Counterfeit  & expired  goods flood Bulawayo streets Street vendors in Bulawayo

Raymond Jaravaza, [email protected]

OPERATING under the cover of darkness on the streets and pavements of the Bulawayo Central Business District (CBD), and away from prying eyes of law enforcement such as municipal police, is a booming informal sector that supplies cheap foodstuffs and other products that consumers have flagged as either expired or counterfeit.

The thriving informal sector operates between 5pm and 10pm targeting last minute and budget-conscious shoppers rushing home after work, and is known as the “US$1 industry”, as most of their products ranging from bread, polony, baked beans, chicken pieces and one litre juices, cost a dollar.

Unbranded products

However, concerned consumers said although the products come cheap compared to supermarkets prices, they are either expired or counterfeit, thereby putting the health of unsuspecting residents at risk.

“I bought a one litre juice labelled as a 100 percent orange juice product for US$1, which was placed in a cooler box with ice, but when I got home I discovered it had a peculiar taste resembling nothing close to orange.

“When I looked for the expiry date, I discovered that the orange juice had expired more than two months ago,” said a consumer, Mr Mlungisi Sibanda.

Concerned that more unsuspecting customers like himself were being sold expired food stuffs, he sent a message on a local residents WhatsApp group warning them to be vigilant and he was shocked to discover that he wasn’t alone in this predicament.

“What hurts the most is that as parents we usually buy these products such as juice and polony for our children to take to school as lunch, not aware that we are feeding our kids poison,” said Mr Sibanda.

A snap survey conducted by Chronicle yesterday when the vendors started operating, showed that the goods are relatively cheaper on the pavements compared to supermarkets, thus, drawing consumers in numbers.

Unbranded products

For instance, a one litre of juice costs US$1,25 in supermarkets but goes for US$1 on the streets.
Another product that is a hit on the streets are pieces of chicken that are packed in plastic papers and sold for US$1 but the only assurance that the meat is fresh is the word of a vendor at the illegal commuter omnibus rank at corner Sixth Avenue and Herbert Chitepo Street who described his product as “farm fresh’.

“The guys take the unsold meat back to their homes and put it in refrigerators for resell the following day but there is no guarantee that the meat stays fresh over a couple of days,” said a kombi driver, Mr Bhekisipho Mlauzi.

A trick used by the vendors to mask that some of the products are either expired or counterfeits is to tear off a section of the brand name or the expiry date on products such as baked beans.

From products like dish-washing liquid and baked beans, the most common tell-tale signs that they are counterfeits are blurry labels, misspelt brand names and flimsy packaging.
Another consumer who declined to be named said he bought what she now believes was counterfeit toothpaste that was watery.

“The products are much cheaper, so we are tempted to buy from the vendors. The other day I bought counterfeit tooth paste but the vendor refused to give me a refund.

“A neighbour of mine in Magwegwe suburb bought a roll-on only to find out that there was water in the container,” said another consumer.

However, what still remains a mystery is the source of the counterfeits.

One vendor told Chronicle that he buys his baked beans from South Africa through a runner who is based in the neighbouring country who deals with a number of vendors in the city.

“He buys the products and gives them to a umalayitsha (cross border transporter). Our guy in South Africa supplies us with products such as energy drinks, polony, baked beans, Mazoe and diapers,” said the vendor.

Consumer Protection Commission chairperson, Dr Mthokozisi Nkosi, urged consumers to be vigilant and only buy from reputable sources.

“Look for genuine brand markings, check expiry dates and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. We also call on the responsible authorities to crack down on the production and distribution of these counterfeit goods,” he said.

Medical doctors have warned about the potential health risks associated with expired or counterfeit products.

“Manufactures of fake products do not follow regulations that bound registered and respected companies so it’s not surprising that their products may contain heavy impurities such as heavy chemicals and metals,” said Dr Chris Munodei.

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