Street ven­dors turn on the style to win over cus­tomers

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Harare, Zim­babwe

In his three-piece suit, match­ing hat and bow tie, Farai Mushayademo could eas­ily pass for a celebrity mu­si­cian — if only his job didn’t in­volve dodg­ing cars at a busy in­ter­sec­tion in Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal, Harare, sell­ing bot­tled wa­ter and potato chips to pass­ing mo­torists.

Mushayademo’s dis­tinc­tive dress sense, with a dif­fer­ent shiny suit ev­ery day, makes him a dar­ling of cus­tomers and helps him beat the “ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion,’’ he said.

Mas­sive job­less­ness in this once-pros­per­ous south­ern African coun­try has forced many to flood the streets, where they hawk any­thing from medicines to car parts. A good gim­mick can help a ven­dor stand out from the crowd.

While such scenes are com­mon through­out Africa, they are un­usual in Zim­babwe, where ven­dors once were found only at legally des­ig­nated stalls. Now, as the econ­omy plunges, such or­der is break­ing down.

Side­walks in Harare and other cities and towns are hardly pass­able for pedes­tri­ans due to the high vol­ume of ven­dors. Some plunge into the streets to tar­get mo­torists.

Mushayademo, a 35-yearold fa­ther of three who is a tai­lor by pro­fes­sion, told The As­so­ci­ated Press: “Ven­dors are as­so­ci­ated with shab­bi­ness, but peo­ple want to buy food from some­one who is smartly dressed.’’

Zim­babwe’s of­fi­cial un­em­ploy­ment rate is 11 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s statis­tics agency, Zim­stat, but the fig­ure ex­cludes in­for­mal traders such as street hawk­ers, who are of­fi­cially de­fined as em­ployed be­cause they earn an in­come. That sec­tor is boom­ing, with more than 90 per­cent of the peo­ple of­fi­cially de­fined as em­ployed in­volved in in­for­mal trade, ac­cord­ing to Zim­stat fig­ures.

With the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of street ven­dors, some get cre­ative to get ahead.

Tired of shout­ing to mar­ket their wares, some have recorded sales pitches that they blast re­peat­edly over speak­ers, cre­at­ing a chaotic buzz through­out Harare’s down­town area. Oth­ers turn to per­form­ing. “My an­tics are meant to cul­ti­vate a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with cus­tomers,’’ said Gil­bert Mundicha, who sells mo­bile phone air­time vouch­ers on a street in a wealthy, multi-racial sub­urb. He dances, makes mil­i­tary salutes and greets nearly ev­ery pass­ing mo­torist while mim­ick­ing what he de­scribed as a “Bri­tish ac­cent”.

As he talks, his eyes dart around for signs of both cus­tomers and the po­lice, whose run­ning bat­tles with street ven­dors in a bid to clean up what was once one of Africa’s clean­est cities re­cently in­volved fir­ing tear gas.

TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Farai Mushayademo, a street ven­dor, sells wa­ter and chips in Harare, Zim­babwe.

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