A city of vendors, beggars, and conmen

The number of vendors and beggars crowding the streets of Harare is increasing at an alarming rate. They all have a different reason for being there. MICHAEL KARIATI tells their stories.

At every corner, there is someone selling airtime, sweets, fruits, clothes or vegetables
At every corner, there is someone selling airtime, sweets, fruits, clothes or vegetables

Insurance salesman Marcus Munodawafa tells an interesting story of how he met a certain man in Kwame Nkrumah Avenue and gave him two dollars after he believed his story that he wanted to attend to his sick wife at Harare Hospital but did not have money for transport.

But two hours later, Munodawafa came across the same man, this time in Julius Nyerere Avenue, who once again approached him and repeated the same old story.

“I told him that I had already given him two dollars. He replied that it was mistaken identity. But how could I forget him from the clothes he was wearing, and after I had given him all the money I had on me?” asked Munodawafa.

This is the new type of conmen who have taken to the streets of Harare, moving around pretending that they are short of R5 or a dollar for transport back home after failing to meet a relative or friend who was supposed to pay for their transport.

Fake disability

They come in different forms, from men wearing suits, jackets and ties to shabbily dressed women with children on their backs pretending they are short of money to take them to their rural areas. This is what Harare has become. Some even go as far as faking disability to attract donations from merciful people.

Despite protracted efforts by the city fathers to get rid of such characters, while also trying to reduce the number of vendors by making them pay huge sums of money, the bright lights of Harare continue to lure more vendors, more beggars and more conmen, as the economic situation bites harder.

Although jobs are hard to come by in the city, with more and more people being offloaded into the streets as every week as companies close down, more people are also coming into the city from the rural areas and smaller towns. They have no hope of finding a job but just want to beg or to sell different wares at undesignated areas.

Running away

At every corner, there is someone selling airtime, sweets, fruits, clothes, and vegetables. As these corners are not designated for vending, they spend most of their time, with their small children in tow, running away from municipal policemen.

In the past, these street corners belonged to Mozambican nationals who sold cigarettes – and we used to laugh at them. But they have all gone back to their country and Zimbabweans have taken over. Nobody is laughing now.

Even in the suburbs, there are vendors everywhere – some of them separated by less than a metre as they jostle for customers to buy vegetables, sweets, or clothes from the bales (mabhero) they acquire cheaply from Mozambique.

Outside every supermarket, there are boys and girls begging either for money or food. Some have even risked their lives by approaching moving vehicles with begging bowls in hand.

Fadzai’s story

Fadzai is an unlicensed vegetable vendor in Chinhoyi Street. Her past is characterized by rejection and physical torment. She came to Harare in 2010 from Chihota communal lands to work as a maid for a couple from the same area. She was chased away from their Mabelreign home after she fell pregnant.

Both her children including, the one she left behind with her parents, are from different fathers who have refused to take responsibility. With no income, vegetable vending has become her only source of livelihood. She sees no hope of ever getting married and has vowed never to go back to the rural areas, where she says life is even harsher than in the city.

“As you can see, the competition here is tough with all these women around,” she said pointing to a queue of other women with their vegetables on the pavement. “But I have to feed my children and there is no way I can go back to plough in the field, no ways.”

Kicked off

Stanslus Mutume narrated how he and many others were forced off a farm they were working after the white owner was kicked off to pave way for a new farmer, who brought with him his own workers.

His wife left him because he could not provide for the family. His children now live in the rural areas with his relatives while he survives on vending. “I live alone in one room. My life hangs onto the few dollars I get from selling sweets and biscuits. I am not educated and vending is the only thing I can do,” said Mutume.

Runyararo Mutizira, a 13-year-old boy who begs outside a supermarket along Mbuya Nehanda Street, spoke openly about his situation. He said he was not a street kid but was begging to help his family survive

“I do not go to school because my parents cannot afford the fees. My father lost his job way back, and since then he has failed to secure one. My mother sells old clothes but no-one is buying them. So I am doing this to help them. At first, they did not know where I was getting the little money from, but now they know, there is nothing they can do except enjoy it,” said Runyararo.

I’m licenced

Fanuel Chimwaza lost his job when the company retrenched. But he refuses to beg. Originally from Murehwa, he sells fruits from the boot of a vehicle. With no other source of income and another job hard to come by he bought a pick-up truck with his retrenchment package and decided to sell fruits.

“So far, so good. I can afford to look after my wife and my three children. I have no problem with the City of Harare because I am licensed,” says Chimwaza. He is one of the lucky ones.

Most of the female vendors are single mothers with children to look after, whose husbands have lost their jobs or have never worked at all. They are trying to live an honest life by selling their wares but the municipal police make their lives hell on earth – confiscating their wares and demanding bribes they cannot afford.

“Do they want us to go into prostitution or stealing? We are trying to live an honest life but we are being harassed every day,” said one of the women along Kenneth Kaunda Street.

Clean up continues

City of Harare spokesperson Leslie Gwindi says there are now more vendors and beggars in the streets of Harare than those who are at work or at home. He said the clean-up exercise would continue even if it meant giving custodial sentences to some vendors to deter others from following suit.

An official from Social Welfare said the department was failing to cope with the increased number of people seeking assistance. He was straight to the point that the department no longer has money to help or even pay for school fees.

What they are now only able to do, he said, is to offer counselling services and refer the people to where they think they can get assistance. But if the authorities cannot handle the situation, who then will ?

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