Cholera fears fail to halt daring vendors

HARARE - A sweating 45-year old James Zizhou can hardly drag himself up the stairs as he grapples with a sack-load of fish at a block of flats in Harare's Avenues residential area. Zizhou pauses for a few minutes, wipes the sweat from his brow, and walks towards door number seven. There, he carefull

y presses the doorbell to announce his presence. In a deep, booming voice, Zizhou bellows: “Fresh bream for sale! “Today I have brought cheap fish. Buy five and get one free. You can also get the fish on credit today because I have too much stock,” he tells the young woman who answered the door, putting his deft marketing skills to good use. With the deal done, Zizhou moves on to the next potential customer. With the chances of finding a formal job almost nil in a country where unemployment is above 70 percent, Zizhou and many Zimbabweans have found solace in the informal sector, vending food commodities most of them in critical short supply in the country. And despite the clear health hazards in consuming contaminated food products, especially meat and fish, sold on the open market as shown by the death of 14 people over the last three weeks due to cholera, residents of Harare are still lining up to buy from Zizhou and other vendors because of the cheaper price. Zimbabwe is going through a severe economic crisis described by the World Bank as unprecedented for a country not at war. Inflation stands at 585.8 percent, one of the highest in the world. The government’s Central Statistical Office says an average family of five now needs at least Z$17 million a month to survive. But for most workers in Harare who earn about Z$3 million a month, the price of meat has shot beyond their reach forcing them to buy the product from vendors whose prices are deemed reasonable. In a bid to control the cholera outbreak, the Harare authorities last week banned the vending of fish and meat products. But cholera or no cholera, it is business as usual for Zizhou and thousands of other vendors trading their wares on Zimbabwe’s streets. “I clean my fish. There is no way I can sell poison to people. I have been selling fish here for more than a year and I have never heard that anyone has died because of my fish,” says Zizhou when asked if his business did not pose a health hazard to residents. – ZimOnline

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