A Bulawayo pushcart operator Calvin Sawunyama says he works six days every week, mainly operating from the busy vegetable market in the city centre.
Sawunyama’s pushcart, like that of his colleagues, has a South African number plate.
He laughs it off when asked where he got the number plate.
Like Sawunyama, some push carts have trade names, the most populous in the city being Zikhali and Gomba transport.
The majority of pushcart operators eke out a living through carrying goods mainly for vendors from the vegetable markets to various destinations in the city.
“I make approximately US$15 to US$25 per day,” Sawunyama said.
“It’s busy especially in the mornings. However, some days may be dry in terms of business.”
Sawunyama is, however, worried that his only source of income is now under threat after the Bulawayo City Council announced new by-laws banning push carts in the city centre.
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With the by-law still new and operators yet to familiarise with it, this has set the two parties, council and operators, for a long cat-and-mouse fight.
The ban on the push carts in the city centre is contained in the council’s clamping and tow away by-laws that were approved by the Local Government ministry last week.
With the economy heavily informalised, Sawunyama is a concerned man.
Sawunyama is one of the many pushcart operators who have been prowling the city’s streets seeking customers to make a living.
“I know that is about to become a game of cat and mouse, they will hunt us down as if we are fugitives and confiscate our wares,” Sawunyama said.
“I am hardly making enough; where am I going to get the money to recover my cart and my wares?
“Imagine I charge US$2 sometimes US$3 to move goods from one place to another.
“It is my only source of income and that is how I am providing for my family. This ban will really hurt us.”
Another cart operator Bhekizulu Sibanda who also sells fruits along Fifth Avenue, echoed the same sentiments.
“I have been selling fruits from this push cart every day from 6am for the past four years,” Sibanda said.
“This is my only source of income.
“Mind you, the council has always been on us and it is clear that they do not care about us.
“Tell me, if they confiscate my cart, what will become of me? They have shown us that they do not care about us.”
The new by-law stipulates that pushcarts shall not be allowed in the central business district area bounded by Nelson Kutshwekhaya Ndlovu Avenue, Lobengula Street, Joseph Msika and R. Mugabe Way.
It further denotes that any violation will attract a level 1 fine plus impounding costs.
Earlier this year, council conducted a crackdown on push cart operators and imposed a US$120 fine after accusing them of littering and congesting the city centre.
Push cart vendors have been contributing to the local economy by creating employment opportunities for the jobless, especially in a city with closed industries.
Push cart vending requires minimal start-up costs compared to opening a traditional store, making it an accessible option for the jobless.
There are also no operational costs such as fuel and rentals.
However, another push cart operator Carlton Jongwe, said he was determined to stand his ground.
“Given the prevailing economic hardships, I don’t think I will ever stop operating, I will take my chances,” Jongwe said.
“They will chase us all over the city as they have been doing but we will not stop, because that is how we put food on our table.”
He added: “These by-laws do not really change anything, we will continue to work.”
Jongwe, however, did not hide his frustration of not having a formal job to escape the daily cat and mouse struggle with municipal police.
“I wish I can get a job at a company, a job with better working conditions and a better pay so I can take care of my wife and children, the need to fend for them keeps me going,” he said.
A Bulawayo resident, Anne Ncube, said she often relied on push cart operators for ferrying her goods across the city.
“I was not aware of such a development but in the past we have seen council police descending on these operators,” Ncube said,
“We have always opted for them instead of hiring expensive taxis.
“I hope these push cart operators will also stand their ground and continue operations because we need them."