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Mother working as a vendor in the streets of Harare makes three dollars a day

I run from the police seven or more times a day, always returning because I need to sell my goods to survive. Through every battle with authorities, my son remains on my back.

  • 1 month ago
  • April 13, 2024
5 min read
Tanaka Moyo holds her child at the corner of Julius Nyerere Street in the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe where she works as a street vendor. | Photo courtesy of Calvin Manika Tanaka Moyo holds her child at the corner of Julius Nyerere Street in the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe where she works as a street vendor. | Photo courtesy of Calvin Manika
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Tanaka Moyo, 32, is a vendor in the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe. She lives in the outskirts of the city in a dormitory settlement called Epworth. Tanaka has been in the streets for a decade and has literally raised all three of her children in the streets. She works as a street vendor selling wares to augment the meager salary of her husband and to make ends meet. Her job is risky, but like other women in the streets, she has to endure and navigate the environment on a daily basis in the face of economic hardships and rogue police officers. 
Background Information
The story of “street mothers” – women who work as vendors selling goods in the city of Harare, Zimbabwe – is generally untold. Women with babies strapped on their back in the busy Central Business District are often single mothers, widows, or low-income families. For others, it’s a simple choice of work. The mothers working as vendors face stiff competition now, after an economic crisis has pushed people who had formal employment into the margins. People now work as street vendors to augment their income and keep up with inflation. As the journalist on this story, I talked to women who described the street vending experience as “revolting, bitter, awful, horrible, and a difficult life choice.” These moms want to leave the streets, hoping vibrant industry returns to Harare. Some women have lost their children while working on the streets. There are deaths by motorists, and the women have to play a cat and mouse game with the police every day. Some of those officers ask for bribes or sexual favors.

HARARE, Zimbabwe ꟷ In 2010, I began augmenting my husband’s meager earnings by working as a vendor in Harare. Over the years, I ushered my children into the buzzing streets of the city. Today, I bring my last born with me when I work. This child, however, is the unfortunate one.

In past years, my children experienced vending with less competition. Most vendors worked in the townships and suburbs, with few in the central business district where I set up shop. Over the last five years, however, a huge influx of vendors into the city makes the situation far riskier and more dangerous for my child.

Read more stories out of Zimbabwe at Orato World Media.

Left as a mother selling goods on the streets

On a typical day, I wake up early in the morning before dawn. I order my restock and proceed to the central business district around 9:00 a.m. with my baby strapped to my back. I feel bad about bringing my child to work; he is so young, but I need to breastfeed. I cannot delegate that responsibility.

A child needs to play and should learn to grow in a social, homelike environment. My son, on the other hand, spends his entire days surrounded by noise. As a vendor, we shout for customers to buy our products. Everything he sees and hears shapes him and at the end of each day, I worry. I want my son to become a better person in this life.

Most days, we face soaring temperatures. With no awning or roof to cover us, we bake in the heat of the sun and get wet when it rains. My son often catches colds or typhoid. The business I run in the streets is illegal so we cannot lobby for better facilities. What’s worse, the national and municipal police constantly stay on top of us.

We call the place where the vendors operate “pa speed,” referring to the speed it takes for us to run away from the authorities when they come to arrest us. I run from police seven or more times a day, always returning because I need to sell my goods to survive. Through every battle with authorities, my son remains on my back. I often get caught because I am trying to protect him.

From detainment to making a few dollars, I cannot feed my son one good meal

When the streets remain calm, I put my son on the ground to play alone. The demand of my job requires me to focus on customers because of the competition. Vendors line the streets fighting for attention. Once, a motorized vehicle nearly hit my son and I had to rush into the road to grab him. Once safely in my arms, I froze and began to sob, but quickly had to pivot back to business.

It feels like I live in a nightmare, constantly trying to balance my job of selling wares with the care I give to my child. In Harare, we lack ablution facilities (public toilets), which forces us to travel some 400 meters to use the bush system near the Mukuvisi Dam.

This means that anytime I have to change my son’s diaper or go to the bathroom, I must walk a quarter mile with all my wares and another quarter mile back to resume working.

When my day in the streets ends, I count my money. I usually have five to seven dollars (USD), which means my profit totals about three. I cannot afford an employee to assist me, so I soldier on, from morning until evening. The small amount of money I make does not even afford me one good meal for my son. Instead, he spends the day drinking “freezits,” eating some snacks, and breastfeeding.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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