The Sunday Mail

Veronique Gwaze

There is no doubt that the premises are innovative.

However, new ideas and trends often gradually lead to a bandwagon, where everyone wants in on the action.

Once someone starts a successful business, almost everyone tries it.

Who has forgotten the craze for chihuta (quail) which became a trend around 2016?

A few years ago, people were jostling for “sack potato and mushroom production”, which also took the country by storm.

And, more recently, almost every street corner leading to residential areas is now equipped with a “car air conditioning recharge” brand vehicle.

The concept was introduced by a few guys but spread like veld fire.
The list is endless.

However, there seems to be a new trend in town.

Most of the spacious buildings in towns and cities are slowly giving way to shopping malls as landlords subdivide their properties into smaller rental spaces.

The space is rented out to people who specialize in different trades, including boutiques, salons, tailoring and massage shops, to name a few.

While this has helped create jobs, it has come with its own set of challenges.
For example, some of the new shopping malls attract hordes of people, but they are poorly ventilated and lack adequate sanitary facilities.

Naturally, health experts are sounding the alarm.

But are these new shopping centers legal and what are the conditions for owners to transform their premises there?

“Landowners must first apply to their respective local authorities for approvals to go ahead with the developments. After approval, the municipality will inspect the property and give guidelines on how the subdivisions should be done,” said Deputy Minister of Local Government and Public Works Dr. Marian Chombo.

The government, she said, is flushing out those who have broken the law.
“Our team will soon tackle criminals who bypass our offices in the process causing chaos. We are also pursuing those who further subdivide spaces after final approval.

“It’s not wise to have people crammed into smaller spaces, especially in these times of Covid-19. Additionally, the hygiene aspect is ignored whenever the numbers exceed the accepted holding capacity, and this is a serious health risk.

Harare City Fire and Ambulance Technician Shepard Tsiga, who is also the Warriors Covid-19 Compliance Officer, agrees.

“We are not out of the woods yet. Covid-19 is still with us, so protocols must be followed. Overcrowding, especially in poorly ventilated facilities, is a disaster. There’s obviously no social distancing, some people obviously won’t sanitize or even mask up, and that’s a health time bomb.
“Similarly, without proper rest rooms or in situations where toilets cannot contain the large numbers, we have to be careful as typhoid and cholera epidemics could explode,” he said.

Harare’s central business district was once home to a few shopping malls, including Eastgate, Joina City and the now defunct Ximex Mall.

However, today they are everywhere.

Many argue that this could be why major stores have closed or are sinking.

Competition from used or cheaper products offered by smaller retailers (also known as runners) has been too much for most giant retailers to handle.

Riders source most of their stuff from South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Dubai, China and Turkey, among others.

Harare City Council spokesman Michael Chideme stressed the need for innovation in business.

“This is a new phenomenon in urban development trends in Zimbabwe, but we are just following what is already happening in other countries,” Chideme said.

“The days are over for large, expensive stores, as people now prefer smaller specialty stores that sell specific products. These small shops actually meet the needs of the market; however, there are guidelines that must be followed.

While this has proven to be a positive transformative development in countries like South Africa, Zambia and Namibia, back home there are clear signs that the system still needs to be perfected.

It emerged that some of the mall spaces are being used by drug dealers.
“We now have individuals taking advantage of the huge volumes of people to sell beer and illicit drugs in formal settings,” revealed one of the runners who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Chrispen Mhizha, who has a huge store in Makoni Mall in Chitungwiza, subdivided it into 16 smaller compartments in February last year.

However, he later discovered that his tenants had further subdivided their small shops into two or three small cabins.

The alleged tenants received rents varying between 400 and 500 US dollars per person.
“I went through all the procedures and got permission to subdivide the store. However, the tenants I got were actually space barons who then sublet the place to my unknowingly,” Mhizha lamented.

Small compartments have become profitable for many traders and owners because one only pays for a particular space that they intend to use.

Most malls have been taken over by cross-border traders.

Their products are usually indexed at lower prices. Moreover, they are also open to negotiation and naturally attract bargain buyers. “I get most of my business from Zambia and some locally. I work with smaller profit margins for quick turnover,” said Vimbai Murima, who operates from one of the new malls.
“I’m renting about two square meters under someone and paying $350 rent, which isn’t a challenge as my line of business has quick returns.”

A runner, Thomas Makope, confirmed that business was booming.

“I make huge profits. The good thing is that we operate in an authorized area and we don’t have to play hide and seek with the authorities like we did on the streets. I specialize in clothes that I receive from Tanzania and China,” he revealed.

Mitchelle Zinyemba has run a bridal boutique for three years, paying rents of US$700 a month.

“We have sanitizers at all of our entrances and encourage people to mask up every time, but often everyone is busy so we don’t really check whether the public is buying in or not,” she said.

Customers also like the new trend.

“Huge multi-purpose stores are expensive and have no room for negotiation, while malls are flexible, we can negotiate the price, which means they are open even to low-income people,” said Charles Moyo.
His colleague added: “However, while upgrading is good, you have to be careful because there is a lot going on in malls; for example, the sale of alcohol and drugs.

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Peggy P. Gilmore