Zimbabwean women turn crisis into opportunity

Commuters in Zimbabwe's capital Harare depend on over 60,000 private minibuses since public transportation is in disarray. (Cyril Zenda /TRTWorld)

HARARE — Over the years, Zimbabwe’s urban transport system has disintegrated into a state of disrepair. Today there is no longer any organised urban bus or train system so commuters in the capital, Harare, depend on over 60,000 private minibuses.

Added to this, the capital’s roads are full of potholes or just gravel, making the minibuses dirty just as those that ply the muddy and dusty countryside routes.

Some enterprising Zimbabwean women have turned this situation to their advantage. They offer car-washing services for these buses. Working as individuals or in pairs and charging between $1 (exterior only) and $2 (interior and exterior) to wash each vehicle, some say they can wash as many as 20 buses during the off-peak hours when the buses are waiting for passengers. With up to $120,000 up for grabs on a daily basis in Harare alone, this assured source of income has brought decent lives to otherwise vulnerable women such as widows, single mothers and those who came to the capital in a forlorn search of a better life, even as prostitutes and street vendors.

We recently met some of the enterprising women.

1. Fungai Kanjado

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

A Harare woman, Fungai Kanjado, 27, says she has washed commuter minibuses in Harare for the past seven years, a job that assures her an average of $20 daily, which she says has helped her support her family. The mother of two says her husband is unemployed.

Unlike other unemployed women in Zimbabwe, she says she is not ashamed of her work because it gives her a chance to earn a dignified livelihood.

2. Pauline Lemekani

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

Pauline Lemekani, 38, says she started washing minibuses at the Copacabana bus rank in central Harare eight months ago when, as a desperate single mother of two, she noticed that dozens of other women were earning a decent living through the work of their hands. She said since then, she has not asked for help or borrowed from anyone because her new job assures her a steady income.

3. The driver 

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

This young driver waiting for his turn to have his bus washed by Pauline Lemekani says he prefers to hire women to wash his bus because he knows that the money goes to change their lives for good, unlike seeking the services of male washers, most of whom use the money to fund their delinquent lifestyles of alcohol, drugs and prostitutes.

4. Memory Magombedze

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

Memory Magombedze, 32, says she is a married mother of two, who also looks after five other orphaned children, a huge responsibility as her husband is unemployed. She says she makes enough money to pay for rentals, food and school fees for the children.

5. Camera shy 

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

A camera-shy woman washes a bus at Harare’s Market Square bus stand. She said she has just joined the work, having realised that this was a decent way of earning a living compared to other options available to unemployed women in Zimbabwe.

Most of the women said when they start, they work in pairs in order to give each other confidence as well as to scare away perverted bus crews that may mistake them for prostitutes and make sexual advances. As they settle down well and build a steady base of clients, they work independently.

6. Julia Cheuka

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

Julia Cheuka, 34, who operates at the bus station outside the Harare Central Police Station, says she has been doing the job for the past five years and is happy with her earnings. The single mother of two, Cheula says the harder she works, the more she earns.

7. Traffic woes

(Cyril Zenda/TRTWorld)

Commuter minibuses waiting for their turn to load passengers at the Market Square rank in Harare. Because of poor planning, there is no integrated urban bus or train system, which results in serious traffic congestion in the city.

In Harare, at least 7,000 kilometres of road lay in ruin, full of potholes. – TRTWorld