Today, like every other day Solo* is having a busy today, from waking up at 6am and cleaning 3 cars, to walking 6km on foot to get to the bananas and green vegies wholesalers in Adbernnie and then pushing his cart back to town. Looking at him-barefoot, sweaty, smiling and ready to go- one can tell that he is quite a hard worker and he also knows his way around the streets. Solo is just one of the several vendors that sell fruits and vegetables from their carts in the city centre of Harare. Daily, he is on an adventure that starts in the morning and ends at 9pm. By the end of his day, Solo is so exhausted from driving his cart from corner to corner and running away from council police.
“This cold weather is tricky…” he says “…you don’t tire easily but it’s difficult to push this cart with such a heavy load over the long distances from the wholesalers back to town and around town”. That is Solo’s response when asked how he is faring with the cold weather. When asked about how life is and how his business is doing, Solo’s responses are typical of the realities faced by many Zimbabweans-the youth in particular. Despite the constant run-ins with the municipal police, Solo is not ready to give up his only source of income. “I cannot afford to relax one minute when I’m at work. The municipal police raid us every day and they confiscate the things that we sell leaving us with nothing and we have to start again”. He then shows me a scar on his left shin where he says he was injured one day while running away from municipal police while pushing his cart!
Solo dropped out of school in grade six, lost his father when he was aged five and lost his mother four years later. At his tender age of 14, he is already burdened with providing food for his other younger sister but he is contributes money towards his siblings’ school fees. Unlike his peers, he does not have time for the pastimes chased after by other young people of his age because of the pressures to put food on the table. As an orphan with two other siblings looking to him for their subsistence, Solo is bent double under this heavy burden. Zimbabwe is faced with a daunting challenge of dealing with the scourge of unemployment and endemic poverty. The collapse of industry has had ripple effects on orphans and vulnerable children like Solo and his young siblings. Without an education, it is nearly impossible for him to enter the workforce and establishing himself in a sustainable career.
“What we need is for the municipal police to stop chasing us and chase the real criminals…pickpockets, robbers and fraudsters that freely roam the streets. The mshika-shika kombis and pirate taxis are busy running over innocent pedestrians”.
Solo’ words resonate with many other informal traders’ lamentations for the enactment of protective legislation and policies to enable them to go about their trading and fend for their families without fear of harassment, avoidable personal injuries and loss of their little investments. With the high unemployment and the informalisation of the economy, there is a genuine need to protect the informal traders, to realise the importance of informal traders’ contribution to the welfare of their families and try to devise strategies to make the environment less stressful for their activities. Rather than placing excessive and stifling regulations on vendors serving a population that is struggling under deep-seated poverty and declining disposable incomes, there is a need for pro-youth stakeholders to come together and determine factors that hinder or motivate informal youth entrepreneurship and how best financial and other support services can be tailored to offer maximum benefit to the youth. Until then, Solo has no option but to face his daily cart drive: from home to wholesalers, to town and on to the high speed municipal police chase
*Not his real name.