Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
VEGETABLE vendors and hawkers in Victoria Falls are enjoying market monopoly in the absence of Zambian traders, commonly known as omzanga, who used to dominate the market before the Covid-19-induced lockdown.
While business is generally low because of reduced buying power owing to loss of jobs and closure of industry, the lockdown came as a blessing in disguise for Victoria Falls vendors who had over the years played second fiddle to omzanga.
Zambian hawkers from Livingstone town across the Zambezi River used to cross the border each morning to sell various kinds of goods ranging from vegetables and other farm produce to toiletries, second-hand clothes, shoes as well as other items.
They used temporary one-day passes to cross the border.
While local vendors would be stationed at designated markets where they pay rent to the municipality, omzanga used to move around the streets selling door-to-door thereby taking away a majority of customers.
Residents preferred buying from omzanga because of access to a variety of items while their products were also fresh from the farm and cheaper compared to those sold by local vendors.
Victoria Falls vendors get their stock from Lupane, Umguza, Bulawayo and as far as Gweru, Gokwe and even Harare.
As a result, vegetable products are expensive in Victoria Falls which made residents prefer buying from omzanga.
The closure of the border in March left local vendors with the task of supplying the whole market.
Mrs Sehlukile Sibanda-Mpofu who sells vegetables at Mkhosana Market said business has been better in the absence of omzanga.
“Covid-19 generally affected business. If you remember at the height of lockdown we used to close at 3PM and that meant we lost business because people buy vegetables around end of the day. Many started buying from hawkers who were moving around selling. It’s better now since we are now closing after 6PM.
“But what makes us happier is the absence of omzanga who used to cross the border very early in the morning and sell door-to door in the high density suburbs until evening. Our wish is for something to be done to protect us when borders reopen, probably by stopping them from selling vegetables here,” said Mrs Sibanda-Mpofu.
After hawking for the whole day around suburbs, omzanga would gather in front of supermarkets in the evening where they would sell their stuff until shops closed at 8PM when they would cross back to Livingstone.
Mrs Sibanda-Mpofu said the absence of omzanga means they can enjoy the little business available and can manage to restock.
The return of long distance public buses following the lifting of intercity travel restrictions also came as good news for the vendors who said they were being ripped off by transporters when travelling to restock.
Tomatoes sell between US$0,50 and US$1 for a small packet while a head of cabbage ranges between US$1 and US$1,50 or equivalent in local currency.
Mrs Sibanda-Mpofu said on a good day one can make US$10.
Another vendor Mr Albert Mpofu appealed to Government to put restrictions on importation of farm produce.
“While it is good to trade with our neighbouring countries, Government should control importation of farm produce so as to protect locals. We apply for vending licences and pay monthly rentals to sell from the market but hawkers are allowed to sell door-to-door taking all customers. You would actually feel the difference each time they were raided by municipal police,” he said.
Vendors pay $336 per month to rent a stall while licence renewal is $265 per year. Many have not been able to return to reopen as they have failed to raise the fees despite Government allowing vendors to operate.
A majority of vendors have resorted to moving around selling vegetables while others have turned their places of residence into selling points.
Many households now also have gardens.
Chairperson of the Mkhosana Vegetable Market Ms Tendai Ncube implored authorities to enforce by-laws with regards to vending.
“Because of lockdown almost every household now has a vegetable garden and selling vegetables at their gates. Authorities should make sure those who sell from home are given vending stalls so we all operate from the market. Things are better in the absence of omzanga who would sell similar goods to ours and our only challenge now is that everyone is selling vegetables,” she said.
Also contributing at budget meetings, residents implored the municipality to also control the influx of unregistered traders who drive into Victoria Falls to sell vegetable products from the boot of their vehicles. — @ncubeleon