How flour smugglers are saving deprived communities – Zimbabwe


It is always a relief for residents here at Harare neighborhood in Zimbabwe when the truck of foodstuff with food items from South Africa. Children rush to unload flour, oil, washing powder by deliverymen who profit from a juicy informal business still fuelled by the recent rise in prices.

In Zimbabwe, these essentials are lacking and everything is expensive: food, fuel, electricity. This situation started some twenty years ago, with international donors withdrawing because of unsustainable debt. Inflation is rampant and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has only made matters worst.

Petrol has risen twice in the space of a week. Grain prices have soared as Russia is Zimbabwe’s main supplier of wheat. As a result, inflation rose to 66% in February.

“We have to prepare for a wave of price increases,” Confederation of Retailers (CZR) president Denford Mutashu told AFP, predicting that Zimbabweans will shop even more in neighbouring South Africa to avoid the price hike.

In the shops, a two-litre bottle of oil costs $4.50, a dollar less if it is delivered from South Africa.

Malayitsha”, transporters in the Ndebele language, usually cross the border between the two southern African countries at night. Beitbridge is one of the busiest border crossings on the continent, and also one of the most porous, where smuggling is commonplace.

– Supplies –

However, these informal deliverymen, often in league with the border guards, do not traffic alcohol or cigarettes. They pass mealie meals, the staple dish, and bring the groceries to the doorsteps of customers in Zimbabwe.

The system works through word of mouth and mobile couriers. The goods travel up to 600 km. The road is bad, but each crossing can be worth a lot.

Mason Mapuranga, a 44-year-old Zimbabwean, has been doing this job for two years. He says he earns more than 600 euros per trip (10,000 rands).

“Customers get in touch via WhatsApp, choose the products, pay into a South African account and then I deliver. It’s simple,” he told AFP. And it also allows him to avoid the uncertainties of local currency fluctuations.

“Every time we deliver, we are greeted with smiles: it shows the level of gratitude, because these people if they didn’t receive this food, would go hungry,” says the former truck driver. He himself lost his job during the pandemic.

Clever Murape, 35, makes a living selling scrap metal and, above all, receives help from his sister, who works as a maid in South Africa. “My older sister sends food via ‘malayitsha’ every month,” he says. And in between deliveries, the family of ten “rations” themselves.

With an estimated three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa and a large diaspora scattered around the world, relatives abroad have long been a lifeline for those back home.

In the capital Harare, queues are growing daily in front of international money transfer offices. According to the World Bank, 1.6 billion euros are sent to the country every year, which is more than 10% of the GDP.