Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Correspondent

AS dusk sets in and shops close for business in the city centre, a new life awakens in Bulawayo’s high density suburbs.

Car vendors will be on standby to provide service to “late” shoppers who will have failed to meet the 4:30PM closing time of supermarkets following the lockdown restrictions.

The setting of the sun signals business to the new vendors who are using their vehicle boots to sell various products at various corners in high density suburbs.

Interestingly, during the day, these corners will be inactive as the car vendors only arrive later in the day to sell various things from bread, sugar, mealie meal to pain killers.

If they are not parked outside popular township shopping centres, these car vendors will be operating in their yards.

For them, it’s a case of survival as they boast of being the essential provider of basic needs at a time when shops are closed.

Parked outside his house at Emakhandeni suburb, one Nsukuzokuphila Hlongwane, says due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he lost his job in March this year and this trade is the one that is currently paying his bills.

“I lost my job as a carpenter at a major furniture company at Belmont in March. Fortunately I had a car so I decided to put it to use by selling cabbages and onions that I buy from nearby farms at Umguza.

“This is paying off for me as I’m able to continue paying my bills during this trying time,” said Hlongwane.

He is among the many vendors who park their vehicles everyday along the road that leads to Cowdray Park’s Ensimini shops.

But these are not ordinary vendors. They are cunning and calculative. Most are professionals who have turned to vending as they can no longer live off their salaries.

“What I earn is never enough. I sell any grocery item, the same way others do,” adds Hlongwane.

At around 5pm on a normal day without hassles with police at popular township shopping centres, top of the range cars, some with South African number plates, are seen looking for parking lots on the dusty road sides as the vendors go about their willy-nilly business.

From the city centre, this news crew got to Pumula South business centre that is affectionately known as koMakoni at about 6PM and just like a swarm of bees, cars were parked at the intersection with the owners selling various products. It was business as usual and one would swear it was still daytime.

One of the car vendors who refused to reveal her identity said she was a street vendor who used to operate in town, but because of the lockdown through which only those providing essential services are being allowed into town, she has been forced to be innovative and find another way of operating.

“This is the only way to go as Covid-19 is greatly affecting us. We have nowhere to operate because we were street vendors in town. Now, we’ve resorted to selling to nearby houses where the market is fairly good,” she said.

Because of the presence of security personnel in areas like Mabutweni at Iminyela suburb, there is low activity in terms of night car vending. Vendors are instead selling food items from their homes, but the same cannot be said for Malaba shopping centre which has become a hive activity.

In low density areas, car vending has also become a hit, but it is conducted during the day. Mostly vegetables are sold with more and more people supporting these vendors as their form of selling is convenient as one does not have to join long queues at shops to buy vegetables.

One of the vendors who was selling potatoes, oranges, cabbages and onions along Hillside Road said business was booming.

“If I had known that vending had such great rewards, I would have started doing this a long time ago and actually dropped my everyday job for this. So many people are coming to buy here as they say this is a better option than buying from supermarkets as there are no long queues and closing times,” said the vendor. – @mthabisi_mthire.