A desperate moonlight economy in Zimbabwe's 'Sunshine City'

Thu Apr 3, 2014 2:02am EDT
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By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - On Harare's hardscrabble streets, college graduates compete with peasants scratching out a living selling anything from mobile phone cards to herbal sex tonics, a measure of the decline of Zimbabwe's "Sunshine City" under President Robert Mugabe.

Those among Harare's 1.5 million residents who remember independence in 1980 will have known a city that was swept regularly at dawn, public buildings gleaming with fresh paint, and shop windows so spotless that pedestrians would walk into them, according to urban legend.

Now the streets are dirty and dusty, the roads littered with pot-holes, and water gushes from leaking pipes. The park opposite Harare's only five-star hotel is full of vagrants asleep under the trees. The grass is strewn with paper and, occasionally, human waste.

Nearby is First Street, famous during colonial days for its boutiques, barbers and the aroma of coffee. Now it is peopled by hawkers, and the air is heavy with the stench of urine.

Less than 20 percent of Zimbabwe's people are in formal employment, according to independent economists, and economic growth is flatlining due to shortages of electricity and capital. For many, the only options for survival are petty trading or chancing it as an illegal worker in neighboring South Africa, the continent's biggest economy.

Tabeth Chireya, a single mother of two with a human resources diploma, sits on the pavement all day selling rat and cockroach poison laid out on a grimy sisal sack.

To her left is an old woman selling potatoes, to her right a man peddling bootleg DVDs, all looking out for customers and for plainclothes police enforcing "clean streets" municipal by-laws.

Chireya, who looks much older than her 22 years, leaves her home in the rundown Harare township of Epworth three times a week to join a long queue at a Chinese shop to buy wares for re-sale, returning to her pavement spot before lunch time.   Continued...

People gather at Jambanja market, south of Harare August 2, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko