Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Of disability and street vending ‘fronts’

By Abel Karowangoro

Ms Marjory Matowa’s case best exemplifies the English proverbial phrase that says ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.

Marjory Matowa selling her stuff opposite State Lottery Hall along Julius Nyerere in Harare yesterday.- (Picture by Edward Zvemisha)
Marjory Matowa selling her stuff opposite State Lottery Hall along Julius Nyerere in Harare yesterday.- (Picture by Edward Zvemisha)

All she asks for is a means of survival and those who have come to her ‘rescue’ provide what they feel ‘is best’ under the circumstances. Some might think the ‘providers’ are taking advantage of Ms Matowa’s disability, but it seems the 52-year old widow doesn’t have any other survival options.

Her story sounds sad as it exposes the level of moral decadence among some ‘enterprising’ individuals with the ‘victim’ appearing comfortable. Each morning, Ms Matowa is wheeled in her chair to a roadside in Chitungwiza before being put on a bus plying the route from the dormitory town to Harare Central Business District.

In the city centre, she has secured a spot along Speke Avenue under the footbridge at Town House. From there, she sells wares that include woollen hats, gloves, undergarments and stockings.

The wares belong to her ‘handler’ and Ms Matowa is just a ‘front’. The woman ‘handler’ uses her disability as the ‘best shield’ against municipal police officers, who are always in running battles with street vendors.

Understanding her story

Ms Matowa’s story begins 34 years ago when she gave birth to a girl — Charity Shereni.

Within a few weeks after giving birth, some unexpected symptoms began to show on the child who gradually turned out to be mentally challenged. Out of shame and ignorance, the father left the family in 1986 and blamed his wife for bearing a physically and mentally challenged child.

But as he left, Ms Matowa was already pregnant with another child and later that year, gave birth to a boy — Mainfred.

Mainfred lives in Chitungwiza’s St Mary’s suburb with his father and rarely contacts his mother. In 1987, Ms Matowa was involved in a road traffic accident along Bulawayo road, where she lost her entire front teeth.

“I was to re-marry in 1990 but my new husband died the following year after a short illness,” Ms Matowa says.

“The death of my second husband left me with a baby boy, Tafadzwa Kaseke, who three years ago, just left home in search of employment and his whereabouts are unknown.”

But Ms Matowa, has never lost love for her daughter, Charity, whom she lives with in Chitungwiza’s Unit O, in a house left by her deceased parents.

“My child is a gift from God. I love her and that is why I struggle to ensure we get something to eat,” she says while gazing at passer-bys to grab their attention to her wares.

“Her father is still alive, but he does not provide anything for our upkeep.”

It never rains, but pours

In 2009, Ms Matowa suffered a double blow.

She was involved in another road traffic accident at a time she was nursing a painful swollen right leg. Ms Matowa didn’t know she was diabetic and the leg had been affected.

While in hospital nursing the accident injuries, doctors had no choice but to prescribe amputation of the leg. The amputation completely changed her life to that of crawling as she did not have walking aids. After about five years, she was admitted into rehabilitation to try and make her walk again using clutches.

While resting at home after a few exercises, Ms Marowa attempted to walk with the aids but her body weight was too much for the remaining leg. She lost balance, fell and broke her thigh-bone.

Ms Matowa then had a metal implant fixed to her thigh. But, the implant seems to have now dislocated and she is in pain.

“The leg is giving me problems and is now discharging some pus. I have since resorted to wrapping a bandage over the wound,” she says while shifting the leg.

“I do not have money to get medical treatment. That is why I opted to vend on behalf of someone who told me I ‘was safe’ from arrest by municipal police officers because of my condition.”

Fronting the vending business

Often glued to the ground with her back supported by a rickety blue wheel-chair donated by an unnamed non-governmental organisation years ago, Ms Matowa sells the wares on behalf of her handler.

But she refuses to divulge the identity of the handler.

“Life has been difficult for me and my daughter,” she said.

“I had been confined to my house until a ‘good Samaritan’ came and presented an opportunity for me to earn something.

“I had no choice, but to be a front and I cannot name or expose the person I work for.

“Most of the time I am selling the wares and, at maximum, I get $70 per week. When business is low I get $40 or $50 per week.”

Every morning, Ms Matowa is assisted from Chitungwiza into town before being helped back home in the evening by her handler.

After the day, she cooks enough food to last her daughter through the next day, before retiring to bed in preparation for another day in the sun, rain, cold or wind depending on the weather.

Ms Matowa is one of the many cases of disadvantaged people who are being used as fronts in illegal street vending in Harare.

Mrs Farai Cherera of the National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe said it was unfortunate people living with disability were being taken advantage of because of their condition. She, however, said they were constantly engaging disabled people and raising awareness on the need for them to earn an honest living despite their varying conditions.

“We do not advise people living with disability, especially our members, to sell goods on behalf of people, they should work on their own,” said Mrs Cherera.

“We have been telling them in our meetings not to be involved in dealings with people they are not sure of because at the end they may work for nothing.”

While some regard the use of physically challenged people in illegal activities as immoral, the question that always lingers is whether victims like Ms Matowa have any choice? Sunday Mail