Informal traders risk their lives on the street despite national lockdown to keep their businesses afloat.

The informal business sector has been particularly hard hit during the national lockdown which is now into its second month. Many have lost their source of income while some have adapted their businesses to meet the demands of the lockdown. Berthwell Mulaudzi lives and does business in Kagiso near Krugersdorp in South Africa He has managed to keep his business afloat during the lockdown but continues to face serious challenges. 

“I used to sell at least two hundred bags of potatoes a day before the lockdown, but now business has been slow because only few people go out to buy food, especially to vendors. This is my challenge, and it has caused me to change my prices to attract customers.” 

With the lockdown restrictions hitting hard, Mulaudzi, like many others, find it difficult to source stock from their suppliers at an affordable price. This situation, he says, has resulted in a disadvantage for those who cannot afford to stock fresh fruits and vegetables. Mulaudzi says he is forced to lower his prices to ensure quicker sales. “Prices for my vegetables range from R5 to R10, and a bag of fruits is sold at R2, a much lower price now than before the virus,” he points out.

Mulaudzi has now added face masks to his collection of products. The wearing of face masks in public is now compulsory in South Africa as part of easing restrictions under level four of the coronavirus lockdown. For Mulaudzi, this regulation presented a business opportunity and he soon started trading in face masks. “ I sell cloth masks for a low amount of R20 each,” he says. He has also rented out part of his stand to two other businesses who use the space to sell designer face masks and hand sanitiser.

“I sell in an area that has lots of people. From taxi drivers to people coming to the complex to buy groceries; they all pass by my stand and sometimes we see people who don’t bother wearing face masks and come to buy fruits without even washing their hands.” To encourage the sale of the masks and sanitiser, Malaudzi targets people who want to enter the gates of the complex close to where he runs his business or ride a taxi.

Mulaudzi’s loyal customers still patronise his stand during this time of need, and that showed through the high influx of customers buying his products. 

“Before covid-19, my sales and profit used to triple what I make currently.  My customers have shown support for my business, and sometimes I can stock for a week, and my vegetables are sold within three days.”

Irrespective of the hard times, Mulaudzi thinks that the lockdown was a necessary pain traders had to accept. “The lockdown is a necessity, despite the challenges it posed to my business. My health comes first. However, I was able to quickly pick up in business, after seeing so much support from the residents of Kagiso in buying my vegetables,” he says.

The 33-year-old man, born in Limpopo, started expanding his business in Johannesburg in 2018 after being a trader for more than seven years. Mulaudzi’s business expanded to supplying local primary schools at Soweto with fruits and vegetables and another stand at Chamdor Complex, in Kagiso. He is now widely known and trusted for hygienically packaged, fresh and top quality fruits and vegetable products. 

For hygiene purposes, Mulaudzi wraps his vegetables with plastics after cutting them. For customers buying fruits to eat, Mulaudzi also has a bucket of water for them to wash their fruits before eating. “I started applying these measures when the police did random checks on the area. I sanitize all my customers before they touch or pick my products,” He notes.


  A customer buying a bunch of potatoes for R10 at Mulaudzi’s stand

Mulaudzi says despite low profits, he still receives more customers which made him hire three more people to assist him clean his tables and attend to customers. He said even though covid-19 poses great personal risks and unprecedented financial difficulties, he still manages to pay his workers, afford his rent and feed his family; all thanks to his informal business.

FEATURED IMAGE: Berthewell Mulaudzi at his trading stand in Kagiso. Photo: Zikhona Klaas