A Deeper Look – Life as a Jozi street vendor

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In episode three of A Deeper Look, we engage 26-year-old Given Mhlanga,  a vendor on the streets of Johannesburg. Mhlanga is one of many informal traders who have left their homes to try to make a living in the big city.

He says he has worked for someone before but prefers running his own business. “I worked at a construction company as a labourer, every month end it was a different story when it came to salaries…it wasn’t for me…the work was too hard and exhausting.”

Mhlanga left the construction job to help in his family business in Thabazimbi, Limpopo, for a while and decided to go on his own in 2020.

Working as a street vendor is no small feat, it requires Given to work six days a week (Monday to Saturday) pushing eleven-hour-shifts each working day. He admits he would not have it any other way. “I have gotten so used to running my own business, and I want to continue working for myself.”

His stall is on a fairly busy road on one of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, where there is both foot and motor vehicle traffic.

During my four days with Given, I noticed a cordial relationship with him and his customers. On one of the days his stock had ran out and he decided to knock-off 30 minutes early, but as he was pushing his wheelbarrow, a group of learners from a nearby high school wanted to buy something. He had to politely turn them away and explain to them that he had no more stock hence we was leaving early. The learners didn’t believe him asking him to show them if what they wanted was not available, he obliged. They later told him to get more stock for tomorrow.

Every work day, Given walks between his street shop and his residence, pushing a wheelbarrow with his daily stock to and fro from Kya Sands, an informal settlement in Johannesburg North. His rental shack is situated about three kilometers away from his place of business.

He says he wants his business to grow to a point where he has his own shop located where he stays so that he doesn’t have to come to the street everyday.

For more, see video below: