MUTARE — Informal traders have been able to ride the rough wave of flagging economic fortunes through the sale of cheap, second-hand clothing items in this eastern border town.
Sakubva Market — renowned for its cheap, but quality clothing items imported mainly from Mozambique — is always a beehive of activity. It draws people even from as far as Harare who come to make purchases for resale at relatively higher prices.
Although the government introduced what was believed to be prohibitive duty tariffs last year as a means of promoting local manufacturing, Fiona Mutasa, one of the traders, has not had a hard time in business.
“Business is still roaring here,” chuckles Mutasa while serving a customer who has just purchased 10 formal men’s shirts for a total of $10. “Customers still flock here and sometimes demand for clothes is so high I go to Mozambique even three or four times a month to buy bales of clothes.”
A tour of clothing shops in Harare revealed that men’s shirts are asking for anything between $15 and $35.
The large outdoor flea market is probably the city’s most famous attraction after the Christmas Pass because of the very low prices which low-income earners find irresistible.
Mutasa says rates paid to the city council were easy on the pocket and that has also made business attractive. The traders pay $27 per table when they first venture into the business and continue to pay the amount monthly.
Some of the traders, like Remias Mwayera, opt for the $1 per-day system.
“Officials from council sell licence tickets, which cost $1 every day,” he said. “I think it’s a good system because it doesn’t force you to part with a lump sum at the end of the month, although it translates into a slightly higher cost of $30 or $31.”
People like Mutasa and Mwayera, however, are the envy of other small-scale traders who sell merchandise like men’s socks and mini briefs, trinkets and belts.
Takura Nyamaropa says his dream is to also get a stall in the market so he can raise enough money to sustain himself. There is some kind of desperation, which borders on begging, in the way he tries to sweet-talk customers into buying from him.
“You need between $300 and $400 to start the business and then you grow from there and end up getting several bales a month, but that it is too much for me because I don’t have that kind of money,” he confesses.
It is not easy to contain the wrath of predatory council officials with whom he — together with his compatriot small-time traders — is always playing cat-and-mouth game.
But for the likes of Mutasa, business is not only viable, it is booming too.
“I usually travel to Mozambique twice or thrice a month to buy more bales of clothes.”
Her wares include men and women’s clothing items as well as baby clothes, the most expensive of which costs just $5.
Profit can be as much as twice the bale price, with the contents being a determinant, too.
“Buying bales is like gambling because you don’t know exactly what is in there, or whether or not the customers would buy the items,” Mwayera says.
Some of the traders sell handbags and shoes which they buy in bulk from as far as South Africa, Zambia or Botswana.
It costs around $20 per kg to import second-hand clothing, and a bale can weigh anything up to 60kg.
Such informal markets including Harare’s premier spot Mupedzanhamo in Mbare — have had a serious impact on big, formal retail shops that took a serious knock from the economic downturn experienced a few years ago. Some of the shops were forced to scale down operations and close some of their branches.
NewsDay caught up with two elderly white ladies rummaging through a heap of clothes, as if searching for diamonds from the debris of clothing articles in the market.
“We always buy from here,” said one of them. “The clothes are not only cheaper, but they are strong and of good quality. We have been buying from here for many years.”