeople are only allowed to operate from the area during the selling season.

Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said there was need to deal with rogue elements preying on farmers.

“It is an issue of local authorities and space barons creating and running markets, subletting these places, in the process ripping off struggling vendors of their hard-earned cash,” notes Shumba.

“There is need for relevant stakeholders to come together and make a bold decision to stop these ill-doings and criminal elements that often abuse their political connections. This is the only way we will see the chaos at TSF end.”

He blamed the local authority for not investing in the construction of proper marketplaces and refurbishing existing ones across the city.

“Attaining world-class city status requires a robust infrastructure development thrust across the suburbs to ensure less movement by the people into one area for marketplaces. These are potential revenue sources, which should spur social and economic development for the capital city.

“The council needs to commit part of its annual budget towards construction and upgrading of marketplaces, putting in place a solid electronic market stalls allocation and ticketing system. They can then generate more revenue.”

Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector Luckmore Chakanza urged the public to report rogue elements.

“Victims should ask the officers to present their identification documents before they are charged. Fines are paid at the station and one should receive a receipt for whatever offence they are made to pay for,” he said.

“It is not an offence to ask an officer to show you their identification document before they charge you for any crime.”

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