A day in the life of a female vendor

Persistent water shortages and constant power outages worsen her plight, as she has to ensure that her family’s water needs are met before she can embark on her long day. From the small profit that she makes, she has to budget for firewood and sometimes paraffin to ensure that her family is able to prepare a cup of tea mid-morning, which serves as both breakfast and lunch.

Female vendors selling sweet potatoes and avocado pears
Female vendors selling sweet potatoes and avocado pears

At exactly 4:30 am Mapangure, 41, carefully locks her family inside her two-room house and heads for the market and at 4:45 am she takes the bus, which costs her $5 per day, to Mbare Musika.

Mapangure knows where to buy farm produce straight from the farmers. “I buy a pocket of potatoes, bundles of different vegetables, a box of tomatoes, onions and sometimes legumes,” said Mapangure. For this she pays between $40 and $60, depending on how much profit she made that week.

“I do not make much profit daily but on a good day, I pocket between $7 to $10,” she said. Through vending, she is able to pay her monthly rental of $100 while her husband sometimes chips in to pay electricity and water bills. “When push comes to shove, I sometimes have to pay our children’s school fees as well,” she said.

Not reliable

“My husband is not permanently employed and he's income is not reliable because sometimes he gets money but there are times when he does not get anything at all. This is what pushed me into vending although I am a trained receptionist,” Mapangure said. She lost her receptionist job in 2008 when the country went through one of its worst economic turmoil and since then, she has been unable to find employment.

Tafadzwa Hodonga from Mufakose has a different tale to tell. “Business is slow in my neighbourhood and it is difficult to obtain space to sell your goods,” she said adding that this had forced her into street vending.

Unlike Mapangure, Hodonga’s day starts around 1 pm when she goes to a fruit and vegetable shop along Seke road where she buys products cheaply. “These products are cheaper because they are damaged or not suitable for big supermarkets so we buy the ‘rejects’ depending on what is available on a particular day,” said Hodonga.


From Seke road, she heads for her stall along Robert Mugabe road in Harare. “I have a sack where I display my produce from around 3 pm in the afternoon anticipating to cash in on the working class,” she said. “I am a widow, my husband died seven years ago. Being a mother of three, this is my only livelihood. The money is not enough but half a loaf is better than nothing,” she said, adding that men take advantage of female vendors and they are constantly propositioned.

“Some of the women do end up selling their bodies because the money earned is not enough especially when you lose all your stock to municipal police. You then need extra capital to restock and when you do not have it, you end up doing anything.” On a good day, Hodonga makes between $15 to $20 profit although her main challenge remains the constant battle with the municipal police.

Selling a variety of commodities such as airtime cards, vegetables, clothes, traditional herbs and skin lightening creams is a lifeline for the majority of unemployed men and women in and around the capital Harare. The streets of the capital have become littered with card board boxes and sacks where vendors display their various good and products to potential customers.

75 companies closed

More women are now resorting to vending as a way of sustaining their families’ livelihoods due to the ever increasing company closures. While some are educated, most of the vendors have failed to find formal employment.

The 2013 manufacturing survey estimated the country's capacity utilisation at 39,4% while over 9,000 jobs were lost following the closure of 75 companies.

Street vendors’ rights to ply their trade are limited by regulation, harassment and the harsh economic environment. Female vendors have not been spared the harsh realities of running sustainable business ventures leaving them more vulnerable to these challenges. Most of the women lamented the ever increasing numbers of vendors, citing high unemployment and ever increasing company closures as having adverse effects on the escalating numbers of vendors.

Tapiwa Mutsopotsi from Chitungwiza said, “Our male counterparts are quicker and they can evade council police raids better than us because as you can see, I have a five month old baby with me while I am vending.” She added that she loses more of her stock to council police than her male counterparts.

Pushed out

“A lot of female vendors are pushed out of the trade and the majority end up setting up vending tables in the suburbs where business is low,” added Fiona Mutombwe

Sheila Paraiwa emphasised the need for the female vendors to organise themselves and speak out with one voice. “We have no-one but ourselves to stand up on our behalf and advocate for our rights as mothers who are trying to earn an honest living for our families,” said Paraiwa.

Virginia Muwanigwa, the director of Humanitarian Information and Facilitation Centre (HIFC) and chairperson of the Women's Coalition said that because women bore the brunt of poverty, there is an urgent need to come up with interventions that will cushion women from abuse and corruption as they engage in various income generating initiatives. "Corruption is negatively affecting female vendors on the streets," said Muwanigwa, adding that targeted interventions to educate women on how to operate under such circumstances is critical.

Post published in: Analysis

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