With 80% of Zimbabwe’s population estimated to be without jobs, more and more people are turning to airtime vending as a means of generating income.
Self-employed vendors are now found at almost every street corner trying to eke out a living.
The demand for airtime has been increasing in tandem with mobile phone penetration rate.
Statistics from the International Communications Union have shown that information communication technology has emerged as one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, largely driven by the telecommunication sector, which saw voice penetration levels reaching 68% last year.
A mobile phone penetration rate of 65% makes Zimbabwe one of the countries with the highest rates alongside South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.
Trust Saidi, an airtime vendor, said sales were guaranteed unlike in other lines of business.
“With airtime it’s an assured business. You will always get something,” she said.
Saidi, a 23-year-old vendor, said he had failed to secure formal employment and had to look for alternative sources of income.
“I buy ‘juice’ (recharge) cards worth $91 and make a profit of $9 every day.
“However, when business is good I can make five times as must profit,” she said.
A snap survey by NewsDay established that a $1 “juice card” is sold at a wholesale price of 92 cents, that of $2 at $1, 84 and a $5 card for $4, 60.
Saidi said she had secured a deal where airtime can be purchased on credit.
“Every morning I collect airtime worth $91 and pay in the evening.
“If the airtime doesn’t get finished I remit the available cash and the remainder the following day after selling and get fresh credit.
“I have managed to make a living out of this. I have a family in the rural areas that I send groceries to every month and also pay my rentals,” Saidi said.
She considers arrests by city council officials, who at times confiscate their airtime or demand $5 bribes, as some of the major challenges in her line of business.
Another airtime vendor, who identified herself as Mai Kuda, said she had been selling airtime since 2009 and had managed to send her two children to school.
Mai Kuda said she buys recharge cards worth $200 and earns a profit of $16.
“At times they don’t get all sold out on a single day, but there is no way one can fail to sell a single recharge card as people need airtime to make calls,” she said.
“I work almost every day from Monday to Sunday, but on Sunday I break at 3pm as there will be fewer people in town,” she said.
Morgan Mwenga, an official at Transporters, an Econet airtime dealer, said they sell airtime to vendors at 8% discount while they purchase it from Econet wireless at 10% discount.
He said the business was no longer as profitable due to stiff competition as the sector had been flooded by many players.
“The challenge is at times when you give vendors credit, not all the money is recovered. Others disappear,” said Mwenga.
He, however, said not all vendors got “juice cards” on credit.