24 May 2019
Amai Tanya sets out early on a chilly morning from her one-roomed apartment in Tsakane in Brakpan with her two-month-old baby girl on her back. She packs a small lunch and gathers the mops, doormats, linen and other goods she will sell door to door.
Winter is setting in and she is dressed in warm clothes. The baby, Rutendo, is covered with a small blanket.
“It’s not easy to walk around with a baby on my back. But what can l do? l need the money. The money my husband earns as a security guard can barely sustain us.”
Rutendo is starting to get used to the walking now, Tanya says. “At first she used to scream so loudly people would ask why l didn’t stay at home. But she is now used to my back and enjoys the long walks.”
Tanya has been walking around with the baby selling goods since Rutendo was only one month old.
She sells her goods all over Tsakane, sometimes walking as far as 7km with hermops, brooms, door mats, detergent, pillows, sheets, curtains, and hair food. Most of the customers buy on credit promising to pay at month end. Many do not pay on time.
Tanya starts her round by going to the houses of customers who owe her money. Many are not home. But after she’s been back a few times they do pay, she says.
“As long as l have these two legs of mine l will go to a customer’s house every morning and evening if l have to. I will not give them a chance to breathe until they pay me.”
On her way to customers’ houses she meets other potential customers. Some give her addresses where she can deliver goods.
She rests in between walks to breastfeed the baby. Her rounds last until 3pm when she returns home with whatever money she has collected from customers.
Tanya is a mother of three. Her other two children live with her elderly mother in rural Chishawasha, about 30km from Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. She came to South Africa in 2010, fleeing harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe and settled in Tsakane. With a till operator certificate she hoped to find work in a shop.
She did find work, but as a domestic worker in Benoni. And in 2015 her employer told her that her services were no longer required.
Tanya decided to start her own business while she looked for another job.
She walks from Monday to Saturday, resting only on Sunday. She records details of of her customers and money owed in a small book.
Every fortnight she travels to Johannesburg to buy stock and pays R150 for extra space in a taxi to bring the goods home.
She has had her fair share of problems. She walks alone sometimes going into dangerous and secluded places looking for customers. She has been harassed by thieves who wanted her money. Some male customers demand sexual favours before payment, she says.
“It’s rare to find cash customers. Sometimes l have to wait months for some customers to pay as little as R60 for a mop or broom.”
Some people have refused to pay her entirely. Others have called her names. Some customers have given her wrong addresses or have moved before paying.
Now she makes sure that she knows where each customer lives before giving goods on credit.
“I have been called a witch or a kwerekwere (a person who speaks a foreign language) simply because people did not want to pay. Some people claim l would use muthi on the goods and bewitch them.”
“If l do not go out of the house l might miss customers. My aim is to sell as many goods on credit as l can. If l can collect R2,000 to R4,000 at the month end l can cover a few things.”
With the money she makes she is able to pay R600 rent, buy food and send the rest of the money home to her mother and children in Chishawasha.
“Everytime l go out of my one-roomed apartment l think of my children back home in Chishawasha. That is what gives me the strength to face each day.”
Her friend Chipo Marwei also sells goods door to door. The two women sometimes meet on the road for a chat as they go about their business.
Marwei, a single mother of a 13-year-old boy, lives in a room not far from Tanya. She has been in the business since 2014 when she left a job as a nanny in Durban.
Marwei is from Chitungwiza township in the Seke District of Zimbabwe. She had been in the business of cooking and selling pap at Makoni business centre in Chitungwiza. But in 2011 when life became too difficult to sustain her business she left her son with her sister in Chitungwiza to go to South Africa to earn money.
Every month she sends money home for her son.
Marwei sells her goods from 7am to 7pm, Monday to Sunday. Sometimes she walks as far as Duduza and Kwathema selling her goods. She sells the same goods as Tanya and also takes orders from customers, sometimes for items from Zimbabwe.
“There is no time to rest. I need every cent that l can get.”
Marwei says she also has problems getting paid. But she knows how to get customers back into line.
“When l see that a customer is refusing to pay l go to their house in the early hours of the evening with a blanket. l tell them to dish up food for me as l will be sleeping over until they pay me. With this method l hardly ever go wrong, customers find themselves with no choice but to pay,” she says laughing.
But some people have owed her money for months. When she goes to look for them they do not come out of their houses. She has also been called names.
“Some male customers ask for sexual favours and threaten not to pay. I just walk away or ask neighbours to help convince them to pay.”
Marwei says she used to make lots of money when she started her business, in 2014. But now business is slow.
She has thought of quitting but she is worried about her son.
“A woman cannot just sit when her children have nothing to eat. I have to keep moving.”