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Mobile boutiques, stores surge in Botswana amid rising unemployment-



Patleletso Thembani

– Along the busy streets and junctions of Francistown, Botswana‘s second largest city, potential customers occasionally stop to peruse different items of clothing from roadside shops.

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This new trend of boutiques on wheels and makeshift shops is becoming popular in Botswana’s major cities and towns, as customers use their bargaining skills while salespeople coax them into buying.

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Patleletso Thembani, a mobile boutique owner, has been selling mostly second-hand clothes out of the trunk of her car and has mastered the intricate art of persuasion.

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Thembani, a 43-year-old Francistown resident, was unable to get a decent job after losing paid employment as a cashier at a local supermarket due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He then decided to venture into peddling after a friend tipped him off about the opportunity to buy second-hand clothes in bulk to resell on the busy streets of Francistown.

“I got depressed after losing my job in 2020. But I had to borrow some money to start a vending business,” Thembani said in a recent interview conducted on the busy streets of Francistown.

Her mobile boutique has helped the mother of two educate her children and support her family in Siviya Village in the north-eastern part of Botswana.

He said that he would not choose formal employment over selling because he earned between 1,000 pula (about US$78) and 1,500 pula per day.

“Many companies in Botswana cannot pay more than 6,000 pula a month for a full-time job. So venturing into mobile selling allowed me to support my family,” he said.

According to Statistics Botswana, the unemployment rate in the southern African country is estimated at 17.7 percent, while the national poverty rate stands at 16.3 percent.

It is in this context that Thembani is not alone in this undertaking. Mobile and makeshift shops have become a common feature in Francistown. The economic consequences of the pandemic have forced many people into informal commerce, as it provides self-employment and provides consumers with goods at a lower cost than formal stores.

Kaone Moloswa, 21, is studying finance at the University of Botswana. Meanwhile, she is selling out of the trunk of her mother’s car.

“I am preparing for the future. The chances of getting a job soon after finishing university are now very slim in Botswana,” said Moloswa, who specialized in selling second-hand shoes.

Miriam Dickson, a 50-year-old grandmother of three, said she worked for 15 years but couldn’t make ends meet. After deciding to venture into selling, Dickson realized that making a makeshift store is better than renting out buildings because rents are too expensive.

“Also, there’s more people traffic on the sides of the roads. So we meet different types of people, and that’s how we do business,” Dickson said.

Boitumelo Dingalo, one of the small business owners who eke out a living at Francistown’s busy intersections, also said the main advantage of vending machines is flexible work hours. ■


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