To bear fruit well worth the hard work

Ms Lizzy Sibiya has been a street vendor since 1997.

MBOMBELA – On the pavements of the busy, congested streets of the city are women who make a living by selling fruit.

Their crammed work space bears testimony to their desperation to make a living out of the little they have. Their meagre stock is packed in boxes.

They have squeezed the boxes together to make enough space for the different fruit they sell. Like in a formal fruit shop, display plays a vital role. The fruit ranges from bananas and pears to apples and mangoes.

Unlike in a formal business environment where competition causes rivalry, the women have developed a sense of sisterhood. That is because what brings them together, fending for their loved ones, matters more than competition.

One of them is Ms Mariam Mokoena. She has been selling in the area since 1987.

The money she has made has impacted 29 people’s lives.

“There are a lot of people who cannot afford to go to a formal retailer for fruit. If you look at it in a positive you will see the important role we are playing,” she said.

She arrives in the city early every morning in order to catch the people before they reach their offices.

Mokoena makes around R800 on a good day and used the money to raise her four sons.

When she initially started selling in the city, she made R2 a day and struggled to earn enough to pay for her taxi trip back home.

“I would approach one of the taxi owners who understood my situation, so I could travel for free,” she said.

Now she spends R450 for a monthly bus ticket.

She buys her stock from the Valencia Market. However, now that is summer the fruit sometimes goes off quickly.

That is a big blow to them. “You end up losing a lot because fruit like mangoes do not have a long lifespan, especially in harsh weather,” said Mokoena. Not even a stone’s throw away from her, Ms Lizzy Sibiya operates.

Sibiya hails from Pienaar and every morning she leaves the comfort of her home to sell in the city.

“We help each other here. When one of us does not have money, we lend her some. We live side by side as neighbours,” she said.

Sibiya’s words are mirrored by Mokoena who frequently asks her for change to give to her customers.

Sibiya has been selling in the area since 1997. She has put her two children through school.

“My son works for Transnet and my daughter is a teacher, all through money  I earned here,” she said.

On a good day Sibiya pockets R800 and manages to save some for rainy days.

“You cannot just spend everything. You need to save some for desperate times.”

Both agreed that it was previously difficult to do business in the city as police harassed and confiscated their belongings. Now they have obtained permits from the City of Mbombela Local Municipality. They pay a fee of R60 a month.



Ms Mariam Mokoena has been a street vendor since 1987.


Sibiya also mentioned that as the festive season approaches, she would be buying clothes for her grandchildren with her hard-earned money.

Mokoena is likely to be operating in the area for the next five years due to an error on her ID. Only then will she be eligible to receive her old-age grant. “I was born in 1951 but my ID says I was born 10 years later. I have been struggling to get that fixed,” she concluded.

Trevor Hlungwani

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