Golden leaf changing lives

HARARE - Rural and small-scale farmers usually confined to mundane lives in their communities are painting parts of Harare red.

They are financially strong thanks to the tobacco selling season.

And they are not leaving Harare’s bright lights without having a taste of the capital’s fun and vice.

For sex workers, information traders, petty thieves and bribe-seeking police, tobacco farmers represent the fat cow during this period every year.

A visit by the Daily News to the auction floors last week revealed that it is no different this year.

There is always a fascinating yet sad element to the business.

Experienced hookers who frequent the tobacco floors have a unique way of identifying potential clients from a mile.

“Farmers are not very difficult to identify,” says a 28-year-old woman who only identified herself as Priscilla.

“Because they come from faraway places and it is winter they always have with them huge jackets, a bag and most of them don hats,” she said.

Priscilla said tobacco farmers are a generous lot and they pay handsomely, especially after they have taken a bottle or two of the “wise waters”.

A snap survey at Boka Tobacco Auction Floors showed that sex workers charge an average of $20 for a “quickie”, also known as short-time and between $40 and $100 for the whole night.

But prices can be negotiated to as low as $20 a night if one is lucky to meet a hooker who would have gone for days without a catch.

The auction floors are also notorious hot spots for petty thieves hoping to take advantage of farmers who may not know a lot about how to conduct business there.

“It’s sad what happens here,” narrated Sandra Chiku, a barmaid at the nearby Mazvimbakupa Investments.
“Prostitutes are now teaming up with thieves to rob farmers of their hard-earned money. Farmers are lured into a beer binge with these ladies and once they are drunk that’s when the guys come and ransack the poor farmers,” she said.

Although some of the farmers have since changed their behaviour after bad experiences in the past when they lost large sums of money to thieves, many are being fleeced by cunning informal traders out to make a quick buck.

Everyone with a skill to offer and something to sell is running around to make hay while the sun still shines.

“During the first two months of the selling season I really made some good money when farmers where coming here in large numbers,” said Tichaona Mavhudzi, a second-hand cellphone dealer.

Mavhudzi, who sells outdated cellphone products such as Nokia 3300s and 1200s among a host of other ‘‘strong brands’’, said farmers preferred his phones because they are cheaper and “stronger than the latest Chinese offerings”.

Adjacent to Boka Tobacco Floors is a flourishing flea market where all the products farmers need are available — from scotch carts, condoms, clothes, cooking oil, flour, sugar and other household and hardware goods.

Inside the Harare City Council allocated vending sheds, prices of goods and services are pegged at astronomical levels.

“This wardrobe is going on for $180 and the kitchen unit is costing only $150 but we can negotiate if you want,” said a furniture vendor who identified herself as Sarudzai Mavhunga.

Mavhunga said vendors inflate prices on their products, which cannot even fetch half of their marked prices on a normal day due to poor quality, because “farmers are afraid to go shopping in town where there a lot of thieves”.

Car traders are also cashing in on the gullibility of the new farmers outside the floors.

A 1998 Nissan sedan is going for $4 500 while a 1995 Isuzu Kb is listed at a bargain-basement price of $6 000.

To an ordinary man in the street, this is daylight robbery, but the “greenback-loaded” farmers see it as a good bargain.

Most of the tobacco farmers, who either have no relatives in Harare or are first timers in the big city, are also victims of shrewd pickpockets.

A security guard, who mans the premises, said at least 80 people were arrested every single day for pick-pocketing, stealing and at times mugging during the night.

“I think the police should deploy more plainclothes police officers here because a lot of farmers are going back home empty-handed,” said the security guard.

This year’s tobacco selling season opened in February and expectations are that this year’s crop will exceed the 144 million kgs sold last year.

The average tobacco price is expected to remain at more than $4 per kg until the end of the marketing season. - John Kachembere

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.