To Zimbabwe’s sky-high inflation “Everyone thinks street selling is the easiest way to survive, but you have to be creative.”
Noel Gwenya, 44, from Chibi District, Masvingo State, spends his workday in downtown Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city, with speakers promoting unique services.
He collects torn and soiled foreign currency notes rejected by supermarkets and other traders. Most of them are Zimbabwe’s legal tender, US dollars or South African Rand.
Mr. Ngwenya pays customers 50% of the value of banknotes they bring. So the customer gets $1 for shredded $2 bills and R100 for shredded R200 bills.
“Since Covid-19, things have gotten even worse. There are very few formal jobs in the industry, so it’s almost like everyone is selling something now,” he says.
Zimbabwe’s inflation rate has been declining since August 2022, when it reached a staggering 285%. But as of March of this year, it was still at 87.6%, and Zimbabweans had to find creative ways to survive.
According to a recent report by the Harare-based International Labor Organization, 76% of Zimbabwe’s workers are now working in the informal sector. That is, they sell goods and services without registering with the authorities.
Due to the informal economy, huge bank charges and distrust of the banking sector, Zimbabweans prefer to transact in cash or mobile money.
Ngwenya describes himself as a brokerage agent with contacts in U.S., South African and local banks. They provide him with a company car and pay him a commission each time they receive a torn bill.
A married father of his five children, Mr Ngwenya supplements his unpredictable business by selling fruit and roasting his corn as a sideline. “Everything used to be good, but now business is slowing down,” he says. “Some people will bring you a torn $100 bill if you’re lucky, and some days you’ll have to settle for $1 and $2 bills.”
Decades of corruption and economic troubles have degraded the country’s and inner-city road infrastructure. This presents an opportunity for 25-year-old Mayibongwe Khumalo,wholivesinParkinthe sprawling suburb of Cowdray, about 25km (15 mi) west of Bulawayo.
He is one of many people who repair holes in the city in exchange for cash from grateful and caring drivers.
“Filling holes in the road is a nuisance for drivers. I’m broke and want to make some money, but I don’t want to beg like a blind man.” Khumalo explains. “There are so many blind people in Bulawayo that drivers are no longer affected by their plight. I am a sighted person and no one throws money at me.
“People who understand the value of my work believe that fixing the roads will give me something. On a good day like today, $9 (£7) and 100 I earned Rand ($6; £4) and several hundred Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL$).
“This means that I will not return to my family empty-handed. My 3 kids and wife are fine and tomorrow is another day. “
Mr. Kumaro works as a minibus driver and advertiser, helping to backup popular musicians who perform tjibilika, a song about uptempo music influenced by Congolese rumba and its attendant social issues.
Of Zimbabwe’s estimated 5.2 million informal economy traders, 65% are women. The government wants to formalize this growing industry as part of a national strategy to increase tax revenue. Crack down on small businesses, send law enforcement officers to inspect trading licenses, and punish those who don’t comply.
Sukoluhle Christine Malima, 36, runs a restaurant out of an old trailer at a public transport station in Bulawayo. It is impossible, she says, to save enough money to register as her business. She is therefore often forced to pay a $4 fine.
“My plan is to raise money for my trading license, but the constant arrests and increasing competition are making things more difficult. and have to pay the inevitable fines.”
“I buy a chicken for $6 and cut into 12 pieces which produces 12 plates of Sadza and chicken, giving me $12 per day. From there I deduct $1 for mealie meal, $1.50 for cooking oil and another $1.50 for tomatoes and onions, so my profit is around $2 or $1.50 per day, which I try and save for my licence. But then the police come again and I am back to square one.”
Malima shares her frustration with Mercy Tafirenyika, 51, who has been designing and sewing uniforms for nurses in Bulawayo’s central business district since 1999.
She says competition has increased as other people turn to tailoring to make extra money. Worsening power outages across the country have cut working hours and cost raw materials is rising.