Crafty Zimbabwean Vendors Paint Windhoek Red

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By Stanley Kwenda WINDHOEK The streets of Windhoek look very clean to any other discerning visitor, what with a kaleidoscope of colour which comes with the different dressing styles representing the diverse cultures that can be found in this city. Although water is such a precious commodity in the arid city, it is the lush green gardens and recreational parks which leave a first-time visitor wondering how this could be. But as one walked around the beautiful streets bustling with shiny cars and people from different walks of life, something really stood out. At every other street corner, you are likely to meet a neatly designed street market selling mostly exotic wares. Artefacts made from wood, steel and soapstone are a popular sight. But, apart from the wares and the beauty of the city, something really caught the eye. Most of the vendors you meet are likely to be from Zimbabwe. “This probably demonstrates the extent to which Zimbabweans have been stretched by an economy which is not performing well, but it is their resolve which has seen them become a regular feature in this country,” said Thomas Kunene who lives in Katutura. Some of the traders have been living in Namibia for many years and have since become part of the southern African country’s larger community. Others do come occasionally to sell their wares, but leave once they record good business. “I have been here for two weeks now and business has not been that good, but it usually picks up towards the end of the month, ” said a woman who identified herself as Theresa. Theresa comes from Harare’s Glen View suburb and looks after a family of four from her cross-border trading venture. She lost her husband in 1998 and has since been managing on her own. To date, she says she has managed to send her children to school with the proceeds she gets from her excursions in Namibia. She specializes in selling embroidery products along the streets of Windhoek, although she sometimes does so in other towns such as Okahandja and Katima Mulilo. When in Windhoek, she usually lives in a compound with friends in Katutura suburb. But how does she cope with having to be miles away from her family? ” I always talk to them on the phone and most of my relatives support me a lot, and my young sister looks after my children when I am away. I must admit it is never an easy task but, by the way, it is not by choice,” said Theresa. Theresa is just one of the many Zimbos – as Zimbabweans are affectionately known in Namibia – who have decided to endure the sometimes two-day long journey from Zimbabwe. Most of the vendors have developed a crafty way of doing things though. They kill most of their time making wares while waiting for the next customer. Apart from the street corner, they can also be found at shopping malls dotted around the city. At the Game Shopping Centre, I met two young brothers aged 25 and 28 respectively selling a refreshing brand of art of handmade wind pumps which can draw up to 200 litres of water a day. “It only takes two days to make this pump and we use wire and fix a small pump at the pivot. It is a very cheap form of pumping water,” said Nicky Makwarimba, one of the two brothers. The wind pump costs anything between 400 and 600 Namibian dollars. Apart from the pumps, the brothers also augment their income by selling cellphone recharge cards and other artefacts. They said they appreciate the concern of the Namibian people who understand their plight and therefore make their business easy. Makwarimba said, “We have no problem with the police; all they want is to see us doing business in an orderly manner rather than roaming through the city.” An unidentified Windhoek office worker recounted his experiences during the apartheid era, “I went to university in Zambia and got an education I now cherish through the benevolence of the Zambian people, and so I think we should just do the same for others.” The journey for Maxwell from Zimbabwe was just as long as those of the others. “I would have loved to tell you how I came to be in this country, but I can’t do that to a journalist; I cannot trust you, but it was really hard. I am happy I am here and at least I am doing something, otherwise I could have been forced into doing some bad things in Zimbabwe.” Maxwell sells wire toys at Maerua Mall.