Zimbabweans turn to vending and hawking in desperate economic times

Moses Karawira is a 25-year-old qualified auto electrician who under the harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe has found himself on the streets of the capital, Harare selling chocolate bars and drinking water to make a living. The number of unregulated vendors is rising as jobs dwindle in the once prosperous Southern African country.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (REUTERS) – Twenty five-year-old Moses Karawira spends his days on the streets of Harare selling chocolate bars, drinking water, sweets and flags to make a living. Moses is a qualified auto electrician but could not find a job.

On a good day, Moses makes about 4 U.S. dollars. It’s barely enough to buy food, let alone pay all the bills needed to take care of his wife and child.

“Staying at home is very difficult so being on the street offers more options. If I don’t come and work I will not have any means to survive and my family would starve so I have to endure on the streets to make ends meet. I have no job but at the same time you can’t really depend on the money you make on the streets because at the end of the day it’s not much. I can’t say I have achieved very much. The situation on the ground is hard. Being on the street means I often cannot afford to pay rent. For now, we live with my father. We can’t move out of the house because we don’t earn much and money is not easy to come by,” he said.

Many Zimbabweans survive through vending and hawking.

Zimbabwe has been struggling for five years to recover from a catastrophic recession which led to widespread food shortages, fuelling 500 billion percent hyperinflation and prompting it to adopt the U.S. dollar in 2009.

Drought and weak global commodity prices have halved this year’s economic growth forecast to 1.5 percent.

More than 4,600 companies shut between 2011-2014, at a cost of 55,443 jobs. Unions say 25,000 employees were sacked after a Supreme Court ruling in July allowed firms to fire workers by giving three months’ notice without paying severance packages.

“If only the government could create jobs for us. It’s not desirable that everybody is now a vendor. If you check all these people, there are so many with the right qualifications but there are no jobs. The government needs to reduce unemployment so that people can work and those companies that provide employment should not be given powers to just fire people with a three month notice without tangible benefits after one has worked for over 17 years for a particular company. It’s really not fair that someone like that would end up going home with as little as just two months worth of their salary,” Moses added.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe estimates an average family of six needs 580 dollars a month to buy enough food and household essentials.

Zimbabwe had the second most developed industrial base in southern Africa at independence and was among the fastest growing economies on the continent between 1996-1998.

But in 1999-2008 it became Africa’s fastest shrinking economy, destroying 200,000 jobs outside the agriculture sector.

Today it’s a far cry from the joy of independence in 1980, when President Robert Mugabe was revered by many at home and the World Bank rated Zimbabwe the most promising economy in Africa.

Agriculture, hurt by Mugabe’s seizures of white-owned commercial farms in 2000, has struggled to recover, forcing Zimbabwe to import food.

Power cuts, expensive loans and cheaper imports have helped push the unemployment rate to more than 80 percent.

Economic analysts say it would take foreign investment, a comprehensive infrastructure upgrade and cheaper international finance to revive industrial output, create more formal jobs and boost tax revenue.

Analyst, Christopher Mugaga believes the political situation needs to change if Zimbabwe is to move forward.

“I think as a country we have certainly failed because politics has been allowed to dictate the pace of activity both social and economic and at the end of the day if politicians are under threat they still believe that the economy has just to be subservient to their expectations or needs and that’s one enemy for Zimbabwe. Politics has to be put in order. We need a system which believes in economic growth; be economic managers not political managers.”

As Zimbabwe sheds any veneer of formally regulated commerce, a host of vendor unions claim to represent between 100,000 and 6 million traders, nearly half the nation’s 13 million people.

Yet Harare’s vendor unions complain the city council won’t allocate them space to trade and say police constantly harass them as they jostle to sell school uniforms, fresh vegetables and pirated movies.