Runners: Enduring inconveniences for profit

Source: Runners: Enduring inconveniences for profit | The Herald 11 JAN, 2020

Runners: Enduring inconveniences for profit
South African products

Leroy Dzenga,Features Writer

The just-ended festive season provided rich pickings for a re-emerging breed of Zimbabwean entrepreneurs.

Popularly identified as runners, these are people willing to endure inconvenience for a profit.

South African products are coming back to the Zimbabwean market, and with them comes a logistical question.

Retailers have not been relenting in increasing their prices, forcing households to look south.

Bulk purchases are rarely freighted through air, usually one has to travel by road.

Whether one opts to drive or use buses, the trip is still daunting and demanding.

Those who do not mind lengthy journeys by road, gallivanting the streets of Musina, Pretoria or Johannesburg and greasing a few palms at the border, do this for households for a fee.

Runner Shuvai Sambiri (29) says some of the most popular products imported are diapers, whiskeys, beauty products and vehicle spare parts.

“I leave Harare for Johannesburg on Wednesday morning, I arrive in the early hours of Thursday. It takes me the whole day to shop across the city as people have diverse needs,” Sambiri said.

“For every trip I charge 30 percent of the total price, this will take care of my transport, food and other costs which may arise,” she said.

Asked whether the other costs are meant for bribing customs officials, she simply chuckled and swerved the topic.

If someone buys something worth 300 Rand through her, she gets 90 Rand as commission.

After losing her job when the company she worked for closed shop in 2017, she had to think of a plan quickly.

“When I started, I wanted to buy things in South Africa and bring them for resale, but was having problems with bad debtors. I was running losses and my savings were running thin. I thought why can’t I just buy things on behalf of people for a fee instead,” she said.

Until she finds a job that can pay her better than what she does, she is comfortable with her vocation which is taking care of her and her daughter.

It is by no means an easy job.

It means being careful enough to ensure the order is bought specific to the last instruction and they do not get damaged or stolen in transit.

“When the goods are delicate, I sometimes have to subcontract Malayitshas (drivers who perform the same function as them, but with own vehicles). Delicate products attract a higher cost,” said Wiseman Muvhiringi, who is in the same trade.

The most popular country is South Africa, and this means enduring the Masvingo Road regularly.

“I always try and pray before I go, the road is scary, but I have a family to take care of. I am working hard to buy my kombi and I will have more freedom of movement,” Muvhiringi said.

In a month, he says he makes an average of 5 000 Rand for his troubles.

They have embraced technology in their work.

“WhatsApp has been instrumental in securing a market for us, there are many of us, but everyone has their own loyal clients. I have a group of elderly people I bring medication from South Africa, it is cheaper than buying them here in Zimbabwe,” said Muvhiringi.

Unlike in conventional freighting, there is no insulation against eventualities.

Acts of nature cannot be compensated, neither do accidents.

Bus companies are loving the proliferation of these runners as it means more money for them.

A bus driver with a popular bus company that plies the Harare-Johannesburg route told The Herald buses make more money from luggage than passengers.

“Runners these days are booking boot sections as groups or individuals. The boot sections are given to the highest bidder. These boots will be locked from South Africa right until we get to Road Port. Authorities along the way can be dealt with,” he said.

Runners are teaming up to secure boots which are sealed for the duration of the journey.

“There are things we bring into the country which are not allowed.

“People are buying meat in South Africa, especially beef and chicken.

“In South Africa, chicken is 40 Rand, which is significantly cheaper than locally, so what happens is those with takeaways find it cheaper to buy their meat from South Africa,” he said.

The driver says he treats his salary as small change, as a trip can give him twice what he earns through deals.

“I have managed to build a house and I send my children to good schools through these deals.

“This past holidays we made a lot of money as people were buying stuff for Christmas. I do not want to complain, things are going on well for me,” he said.

Cross border handling of goods is not new.

In Bulawayo, Malayitsha services have been there since time immemorial.

They drive to South Africa to buy goods on behalf of their clients and transport them.

Malayitshas can transport anything, including dead bodies.

It was previously a frowned upon job, but it appears even the degreed are joining the trade, albeit at a smaller scale.

Cross border trading is now a vintage job as highway merchants are the new trend in town.

Retail stores which are  incessantly increasing prices have heightened the relevance of the service.

Gone are the days when professionals would rush to Roadport after work on Friday, travel to South Africa through the night, shop on Saturday, return home on Sunday and go back to work on Monday without rest.