Living on a dollar-a-day

HARARE - Rising poverty is forcing many people in high density suburbs into the food repackaging business.
Food repackaging is the process of getting foodstuffs in large quantities and bagging them in your own way, in smaller bags or quantities and before resale.

Such products are popularly known as “tsaona”, and usually retail for anything between $0.20 and $0.50. This means with a dollar, a family can meet its daily needs for cooking oil, a small portion of maize-meal and soya chunks.

IMPROVISE AND ADAPT: Small-scale entrepreneurs in most of Harare's high density suburbs are now repacking maize-meal, cooking oil among other household stuff for reselling.

People operating such food business are realising good returns on a daily basis, despite operating on low-key, shoe-string budgets.

Examples of foods that can be bought in larger quantities and repackaged are cooking oil, maize-meal, rice, beans, flour, and sugar.

There are health concerns, however, with regards to the repackaging of food stuffs and hygienic concerns. 

The items are not even put on a weighing scale to ensure that the right quantities are contained in the new packages.

A visit to Kuwadzana 4 shopping centre, in Harare, revealed that many people are avoiding buying groceries in recommended supermarkets and instead opting for repackaged goods in small quantities.

“The business is good but it’s only that we are too many here, hence the competition is stiff,” Martin Dhliwayo, a vendor, told the Daily News on Sunday.

“Most of the products that I sell are not bringing much profit but they are good for the public,” he said, standing before his fully-stocked make-shift store.

Dhliwayo specialises in buying, repackaging and reselling maize-meal, cooking oil, tissues, salt and soya chunks.

“Cash is not circulating in the country, as a result many people are struggling to cope with everyday urban life which hinges on money.

“We have realised that some of the people are struggling to purchase standard goods from the supermarkets, therefore our role is to help them by providing basic goods in small quantities which are affordable.”

Dhliwayo said he buys a 10kg packet of maize-meal for $6 and then repackages it in small units using a plate and realises a profit of a dollar from the same 10kg pack.

“I am not worried about the number of plates that can equal to a 10kg of maize-meal, but I am just certain that after thorough re-packaging and reselling it I will make a dollar as my profit,” he said.

“Here, I usually sell a 10kg of maize-meal per day and if the business is not good, it will not go beyond two days.”

A standard plate full of maize-meal ranges between $0.40 and $0.50, depending on the consumer’s negotiating skills.

A bar of soap is sliced into four pieces and each quarter is sold at $0.25.

 

“Selling soaps is not profitable enough as I only realise $0.10 per bar and to me it is like doing community service,” he said.

However, the most profitable commodity that keeps most of the vendors in business at the shopping centre is cooking oil.

“On good days, I sell almost 24 litres (of cooking oil) a day while on some days I usually push 12 litres and a small bottle of it costs only $0.50,” he said.

As the going gets tough, most of the families residing in most parts of Harare’s high density residential areas, including Hopley Farm, Dzivaresekwa, St Mary’s and Seke Units D and H in Chitungwiza, Budiriro and Highfield, have since adjusted to make do with only two meals a day.

Across town in the affluent suburbs, latest Range Rovers are parked outside a posh restaurant and bar. Half a dozen patrons, drinking doubles, spending an hour and a half consuming a bottle of the finest Blue Label at a cost of about $260.

That is at least four times the monthly salary of the bartender and other average wage earners.

The vast, growing disparity between the poor and a rich elite of about five percent of the population is blamed largely on corruption, profiteering, favouritism in official contracts and deals, and the peddling of political influence.

Unemployment exceeds 90 percent and deflation has hit the economy hard. Scarcities and black marketeering have sharply eroded the spending power of Zimbabwe’s currency in the past decade.

Disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 have led to acute shortages of hard currency.

UN agencies estimate that about 1,5 million people are in need of food.

For many, accessing the tsaona in the high density suburb has helped them get by.

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