The arrival of the truck is greeted with relief in this deprived area of Harare. The children run off to unload flour, oil, detergent: all coming from South Africa, by delivery men taking advantage of a lucrative informal business still fueled by recent price increases.
In Zimbabwe, basic necessities are lacking and everything is expensive: food, fuel, electricity. The economy has been in a deep crisis for more than twenty years, international donors have withdrawn because of unsustainable debt. Inflation is rampant and commodity prices have continued to rise with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Gas rose twice in a week. Grain prices have skyrocketed, with Russia being Zimbabwe’s top wheat supplier. Result, inflation at 66% in February.
“We need to prepare for a wave of price hikes,” Confederation of Retailers (CZR) President Denford Mutashu told AFP, predicting Zimbabweans will shop even more in big southern neighboring Africa to escape.
At the stalls, the two-liter bottle of oil costs $4.50, a dollar less if shipped from South Africa.
The “malayitsha”, transporters in the Ndebele language, usually cross the border between the two South African countries at night. Beitbridge is one of the busiest border crossings on the continent and also one of the most porous, smuggling of contraband is rampant there.
– rations –
But these informal deliverers, who are often in close contact with border guards, do not deal in alcohol or cigarettes. They are moving away from mealie meal, which is the staple food, and bringing groceries to customers in Zimbabwe.
The system works through word of mouth and mobile messaging. The goods travel up to 600 km. The road is bad, but every crossing can bring a lot.
Mason Mapuranga, a 44-year-old Zimbabwean, has been doing this job for two years. He says he earns more than 600 euros (R10,000) per trip.
“The customers contact us via WhatsApp, select the products, pay into a South African account and then I deliver. It’s easy,” he told AFP. And it also allows him to avoid the uncertainties of local currency fluctuations.
“With every delivery, we are greeted with a smile: that shows gratitude, because these people would go hungry if they didn’t get this food,” assures the former truck driver. He himself lost his job during the pandemic.
Clever Murape, 35, makes a living from selling scrap metal and, above all, from the help of his sister, who works as a maid in South Africa. “My big sister sends groceries via +malayitsha+ every month,” he says. And between deliveries, the family gets ten “rations.”
With an estimated three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa and a large diaspora scattered across the world, having relatives abroad has long been a lifeline for those at home.
In the capital Harare, the lines in front of the international transfer offices are getting longer every day. According to the World Bank, 1.6 billion euros are sent to the country every year, which is more than 10% of GDP.
But since Covid, which has further exacerbated poverty, there has been a rise in demand to ship groceries or other basic necessities directly, and in a hitherto informal market, online supermarkets have even launched applications to organize cross-border deliveries.
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