Mind the tomatoes
Not so long ago did we joke and caution ourselves when in Harare to mind the tomatoes on the street pavements. Back then there was only a handful of vendors on the streets of Harare. Astonishing it is how over the years things have changed from simply minding the tomatoes to minding everything that ranges from merchandise to people on the very same pavements.
Harare has become a hive of everything, a hub of all vending activities I have seen it befitting to rename it Mbare Extension. This piece is not anything to do with politics but all to do with what an experience in Harare will be like in this day. I write in the position of one enjoying a stroll in the streets of Harare and narrating what he will have come across.
All of Harare’s roads with the exception of Samora Machel have become grocery shops, vegetable and fruit markets as well as gochi gochi venues for chibage, sausages, livers to name a few. I bet KwaMereki they are going green with envy at their more enterprising colleagues in the CBD. If I was to do my own census I would put vendors at 7 is to 1 compared to ordinary citizens. Gone are the days one would worry about the times the conventional shops would close shop as all grocery shopping is now available from the streets. At one corner or street, one bumps into a mound of bath soaps mainly Protex as well as other popular bathing soap brands. Prices range from $1 for three to a dollar each. Toothpaste, towels, toothbrushes, petroleum jelly, lotions from big brands are also readily available on the streets. Who needs the retail chain shops anyway, when everything is found cheaply on the pavement? I presume they are that cheap as they do not have rentals, wages and bills to worry about.
One area that has become exciting and confusing at the same time is the corner of Rezende and Robert Mugabe. The moment it hits 5pm carts with bananas, oranges, tomatoes, pine apples, carrots, apples, pitch tents here. It’s as if they owned this area of Harare. On the opposite side, kombi crews will be busy outclassing each other for passengers and this sometimes involves blocking the road to other road users. Facing the small Bakers Inn outlet at this corner will be makeshift roadside shops neatly arranged up to the top with snacks, energy drinks like the popular Dragon from across the Limpopo as well as its sister energy drink, Twizza. The energy drink is too cheap for my liking coupled with my lack of trust in the brand. Manoeuvring this part of Harare has become a task one too many. A few metres away at the corner of Robert Mugabe and Leopold Takawira streets, will be second hand clothes vendors and the orange overalled guys with their megaphones going, “Mushonga unouraya mapete nemakonzo. Wemapete wemakonzo, paradyira ndipo parinofira.” I have since self-tasked myself to try and find an audiometer to measure the decibels of the noise produced here.
Then on the other side of Robert Mugabe at its rendezvous with Julius Nyerere hordes of people will be lined up to catch a lift to go home. The crowds are a mixture of people who can afford the $1 fare home to Chitungwiza but are not comfortable using Kombis, those who can afford R5 and are not picky as to what mode of transport takes them home, the vendors and the touts. Its worrying trying to gauge the ages of these touts as they are youngsters supposed to be in school but will be running after every car prospecting to be tout. These youngsters get anything from a maximum of R5 and below for each car they load. These boys have no limitations to what can come from
Obscenities are spewed right, left and centre. Trying to reprimand them would render a sane person a fool as they have no respect for anyone. They simply don’t care what you deduce of them as long as they go home with the money. Some, young enough to be around Form 2 or 3 are already into smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Fights here are prevalent.
A little further down town one bumps into the mushika shika taxis along Leopold Takawira. Now these guys are something else. These are guys you would never dare chase. Most of their cars are heavily dented with fenders hanging, electric windows out of order windscreens smashed such that it’s tempting to drive with one’s head out through the window. Any thought of being in danger of arrest by police will see them take off at scary speeds irrespective of what will be surrounding them. Those in the know are always vigilant after having chosen this mode of transport. Though small, these cars are made to carry two passengers on the front passenger’s seat and four on the back seat. By the boot will be two or three youths hanging in there as these taxis speed off to either Avondale or Fourth Street.
A new addition to the streets of Harare has been roasting of mealie cobs and braiing chicken livers and gizzards right there in the street of the Sunshine City. Also, upcoming artists be they musicians, dance groups and actors have taken to selling their productions personally from any point of choice in the CBD and passer-by’s have a chance to feel the live performances without paying a cent. To be honest, initially I had serious issues with the sudden turn of things in Harare but have lately come to accept and appreciate that these are people simply trying to eke out a living through the only honest means that seems feasible at the moment. I worry though about the rise of pick pocketing and dirtiness in the ‘Sunshine City.’