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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Zimbabwe collapse fuels cross-border trade
By Musonda Chibamba
BBC News, Livingstone

At the Livingstone border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe, a well-built Zimbabwean woman in her late 40s is standing by the roadside despite the oppressive heat of the midday sun.

Woman carrying a large bag on her head
The Zimbabweans cannot buy many basic goods at home
"We are going into town, can you take us?" she asks our taxi-driver.

She has a large, multi-coloured synthetic bag with her, like most of the other people standing around - some balancing them precariously on their heads.

Eventually she reveals what is in the bag.

"Oranges," she told the BBC. "I come here every day to sell oranges, Business is good in Livingstone.

"Once I've sold off the oranges, then I use the Zambian kwacha to buy groceries for my family. Mostly I buy maize meal, cooking oil and soap."

Haphazard

The Zimbabweans arrive in groups of three or four or some on their own, making it very hard to determine just how many enter Zambia through one of the country's busiest border posts.

It's actually faster to travel to Livingstone for foodstuffs than to wait in the queues, which have no guarantee
Mavis Moyo, Zimbabwean trader
However, Zambian immigration officials say that no less than 1,000 Zimbabweans enter each day, as the economic crisis at home gets worse.

Apart from the oranges, they sell goods such as biscuits, sweets or kitchenware.

For some, the goods they bring move slowly, and so many of them are unable to cross back the same day into Victoria Falls, the Zimbabwean town across the River Zambezi which forms the border.

So they have to spend the night in Zambia. With little or no income for hotel accommodation and certainly no friends and relatives, many head for Maramba, a sprawling market in the heart of Livingstone.

There they spend the night in the haphazard shelters that serve as stalls in the daytime.

Black market

"I have some Zambian friends in Maramba, but I can't abuse their hospitality so I only go there once in a while. Most times I sleep in the market," said Mavis Moyo, from the city of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

"Life in Bulawayo has become very difficult for us," she told the BBC.

Maramba market
Some Zimbabweans end up sleeping in Maramba market
"The shops near my home are completely bare - no food and no household products either.

"It's actually faster to travel to Livingstone for foodstuffs than to wait in the queues, which have no guarantee."

She says she sends her nephew once a month to buy a 25 kilogramme bag of maize meal, the staple food in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, but she complains it can be difficult to take it back home.

"The bag is too big to conceal, so the customs officers in Zimbabwe see it immediately you arrive and they give us such a hard time, forgetting that the reason we buy from Zambia is because our own shops are completely empty."

Other traders come with no goods to sell but instead bring Zimbabwean dollars to change on the black market and then buy goods in Livingstone to take back home for re-sale.

Tedious

This is a complete reversal from the situation just a few years ago.

When Zimbabwe had one of the most advanced economies in the region, Zambians used to flock from Livingstone to Victoria Falls to buy the same essential commodities that the Zimbabweans are now buying from Zambia.

We can't mistreat them because it's not their fault that they are going through these hard times
Mike Zulu
Zambian taxi driver
International tourists have followed suit and Victoria Falls' loss has been Livingstone's gain, as huge new luxury hotels have been built for those wishing to view the famous falls but reluctant to spend their holidays in Zimbabwe.

Similarly, the Zimbabwe dollar used to be prized, while the kwacha was seen as worthless.

Now, the Zimbabwean traders head for the black market currency dealers clutching huge wads of banknotes, to exchange for just a few notes of kwachas.

Once the currency transactions are complete, the Zimbabweans make their way to central Livingstone and there buy various products, mostly the colourful fabric locally known as chitenje.

Others arrive in the city centre and begin the tedious task of moving from one end of the town to another, trying to sell their wares without attracting the attention of the city council police.

Zero tolerance

Street vending is illegal in Livingstone, and the council is implementing a recently launched nationwide campaign to "Make Zambia Clean".

Anyone found openly selling goods risks having them confiscated and being arrested and fined.

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Livingstone City Council Town Clerk George Kalenga, however, said the Zimbabwean traders were free to sell their goods at designated markets.

"We don't discriminate against them because they are foreign, as long as they pay the market levy; they are free to sell their goods from any market."

Most Livingstone residents are sympathetic to their Zimbabwean neighbours.

"We can't mistreat them because it's not their fault that they are going through these hard times," says Mike Zulu, a taxi driver who spends the whole day ferrying Zimbabweans and Zambians to and from the border post.

"Apart from that, we know exactly what it's like to face the humiliation of going to a neighbouring country to buy bread or sugar."

As the sun begins to go down, some of the traders who have sold their wares quickly make their way to supermarkets to buy the most wanted essential commodities: sugar, bath soap, cooking oil and maize meal.

With these goods they slowly make their way back to Victoria Falls and within minutes go through the customs and immigration posts on the Zambian side.

Then the difficult return home begins with negotiations with customs officials in Zimbabwe, where duties are high.


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