By Tafara Mugwara
Despite early summer scorching temperatures, 23-year-old Given Mandinyenya pushes a cart full of pipes and metal sheets from the market so that he can deliver them to a client.
Mandinyenya is one of many pushcart operators who prowl retail shops and wholesale markets in Mbare, a renowned market south of downtown Harare, with the aim of getting customers.
With trucks being expensive and beyond the reach for many economically struggling Zimbabweans, pushcart operators have become a hit in the hectic township.
Prominent for its early morning hustle and hive of activity, Mbare is home to Zimbabwe’s biggest fruit and vegetable market, second-hand clothing market and the busiest long-distance bus terminus in the country.
Like many busy markets, Mbare attracts its fair share of pickpockets, and people have to be alert and conscious about their surroundings all the times.
While hiring a truck costs about 10 U.S. dollars, pushcart operators charge between 1 and 3 U.S. dollars to ferry goods within a 2 km radius.
Their low charges make them the preferred mode of transport when ferrying goods within short distances.
Charges are determined by weight and distance to be covered. A cart in good condition carries a maximum load of 80 kg, depending on the strength of the operator.
Apart from providing an essential service to cash strapped Zimbabweans at an affordable price, the pushcart industry also provides a lifeline to thousands of unemployed people such as Mandinyenya.
“I discovered that the money that I am getting form pushing carts is far much more than what I used to get when I was working at a company,” he told Xinhua.
Mandinyenya, who has been plying the trade for the past two years, said on a good day he can pocket about 20 U.S. dollars, which is far more than what many formally employed Zimbabweans are getting per week.
While the work is rewarding, Mandinyenya said he is doing the job out of desperation, and the need to fend for his family keeps him going.
“But this work is very exhausting. I wish I can get a job at a company, a job with better working conditions and better remuneration,” he said.
Another pushcart operator, Kelvin Nyakudanga, bemoaned effects of the pandemic on his business.
“Business is down. Money is not circulating and prices are terrible. We used to base on our customers but due to the pandemic things are not going the way they should,” he said.
Nyakudanga said a large portion of his customers used to be from rural areas, but the coronavirus lockdown has kept them confined to their villages.
He said like most economic sectors in Zimbabwe, the pushcart industry has not been spared from the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“Customers are not coming because they are afraid of contracting the coronavirus. For our business to thrive customers have to be moving freely,” Nyakudanga said.
Joseph Kaseke said major challenge pushcart operators face is that most of them cannot afford to buy their own carts, so they have to rent them for 1 U.S. dollar per day.
“If you have enough savings you can buy your own cart, but given the economic situation, it’s not easy for us to buy one. We are struggling to get customers, and the customers are also finding it difficult to buy things,” said Kaseke.
Hwesa Katerera, who has been in the pushcart industry for the past 30 years, saw this gap and decided to make pushcarts and rent them to those who cannot buy their own.
“I noticed that many people do not have jobs. So I came up with an idea to make many pushcarts so that I help many people, and help myself in the process,” he said.
While pushcarts do not need fuel or other costs associated with motor vehicles, the sheer amount of energy needed to push a cart at its maximum capacity is discouraging to many people.