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The battle for survival



MASERU – With the dark clouds beginning to gather towards the end of the day, most businesses close their doors as workers rush home before the rains pounce.
But for others, there are more pressing matters. At a junction just before Masianokeng, a rush by street vendors is underway to sell off their stock before thinking of going home.
Whistles, car horns and raised voices of fruit sellers fill the air.

“Avocado goes well with bread and tea, do not leave it behind!” shouts one of the numerous young men selling fruits along the road.
A car passes, hoots and they make a mad rush in the hope of making one more sale. A packet of grapes, two guavas and two peaches are bought.
One of the vendors dressed in a blue pair of jeans, a black T-shirt and All-Star trainers, whistles non-stop and breaks into a dance.
“People often think we are playing but this is how we earn a living,” says the vendor, Raphael Poling.
He has just sold guava worth M50.

“It is through this job that I provide for my family,” says the 23-year-old, a father and husband.
With formal jobs hard to come by amid worsening economic conditions, many young people are increasingly taking to street vending to make ends meet and build their dreams.
Though seemingly energetic for this time of the day, many of the vendors left home at dawn to prepare for the day’s work.
Every morning they leave home at 2 or 3 in the morning to buy stock from vans selling fruits from South Africa.
Some say they have been at it for three years now.

Poling did not wait to finish school to try his hand at being “streetwise”.
When he was still in high school, Poling would join his brothers by the roadside selling fruits during holidays and weekends so that he could provide for his basic needs.
After writing his final high school exams, Poling thought he could further his studies but that dream was shattered by poor results.

“Coming from a disadvantaged background I knew that I had to try and help put food on the table,” says Poling, eyes darting to scout for customers.
He then decided to go back to the trade he had learned during his school holidays.
Apart from providing for his parents, Poling had to find means to provide for his own family: a wife and one child.
“At some point things got so tough that I decided to find employment at the factories. I only worked for a month and quit, the money I was paid was too little. I realised then that I should be grateful for this job I do,” Poling says.

It is with this money that he is able to pay for his wife’s school fees and the child’s day care.
Like his mates, Poling sees this as a humble beginning – a stepping stone to a brighter future.
“I want to be a businessman with diversified business interests,” he says, adding: “One cannot afford to put all eggs in one basket.”
Setsoto Tsietsi left school just as he was about to write his Form B exams because things were tough at home. He says he wanted to continue with his studies “but the situation at home did not allow it”.
He then started selling peaches and apricots picked from his parents’ yard.

Joined by a group of friends also burdened by their situation at home, he decided to go bigger and stock fruits for sale by the road at Ha-’Masana.
Business was not good, the traffic was too low and all seemed bleak until the group relocated to the Masianokeng Junction.
“Here we are targeting a lot of people, people travelling home from town, from Thetsane, those travelling to the southern districts, Thaba Tseka and Semonkong,” he says.

His mates, Matsobane Mohoeane and Karabo Mofokeng aspire to make it big in the transport industry one day.
In the meantime, Mohoeane has managed to get his driving licence while Mofokeng is rearing chickens on the side to save towards buying a vehicle.
They agree that due to the country’s high unemployment rate, they have to push hard and create sustainable businesses as they cannot work in the streets forever.

Though they are happy and proud of what they have achieved so far, challenges still abound.
“Our job is risky, we have some of our colleagues who have been hit by cars,” Mohoeane says.
“It is a daily risk we face.”

Some motorists speed off before paying while others are not keen to pay competitive prices.
“Customers want to set their own prices, they are always trying to negotiate,” Poling says.
Others have a tendency of trying to trick the vendors by paying using counterfeit money.

“Transport is a challenge, it is our hope that with time we can have a van that can fetch stock for us straight from Johannesburg. Buying from the ones who bring the stock from there is expensive and sometimes we do not make a profit because of the quality of fruits we get,” Poling says.
Depending on the quality of fruits, they are able to make profit of between M50 and M200 a day.

Despite these decent pickings, some of the vendors’ age mates or village-mates sometimes try to humiliate them by belittling their trade.
“What will surprise you is that the same people also tend to ask us for cigarette money,” says Poling.

Like other vendors, he is experiencing improved business as the festive season kicks in.
“We often struggle during the winter. Fruits are hard to find and they are costly when you find them,” explains Mohoeane.
During this festive season, he is selling his stock much faster.

“People are on the move, they need to eat and cannot afford to make a lot of stops to buy food. We make things convenient for them,” says Mohoeane.
According to Mohoeane they have now built relationships with travellers and have some loyal clients.
“It is the survival of the fittest, everyone is trying to sell off their stock hence we sometimes all approach the same car. Having loyal customers has assisted us and somehow lessened the fight to serve one customer,” says Mohoeane.

Lemohang Rakotsoane


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