Meet the ‘manos’ taking Sunshine City by storm: How Mozambican entrepreneurs find success in Harare


Entrepreneurial Spirit Thrives: Mozambican “mano” embrace informal economy in Harare

Harare, the bustling heart of Zimbabwe, with its towering skyscrapers and vibrant street markets, has become a sanctuary for a unique brand of entrepreneurship.

Enter the young Mozambican men, their determined faces weathered by the harsh realities of limited opportunities and civil unrest in their homeland. Armed with backpacks filled with brightly colored sweets and stacks of mobile airtime vouchers, they navigate the city’s chaotic streets, earning the moniker “mano,” meaning “boy” in the Mozambican language.

Driven by the lure of a better life and relative prosperity, these resourceful individuals cross the border into Zimbabwe, seeking refuge in the city’s thriving informal economy. Harare’s bustling streets offer a lifeline, as these Mozambican entrepreneurs become the city’s airtime angels, their pockets brimming with vouchers that often provide more convenience than official channels.

Their journey begins in the sun-drenched provinces of Mozambique, where few opportunities and a currency in freefall present a bleak outlook. For 22-year-old Gabriel and countless others like him, Zimbabwe holds the promise of a brighter future. “Back home, there’s nothing,” Gabriel confides, his eyes gleaming with determination. “Here, I can send money home and build a future.”

Life on the streets, however, is not without its challenges. Constant police crackdowns and fierce competition from local Zimbabwean vendors create a volatile environment. The specter of undocumented status looms large, with the constant threat of apprehension and deportation. Navigating the city’s underbelly exposes them to exploitation by unscrupulous middlemen, harassment by officials, and the ever-present risk of losing their meager earnings and wares.

“Some of the police and municipal officers take advantage of us because they know we have no proper immigration documents,” reveals 21-year-old Ricardo. “They sometimes confiscate our goods. It’s not easy. The competition is tough, and sometimes people don’t trust us. But we have to keep going because our families are depending on us.”

Despite these challenges, the airtime angels find a diverse clientele among weary taxi drivers seeking a quick top-up, office workers in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, and students scrambling to squeeze the last megabytes of data before their bundles expire. Their colorful airtime vouchers and vibrant candies bring a touch of vibrancy to the city, as expressed by Tariro, a young office worker in the Graniteside Industrial Area, clutching a bag of tamarind sweets. “Their airtime is convenient as they walk around, and their candies brighten my day,” she affirms.

However, Tariro also acknowledges the hardships these individuals face. “It’s tough for them,” she admits, her smile fading. “They are always looking over their shoulders, worried about getting caught.”

The economic and political turmoil in Mozambique continues to drive Gabriel, Ricardo, and many others across the border, offering them a glimpse of hope for a better life. Yet, they face an uphill battle, navigating the complexities of undocumented status, cultural barriers, and the constant fear of deportation.

As the sun sets over Harare’s sprawling avenues, casting long shadows, Gabriel and his compatriots retreat to their modest lodgings in the Mbare area, a stark contrast to the city’s glittering facade. Here, in the labyrinthine alleys and crumbling buildings, desperation hangs in the air like the acrid tang of wood smoke.

Their home is a cramped single room in a shared compound, adorned with peeling paint and cracked plaster. The thin mattress on the floor offers little comfort, and a solitary bare bulb casts an unforgiving light on their meager possessions—a dented cooking pot, a pile of threadbare clothes, and a dog-eared Portuguese phrasebook.

In the compound’s communal kitchen, a dimly lit alcove enveloped in soot and the lingering smell of overcooked rice, residents navigate shared challenges. It’s a microcosm of their collective struggle and resilience.

Amidst the hardships, these Mozambican entrepreneurs continue to forge ahead, their determination unwavering. Their entrepreneurial spirit serves as a testament to the indomitable human will and the lengths individuals will go to create a better future for themselves and their families.

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