PATSON PHIRI, Lusaka
Kenneth Mwamba fast turns his wheelbarrow into a blind corner, nearly hitting a woman standing at ease with her colleague.
Mwamba offers no apologies and increases his speed while hissing to a familiar hoot so that by-standers and pedestrians could make way for him.
Instead, he shouts at the two women for idling and does not care whether they are able to pick his counsel as his voice fades with the distance.
Mwamba’s wheelbarrow is laden with two bundles of second-hand clothing materials destined for the nearby Juldan Bus station on Freedom-way road. Each bundle has an estimated net weight of about 35 kilogrammes.
That is somewhat above a weight suitable for human carriage. A taxi costs about K50 from Soweto market to Juldan bus station so the chemistry of options is brought in the picture. The wheelbarrow pusher only charges K20.
The K30 saved by avoiding a taxi takes Enelesi to Mazabuka on a truck to sell her clothes.
“If I negotiate, I can pay K25 on a truck to Mazabuka. That includes the cost of the load, so wheelbarrows are very helpful,” she summed up the author’s leading question on the preference for a wheelbarrow to a taxi.
Mwamba is a product of a biting episode of scarcity soon after he withdrew from school in grade nine when his guardians realigned their financial support to start paying school fees for their own children.
His parents died of HIV opportunistic diseases in 2011 and he found himself in the hands of guardians in Lusaka’s Bauleni township.
Mwamba had to struggle for about two weeks to convince his parents to give him a paltry K4 to go to town to look for a job because he was considered to be an independent person who should fend for himself.
“There was a rule that if I reach home after 18 hours, I should not even dare ask for food. I would find that they had eaten. I needed to fend for myself if I needed anything. This included money and clothes,” narrated Mwamba as he restlessly looked around for the next customer.
But Mwamba has a reason to thank Enoch Maimisa who lived in the neighbourhood during the harsh days. Mr Maimisa made him work for the wheelbarrow and raise K150 in 2013 for ownership to be transferred.
“I bought this wheelbarrow by working for it. The owner said I must raise K150 but it took me two days to raise that money because I was new in the trade,” he said. That was then.
Mwamba is among the many enterprising youths in Lusaka who have taken to wheelbarrow driving to make a living. On his line-up, he has three children and his wife to look after.
But there is a secret behind the ownership of the hundreds of wheelbarrows that are well spread in the city centre.
“There is one person who owns these wheelbarrows. The owner has 600 wheelbarrows. We just rent them at K10 per day. In the evening, we go to Simoson building to pay and leave them. If we have special night jobs, he allows us to take them home but we have to pay the money,” said Allan Phiri who operates from Intercity Bus terminus.
Mr Phiri is experienced in the trade that he has constructed a four-bedroomed house in Kanyama from the wheelbarrow business. He uses the K120 he makes everyday to restock the shop which is run by his wife, Precious at home.
Wheelbarrow business is even more attractive for pushers who live in unrented houses.
Noah Mwenya has occupied a house left behind by his late parents, so life is much easier for him that wheelbarrow pushing merely supplements his family’s daily needs.
“I only need to make money for my family and that is why all my three children are able to go to school. People who steal to earn a living do so out of ignorance. There is easy money around,” said Mwenya.
The situation is a little more relaxed for Kondwani Banda who ferries charcoal bags from Mtendere market to Kalingalinga every morning. He charges K20 per bag and loads up to six at a goal which gives him K120 for every trip he makes.
“The only problem is that it is only done in the morning, so I can only make two trips per day. That gives me an average K240 but it is enough for me,” said Mr Banda.
His mother in his home town in Chipata receives K500 every month-end. He managed to sponsor his wife Getrude who had failed in English and mathematics at her Grade 12 to upgrade her certificate.
“She is now a student at Kalingalinga youth training centre, studying Early Childhood Education,” said Mr Banda, 32.
There is some negative side of the wheelbarrow business. Zambians have complained about the nuisance they cause to other road users.
“Such complaints have actually been brought to the attention of the Road Traffic and Safety Agency (RTSA),” said RTSA head of public relations Fredrick Mubanda.
Mr Mubanda said the motorists and cyclists have complained about the wheelbarrow drivers because they lack courtesy and have caused accidents in some instances.
“As RTSA, we have prepared a draft revised code of conduct which is already with the Minister of Transport and Communications for approval. That new code recognizes wheelbarrow pushers so that they understand how to use the road,” Mr Mubanga said.
The problem, Mr Mubanga said, was that for many years, wheelbarrows were not recognized as modes of transportation which made it hard for RTSA to spare time to educate them on road usage.
The new code will mandate them to follow traffic regulations and respect the limited shared space for sanity to reign on the roads.