Women Eke A Living Off Selling Pods

01 Sep 2015 10:50am
By Francois Lottering

WINDHOEK, 01 SEPT (NAMPA) - For some Namibians, working Monday to Friday is bliss of doing what you like and for others is a misery of repetitive actions. For the around 50 women who have become a constant presence next to the Western Bypass on the northern outskirts of Windhoek, it is essential for their daily survival and having an opinion does not matter.
Most formally employed Namibians enjoy a staff kitchen, bathroom and for some, a lounge to refresh the mind during a stressful day but the ‘bypass women’ do not have the luxury of a bathroom, a kitchen, a lunch hour or even a pay-slip at the end of the month.
There are no weekends, nor public holidays for them - they have to work seven days a week selling pods and grass to make ends meet, despite the long hours working in the harsh Namibian weather, they don’t have the satisfaction of a fixed salary either. The pittance they make has to feed, clothe and educate their children, as many of these brave women do not have a partner to help them.
One such woman is the 53-year-old Elina Mushimba, a mother of six children.
Her day starts at around 07h00 when she walks from the nearby informal settlements and on her way to work, she has to cross a busy road, walk through bushes and even over a hill to get to where she sells her camelthorn seed pods and thatch grass.
Even collecting her wares holds its challenges as the area where she collects the pods and grass in a nearby field is notorious for snakes and scorpions; and yet, this not the only danger lurking.
“Thieves are hiding in the bushes, keeping an eye on you. Once they see you sold some of your products they come and rob you of your money,” Mushimba told Nampa in a recent interview, adding you don’t always sell anything and when you do, you could be robbed of a lot more than the money to feed your family; you are robbed of the respect earned for yourself.
Although it was late on a Saturday afternoon with the August wind blowing, the mother of six was still filled with optimism that a farmer might stop and buy some pods to feed his livestock. She had hardly sold anything for the day.
The pods they collect from the nearby field are ideal for livestock farmers and with the drought affecting pasture conditions, the pods are ideal as fodder. It is also much cheaper from these informal vendors instead of from established businesses, Mushimba said.
“I sell a big bag of pods for N.dollars 30 and a smaller one for only N. dollars 20,” she said.
Mushimba expressed her wish for some assistance from the government, as she says she believes that during droughts, their products can help assist farmers.
With the winter over, one cannot help to wonder how these women survived the cold as there is hardly any shelter for them. Their little makeshift stalls are made of pieces of carton, plastic bags and any other material they can find.
And when it rains? “We just hide under our shelters or in some cases we hide in the culverts under the main road,” Mushimba said.
Needless to say, keeping their stock safe is also a problem because sometimes when the women show up to start the day, they find that their stock has been looted or even set alight.
“Then we have to start collecting and packing all over again,” Mushimba said.
With the lack of toilets, they are also forced to use the bushes when nature calls and that hold its own risks.
Mushimba and her business partner, Iita Shivute share the same stand as they collect, pack and manage the sales. Both feel two women stand a better chance for survival than one.
Shivute, dressed in blue overall trousers and a green vest, echoed Mushimba’s sentiments regarding the hardships they face out in the open next to one of Namibia's busiest routes.
Her main concern is the thieves hiding in the nearby bushes, waiting for their chance to pounce.
Even a basic need is a struggle as there are no water points nearby, meaning the women have to cross the busy dual carriage to fetch water from businesses in the area.
“Normally when the business owners are not there, some of the security guards allow us to get water from the taps, but once the owner returns we are chased away without any water,” Shivute said.
Concluding the interview with two of the about 50 women along the busy road selling something most Namibians would regards as just foliage, a life with a secure salary at the end of the month, a safe working environment, an easily accessible toilet with running water and travel arrangements for the next public holiday mean a lot more than before.