As dawn breaks, Bonisiwe Zungu puts her charcoal-fired brazier on the pavement of Richmond Road, Pietermaritzburg. She is here to braai and sell mealies. She has been in business for seven years. Zungu used to be a street vendor in town, but the municipality evicted her.
Nozibusiso Mbhele braais corn. Photo: Nompendulo Ngubane via GroundUp
Competition is stiff and she has four children in school. She works six days a week, Monday to Saturday. “It’s not easy,” she says, “but my children don’t go to bed with empty stomachs.”
“The road [Richmond] is busy and I saw an opportunity for business. Most of my customers are drivers, including truck drivers. With each customer it is different. Some customers like braaied mealies. Others prefer cooked mealies [in a pot] … Booming business days are cold days. I can sell 40 or more mealies when it’s cold. I’m able to go home with R400 a day,” says Zungu.
Sales peak around 4pm when people are returning home from work.
Zungu lives in Willowfontein and she has an old van which she drives to her braai spot. She buys her stock at farms in Richmond and Jozini. A dozen costs her R40 and she sells each mealie for R10. A 5kg bag of charcoal costs between R39 and R42.
Another seller on Richmond Road is Nozibusiso Mbhele from Dambuza. She is 33 and a single mother with three children. For three years she was employed by someone else to sell mealies, working Monday to Saturday, from 6am to 6pm. She earned R120 a day.
“I became angry … Seeing how the business was done, I decided to sell on my own. I borrowed a brazier from my neighbour.
“I am making money and I’m not complaining … I can now buy my children food and we are surviving,” she says.
With a bag full of mealies carried on her head, she catches two taxis to get to her spot. It costs her R12 from Dambuza to town and R11.50 from town to Richmond Road. Her transport is R47 a day. She buys her mealies at R60 a dozen and she sells them at R10 each.
She says business is easier in summer, except for the rain. “When it rains I shield myself under my umbrella. At the end of the day business has to go on,” says Mbhele.