Sun, Mar 31, 2019 - Page 15 News List

Crisis fuels the South Africa
to Zimbabwe cargo business

Dire economic straits mean that Zimbabweans are finding it cheaper to have goods — such as household staples and even pizza — purchased and transported from their southern neighbor, sometimes illegally

By Beatrice Debut and Zinyange Auntony  /  AFP, JOHANNESBURG and BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe

Malayitshas on Feb. 20 load goods in central Johannesburg onto a trailer to be taken across the border to clients in Zimbabwe.

Photo: AFP

Towering piles of oil, tires, cookies, microwaves and toilet paper filled a small and damp Johannesburg basement — all destined for Zimbabwe.

The items are loaded onto trailers attached to minibuses, which make the 550km journey north to the border.

Within 48 hours, each shipment is delivered to addresses in Zimbabwe after being “couriered” over the frontier, sometimes illicitly.

As Zimbabwe’s economic situation has dramatically deteriorated, pushing inflation to more than 50 percent, shortages of household essentials have become widespread.

“When the situation is bad that side, things are better for us,” said Charles, one of the delivery people who makes a weekly round trip with precariously loaded trailers.

He manages orders from individuals and small businesses via WhatsApp before dispatching items northward.

Charles and hundreds like him across South Africa offer a uniquely Zimbabwean “personal shopper” service. Known in the local Ndebele language as malayitsha (transporters), they mostly fly under the radar and do not declare their wares to Zimbabwean customs.

“We sell and carry everything,” said Charles, who delivers in the western Bulawayo region.

Others that reporters met also deliver to the capital, Harare.

Food, alcohol, sanitary products, furniture, electrical appliances, coffins and even salt licks for livestock flow across the border daily.

Gas and fuel, in high demand since prices doubled in January, are also a staple of the malayitshas, despite the risk of explosions.

“It is dangerous. As long as they are ready to pay, I carry. If I say: ‘I don’t carry this,’ my kids will go on an empty stomach,” said Charles, who has two children in Zimbabwe, but spends much of his time in South Africa, where he also has two children.

Although Charles is prepared to risk flammable cargo, he will not take perishable goods.

However, his fellow malayitsha Precious does, and she told reporters that “the craziest thing I had to buy was five big pizzas.”

“We bought them on a Saturday, they were delivered on Sunday. People are very desperate,” she said.

Impromptu warehouses have sprung up in Johannesburg’s gritty Hillbrow neighborhood, where sidewalks serve as loading bays.

Yvonne, a Zimbabwean secretary in South Africa, arrived with an enormous sack brimming with items for her parents and sister back home — a monthly ritual. Yvonne trusts the couriers and pays with an electronic transfer or cash.

Her latest shipment included toothpaste and sanitary pads, as well as candles and matches.

“I can sleep easy knowing that they have what they need,” the young woman said.

Prices are surging in Zimbabwe and even with shipping costs, a malayitsha is often cheaper than buying locally.

Charles charges 5 rands (US$0.34) for 20 bags of chips, 150 rands for 20 liters of gasoline and 5,000 rands for a refrigerator.

“The fridge ... was also bought in South Africa, because if I were to buy it here, the amount would be enough to buy three,” Bulawayo resident Emily Maphosa said.

The 78-year-old grandmother had just received cooking oil, a sack of rice and frozen chickens.

“In South Africa, with 500 rands, it’s better — I can buy and afford groceries that can last me almost a month,” she said.

“In this country, 500 rands can only get a few items that won’t last even a week,” she added, while cooking kale.

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