Some vendors and informal traders in Bulawayo have found new homes for their businesses in their respective residential areas after being removed from the city center.
More than 600 vendors were removed from the city center as part of measures to spruce up the city inline with Covid-19 hygiene regulations and most of them were operating along Fifth Avenue.
Council is yet to allocate the traders new vending bays hence most of them have now resorted to operating from their respective residential areas.
Many have turned their homes into market places and are selling an assortment of products they used to sell at the market along Fifth Avenue.
The vendors say while business is not as good as it was in the city centre, they are able to raise enough money to fend for their families as they adjust to the “new normal” of living under lockdown.
Some of them said they had to modify their business models as they were now targeting different types of markets compared to what they used to serve in the Central Business District.
Gogo Nogeit Nleya (64) of Mzilikazi suburb in Bulawayo said while waiting for council to provide new selling bays, she decided to operate from home.
She said she has been selling at the market since she was 23 years old and as such she has not known any other employment.
Mrs Nleya said she has been able to send her children to school from the money she raised at the market and had been able to look after her grandchildren from the same market proceeds until Covid-19 struck.
“I started selling from the market in the late 1980s. I sent all my children to school using that money and I am still able to fend for my family with proceeds from my vending business. I do not know any other business and as old as I am it will be very difficult to start thinking of any other business venture. I am a widow.
“During the lockdown I have realised that I can still continue with my business from home while waiting for council to allocate us new vending bays,” said Gogo Nleya.
She said at home she was able to maintain high hygiene standards required by Covid-19 regulations.
“I am able to wash my hands after coming into contact with every customer. It is only the water crisis that makes this a bit of a problem but the borehole is not very far from where I stay. I hope council will set up new vending stalls for us soon but while I wait, my home is my new fresh produce market,” she said.
Mr Dingani Sibanda from Nketa Six suburb who sells fresh produce and small grains among other products, says he is now operating from his vehicle.
“When I lost my stand at the Fifth Avenue market, I lost hope and stayed home for days during the peak of the lockdown. My colleagues who were also affected by our relocation, approached me asking for transport to collect vegetables from Woodville and other nearby places. We would be stopped by people inquiring if we were selling the produce in bulk, and from then on, I have realised that I can make more money through selling bulk vegetables to other vendors. I also sell smaller quantities after delivering my bulk orders. I sell from my car and I go to different areas in the city making deliveries and I keep small quantities for selling to individuals for consumption,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said he was now making more money than he used to make at the market in the city centre.
“I only realised now that I can actually make more money than I used to make by making bulk deliveries to other vendors. Maybe it’s because of this lockdown but I pray that the trend continues so that I do not return to spending the whole day at the market. I bought this truck in 2003 for a very cheap price when my former boss was relocating to the United Kingdom and it’s only now that I am enjoying real value of having the truck,” said Mr Sibanda.
Mrs Talent Musona from Cowdray park suburb said she is now spending more time with her family while doing business at home.
“It is hard to start something new but sometimes change is what we need to realise that there are new opportunities. I think selling from my neighbourhood is not so bad after all as I get to spend more time at home with my children. The revenues are lower compared to what I used to realise but the advantage is that I no longer pay for transport everyday,” said Mrs Musona.
Another vendor who only identified herself as MaSithole from Makokoba suburb, said while selling vegetables from home gave her less money, it was good because she was no longer involved in running battles with municipal police who used to confiscate her wares.
She however said she will be back at Renkini bus terminus once it is re-opened for business after lockdown.
“These days I sell my wares in peace without fear of being chased by police or BCC. I know that I will not have to ride at the back of a council truck during a raid or lose any of my stuff. My new business of selling from home now gives me time to cook for my children,” she said.
Not all vendors share the same optimism about finding opportunities despite the lockdown. For some it looks like the end of the road and the future is bleak.
Ms Nomsa Ncube said during the lockdown she was forced to eat more than half her stock while some of her perishable stock started rotting.
“I lost more than 75 percent of my stock and right now while the lockdown has eased, I am struggling to restock. Things are expensive and suppliers want forex. I wish I was younger so I could apply for the youth business relief fund,” she said.
Meanwhile, more than 600 vendors who were removed from the city centre are challenging their relocation by the Bulawayo City Council at the High Court.