Wake up time for Possent Mlilo, 37, is around 5 am every morning. He occupies a room in his pensioner father’s three-room house in Bulawayo’s Sizinda high density suburb. The day starts with household chores such as sweeping, cleaning and washing dirty dishes before he embarks on the gruelling two hour, 10 km trip into town by wheelchair.
“I cannot afford the luxury of public transport because of the small profit I make from my vending business. Besides that, many public transport operators mistreat people who use wheelchairs,” he said. In the evening, it takes another two hours to cover the 10 km back home. During late afternoon and early evening the route is notorious for muggers.
“I stay alone in my room and lodgers occupy the other two rooms. The house belongs to my father, but he has relocated to our rural home in Kezi so I am in charge of the house,” said Mlilo. He has to pay for his own food as well as buy medication for a chronic kidney ailment.
After two hours of negotiating the road with high volumes of traffic and rough terrain unsuitable for wheelchairs, Mlilo has the unenviable task of competing with able-bodied vendors for the consumer’s precious dollar. Seated in his wheelchair on a corner along Jason Moyo Avenue, he sells airtime and an assortment of sweets. “A major challenge is that I do not have the start-up capital to buy an adequate stock of cards to supply a whole day’s customers. For $50 worth of airtime sold, my commission is only $4. If I reinvest the commission I get an additional 32c profit,” he explained.
No toilet access
Mlilo pointed out some difficulties and environment issues that able-bodied people never even have to think about.
“In Bulawayo there is not one public toilet that is wheelchair friendly. In most instances disabled people are forced to leave their wheelchairs outside and crawl, like animals on their bare hands, into these filthy toilets. Many buildings cannot be accessed by persons in wheelchairs because they don’t have ramps” said Mlilo.
Mlilo, the second eldest in a family of 10 children, was born disabled in Kezi in Matabeleland South province. After completing primary school he moved to Bulawayo where the economic meltdown forced him to venture into vending – like many thousands of others in Zimbabwe today. According to the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh) 1,5 million people live with one or more disability.
Figures from the 2012 Zimbabwe National Statistics (ZimStats) reveal that only 2% of them are formally employed with 64% said to be employed in the informal sector. Many among the remaining survive by begging on the streets. – If you are able to be of assistance, Mlilo can be contacted at 7958/1 Sizinda, Bulawayo, or via [email protected]Post published in: Economy