How To Make A Living In Cash-Poor Zimbabwe
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Last month, Zimbabwe's information minister tweeted what he called a triple challenge. He wrote, we have workers without work; we've lost the sense of labor value; and we lack a strategy to create wealth. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton explored that bleak assessment through the eyes of a secondhand clothing vendor.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: I'm in the area of downtown Harare that's known as Copacabana, and people are eking out a living literally on the sidewalks. They're selling everything you can imagine, from piles of tomatoes to sugarcane to used clothes and shoes which are laid out on the sidewalks. Zimbabweans sigh. They lament that life is tough and everything is expensive in their U.S.-dollar economy.
Fortunate Nyakupinda's livelihood fills and covers her parked hatchback. She sells used clothing from the car. And the first thing that strikes you is her big smile and a big laugh.
FORTUNATE NYAKUPINDA: (Laughter). I'm earning a living. A little bit, yes. We get profit - a little bit profit, yeah, so I can pay my rent. I can even buy food for my kids, and I can even pay $5 for fuel to juice my car.
QUIST-ARCTON: Nyakupinda, a 30-year-old mother of two, is clearly a born businesswoman.
NYAKUPINDA: No, no, no, no, talk to my customer, this one, this one big - a big man.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm a 34.
NYAKUPINDA: Thirty-four, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Next, definitely, I'll buy from you. You'll remember me, I guess.
NYAKUPINDA: Oh, I won't forget.
This one - these plain shirts. Those ones - they go to church, they need their plain clothes. Yeah, and these checked - checked is for the farmers. And those ones, they go to work, they need the checked ones, yes. Everyone, every man can come and buy, so it's - you can see stylish, designs. Even - you can see this one. This one's an African attire.
QUIST-ARCTON: It's a way to earn money with high unemployment and a stuttering economy, says Nyakupinda. She specializes in men's clothes because she says women are too fussy and always haggle over prices.
NYAKUPINDA: They like clothes, but they are stingy. (Laughter). They are stingy.
QUIST-ARCTON: So you're saying the women are stingy with their money?
NYAKUPINDA: Yes, yes, yes, yes. They complain too much.
QUIST-ARCTON: Fortunate Nyakupinda buys her used clothes by the bale from dealers in neighboring Mozambique for about $250 per bale. New clothes are pricey, and many Zimbabweans can't afford them in a country that used to produce quality cotton.
NYAKUPINDA: We find that if we sell these clothes at a very cheap price, these people, they will come and buy. It's affordable, and they are cheap.
QUIST-ARCTON: Zimbabwe jettisoned its own currency after the economic crash in the past decade. Today, the country relies on the U.S. dollar. Nyakupinda says life is expensive and money for a family just disappears.
NYAKUPINDA: Every day, you need $20 every day so that you can survive in Zimbabwe. If you don't have $20 - like you need bread. You need sugar for the tea. You need mealie meal, so it's hard.
QUIST-ARCTON: So, says Nyakupinda, her focus is firmly on selling and trying to boost your business.
NYAKUPINDA: I am doing good business, but it's now very tough. Yeah, I'm proud of myself.
QUIST-ARCTON: As we are chatting, business is brisk. Mutonodza has come back to Nyakupinda's car trunk-store to change a pair of trousers she bought for her husband that don't fit.
MUTONODZA: Good trousers, good shears and good qualities.
QUIST-ARCTON: So are you a satisfied customer?
MUTONODZA: Yeah, very satisfied.
QUIST-ARCTON: Eyes twinkling, Fortunate Nyakupinda smiles broadly as she listens to another satisfied customer. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.