Connect with us


The plight of street vendors



MASERU – IN Maseru, market places are piled up with stock for weekend customers. Shops are bursting with even more customers.

Many people are holding shopping bags. The spirit of the festive season is palpable in every corner of the city.

Suddenly, the weather drastically changes. In a blink of an eye, the market places are empty and everyone is rushing home.

“This is our second week experiencing this heavy rain,’’ says Libuseng Khama, packing her wares and covering the entire table with a plastic sheet.

After two years of Covid-19 havoc, businesses in Lesotho have been struggling to claw back lost gains.

But heavy rains have been identified as a second wave affecting recovery. Small-scale business people such as street vendors are particularly hard hit.

With high unemployment, informal activities such as street vending have been identified as an escape route for more people to take care of their families and to fight poverty.

According to the Mitullah report, small businesses account for 59 percent of the Sub-Saharan African urban labour force.

In developing countries such as Lesotho, between 40 and 80 percent of the urban workforce is in the informal sector.

However, the incessant rains and the absence of secure shelters to do business are presenting huge challenges.

Khama, who has been in the business for more than five years, explained that street vending was good until Covid-19 hit and she is one of those struggling to recover.

And now, the rains are causing havoc.

“Heavy rains have the potential to throw us out of business,” she says.

Khama has been selling second hand clothing in one of the shelters made of tent and plastic and she says she used to generate over M30 000 in profits monthly.

During the December festive season where everybody is willing to spend, she says she would make more.

“The profits would go beyond M30 000 in one month,” says Khama.

However, after the Covid-19 outbreak, business became slow. She would sell one bale in two months. Nonetheless, during the festive season, especially in December, business would pick up.

“I was able to generate more than double what I am making during these months,” says Khama.

While her business was still recovering from Covid-19, the summer rainfalls have done more harm than good to street vendors such as Khama. This has turned out to be a global crisis, especially in countries that depend heavily on street business.

In a study conducted in Dhaka City on the impact of urban flooding on street vendors’ business, it was revealed that daily sales dropped sharply due to a decline in the number of customers. For street vendors in Lesotho, the rains have been devastating.

“My shelter is made of a worn-out tent and plastics and they are non-resistant to rain and the sun.

“The tent costs around M300 and it is not easily accessible so I had to use more plastics which cost around R20 to stop the leakages. I have to change these plastics often, this means more costs for me,” she says.

“Last year, we had persistent heavy rains during the summer and during that time I lost more than R500 on men’s shirt bales”, adds Khama.

“Shirts which I was selling for M50 each got in contact with water and I had to take them out. I gave them to my fellow street vendors and neighbours.”

Khama says she also lost all the stock of 100 T-shirts which she was selling for M50 each. She says she had to reduce the price to R20.

“I ran a loss of over M2 000, including transport costs.” Khama says she then decided to stay home when it rained.

“As much as I was minimising the damages, I was also losing customers,” she says.

Last week, the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) held a press conference to sensitise the public about the heavy rains which will persist for the period of four months from now.

Street vendors, who will be experiencing this crisis for the second time, have little hope that their businesses will survive this year.

At the big complex of Sefika, there are a number of business shelters covered with tents and plastics. Clothes, fruits and vegetables are covered with plastics to protect them from the rain.

On a busy afternoon when many people pass by on their way to the taxi ranks, even the vendors pack their bags due to rain. Others still wait for customers and cover their wares with plastics.

But this discourages customers from buying since they will have to wait in the rain for the vendor to uncover first.

A few metres away between the taxi ranks is a row of fruit tables covered with umbrellas. The umbrellas are covered with plastics too to reduce the amount of rain water contacting the wares.

Vendors under the umbrellas are stepping on stones due to the flow of water in their working spaces. Some vendors have run into nearby safer areas.

On those rainy days, 60-year-old Makotelo Kotelo in her shelter which is half roofed is rebundling potatoes from the bag into small plastics. Besides her is her five-year-old granddaughter who is busy packing these potatoes for display.

“All my children including my grandchildren grew up in this business,” she says.

Kotelo, who would constantly stand to fix the plastic covering the bags of potatoes, says business was good before the Covid-19 outbreak when many people lost their jobs.

Kotelo, who sells a variety of vegetables depending on the time of the year, says factory workers were her biggest customers.

She says she managed to buy land of about M13 000 and built a four roomed house.

She says she also bought a van worth M18 000 and also managed to pay for her children’s school fees.

However, she says she took her business to the streets since the advent of Covid-19 when most of the factory workers were retrenched and business has been slow.

“We are still sticking around street businesses since there is nowhere else we can go but the heavy rains have worsened our conditions.

“We only generate money for transport during the rainy days,” she said, appealing to the government to create more formal jobs.

The Chairman of the Street Vendors Association, Khathang Tema Baitsokoli, Tšolo Lebitsa, says there are about 7 000 shelters for street vendors in his town. However, he said about 5 000 of these are improperly constructed.

“These shelters were built using tents and plastics,’’ he says.

“Last year over 500 shelters were blown away by wind during heavy rains.

“The major challenge is that these people fully depend on these businesses for survival, so they have nowhere to go,’’ he says.

The Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Trade, Liehelo Nkaota, says after the recent merging of the ministries, they are still building a database for street vendors.

She said the database will allow the government to know the number of street vendors and the challenges that need to be addressed.

Staff Reporter

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved