Women: The drivers of Botswana's informal sector

All for one: Members of Tabepo Street Vendors Association PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Women of diverse skills and backgrounds in Botswana dominate the informal sector, being entrepreneurs of businesses such as food and airtime vending, hairdressing, domestic work and many more. Mmegi staffer, LEBOGANG MOSIKARE, explores the phenomenon

FRANCISTOWN: The clatter of cars and people from different places in and around the city pervades the environment at the Francistown transport terminus.

People from different parts of the city congregate to sell different wares at the terminus, which is a hive of activity and thus the preferred marketplace. The terminus is a heterogeneous society where one can buy different products at a bargain.

Although the terminus is populated by vendors from all walks of life, it has one striking peculiarity - the overwhelming dominance of women amongst the vendors.

The Setswana idiom “mmangwana o tshwara thipa kafa bogaleng’ meaning women will do all in their power to take care of the welfare of their children in various circumstances, aptly sums up the major reason why Gaedupe Motota and her colleagues go to the terminus very early in the morning and knockoff late everyday.

As chairperson of the Tabepo Association of Street Vendors, Motota acknowledges women make up the majority of the organisation, which boasts 80 members.

When the Mmegi news crew chances upon Motota and her colleagues, they are busy in a meeting discussing matters related to their association, but happily agree to grant us interviews.

The meeting is an all-woman affair, although Motota says there are some men in the ranks of the organisation.

“We are vending in order to take care of the various socio-economic needs of our families,” she says.

Tabepo, which in Ikalanga means “we are here” is mainly drawn from women who buy fruits and vegetables from South Africa.

For the women of Botswana, who have long fought glass ceilings in the formal sector, the informal sector has become a natural lifeline.

Women of all backgrounds and levels of education, dominate all spheres of the informal sector and indeed have come to represent the entrepreneurial spirit that government is eager to see Batswana foster.

For Tabepo, membership of the organisation enhances the individual aspirations of providing for families. Through having a single representative voice, Motota and her fellow members are able to engage authorities and secure concessions on certain restrictive

trading requirements.

“There is a problem of waste at the bus and taxi rank which we don’t deny,” she says. “We always impress upon our members that they should clean their trading spaces throughout the day.

“This will prevent unnecessary confrontations with the municipality since we share a symbiotic relationship.

“It is incumbent upon us to clean where we trade in order to attract customers.”

Motota says while there are some rogue vendors who have not acquainted themselves with the by-laws, the association is happy with the level of cooperation with the municipality.

This has become even more important as the informal sector drags itself out of the coronavirus crisis.

“Authorities from our municipality listened to our pleas and understood them hence we are not required to abide by the rigorous standards imposed by the government to control the spread of the virus in the country.

“The municipality does not require us to take the temperatures of people using the medical infrared thermometers, which are very expensive for most vendors.

“The municipality however requires us to always wear masks and wash our hands regularly with soap or sanitisers to prevent the possible passing of coronavirus,” she says.

Independent economist, Sennye Obuseng says the informal sector is easily amongst the country’s biggest employers. He says it is an important employer of women in the country.

“Most people, especially women, join the informal sector mostly for survival because of few job opportunities in the formal sector,” he says.

“From time immemorial, it is a well-known fact that women have and/or are the ones who are struggling to raise their families.

“I can say that women are in the informal sector basically for survival.”

When asked on how the coronavirus has affected the informal sector, Obuseng observes the informal sector is very vulnerable because it does not have any asset base.

“Some of the informal traders have no cash base. They are just living a hand to mouth and in dire times like the coronavirus, they are one of the first to feel the negative effects of the pandemic.”




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