Vendors Learn a Thing or Two

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Namibian street vendors seem to have been caught napping, with their laid-back approach to doing business compared to traders from Zimbabwe who are more active in the manner they sell goods. If one walks along the corridors of the vibrant Pick ‘n Pay shopping complex at Katutura, one will observe how these vendors try to convince locals to buy their goods that range from agriculture products to clothing. Like many sitting alongside her, Linda Mukandi, a local resident of Katutura has acquired the skill of buying and selling from her Zimbabwean friends. Lifting the packaged myriad of fresh vegetables from the pavement, the young woman shouts to prospective buyers, “five dollars per packet customer, fresh tomatoes, onions and potatoes…” Although in business for the past year, she has quickly learned the hustle and bustle of trading in a crowded and competitive environment. Sourcing her merchandise from a Portuguese shop in Okahandja, the 23-year-old Mukandi is content with the profit she makes at the end of the day. “I buy a box of tomatoes or onions for N$100 and I make profit of about N$50 per box.” Even though transport remains a challenge, she said the business has kept her going and is her livelihood. Although some might think that foreigners are here to take jobs away from them, Mukandi has a different view. She believes that one has to make the best out of the situation. It seems it’s a hard-knock life. It is not only taxi drivers that get “irritated” by the regular patrols of members of the City Police at the shopping complex preferred by vendors as their favourite place to sell goods. According to Mukandi, “we want to survive but they are always harassing us, want us to move but I do not know which place would be best for us. We do not appreciate the chasing. It is survival of the fittest.” A fresher in the “course” of business John Mapeu, who once worked for the Namibia Grape Company, only started this week. Wanting to become his own boss, the 30-year-old man today sells blocks of chocolate. Business has taught him to think broadly in order to make a profit. Buying one packet of chocolate at the Capricorn Sweets Company in the Northern industrial area for N$10, Mapeu literally breaks the chocolate into smaller bars and sells a block for N$1. “The competition is high but I make N$6 profit from every packet,” he says. Some of the customers as they walk out of the well-established grocery stalls, use their small change to buy sweets for their little ones who cannot resist the temptation. “I am sick and tired of the City Police. They chase us from the shade and the chocolates melt if I sell from a place where there is no shade. The chocolates melt and I lose business,” he lamented. As a remedy, he is contemplating negotiating with shop owners at the complex to allow him to sell his chocolates in front of their shops so that he could also give a certain amount of his profit to the shop owner. “We are striving to survive,” he says. Unlike Mukandi, Mapeu feels uncertain about the presence of Zimbabwean sellers in his “territory”. He says, “they come with their things from Zimbabwe and after selling they start also with selling chocolate.” One can tell that the market is flooded with the same merchandise. Everybody practically sells the same type of goods ranging from potatoes, bracelets, hats, sunglasses, nail polish, lipstick and chocolates. Meanwhile, a young Zimbabwean entrepreneur Mike Mawuto, who is also in the chocolate business confirmed that they have imparted their skills to local street traders. “We initially brought the business, we have taught them how to make money, and we have shown them the skill.” He says, like in any business that deals with consumable goods, hygiene cannot be compromised. “I make sure that I bath, wear clean clothes, cover the chocolates with transparent plastic, and wear plastic gloves when serving customers.” However, the hygiene style is rare in street vending especially in Katutura where one finds flies, dust and commotion of people close to openly exposed food. As much as street vending might look like a growing business, it all boils down to survival of the fittest.