For the past 20 years, Shumani Juliet Makungo has been selling sweet potatoes and peanuts next to the busy Makonde road, making a good living for herself. Photo supplied.

When life gives you lemons ... try sell sweet potatoes


When she started selling sweet potatoes and peanuts next to the busy Makonde road in 2002, Shumani Juliet Makungo’s eldest son was only three months old. Twenty years down the line, Shumani is still going strong, doing what she loves most, and making arrangements to enrol her son at an institution of higher learning next year. His tuition fees will be paid from the proceeds she earns from her small business.

Over the years, Shumani has managed to acquire a driver’s license, obtain a security-official qualification, and build herself a beautiful four-room house (to name but a few) – all this by selling sweet potatoes and peanuts by the roadside.

“My first-born son was only three months old when one of my relatives came to see him. In our culture, when you come to see the child, you should bring something as a way of appreciation. The relative gave me R30 and a green bar of soap. I inherited a business spirit from my mother, Vho-Nyadzanga, who used to make and sell traditional beer and mageu at home. So, after careful consideration, I decided to do something useful with that R30; something that would leave an ever-lasting impression on myself and my child. At that time, things were still cheaper, and I used the money to buy a crate of sweet potatoes to sell with other women next to the busy road. Amazingly, the crate was sold out on my first day, and I decided to stock up more. That is how I found myself in this business.”

The courageous lady from Makonde village outside Thohoyandou buys her stock from the fields at Matangari, Tshiombo, Dzimauli and the Tshalovha areas. She recalls how cheap things were when she started her business so long ago. “In 2002, you could buy a whole crate of sweet potatoes for R30. We would then come back and re-pack them into two-litre and five-litre buckets to sell. Back then, you paid R5 for a two-litre bucket and R10 for a five-litre bucket. Things have changed over the years. A crate of sweet potatoes now costs R200, while the two-litre buckets are sold for R40 and the five-litre buckets for R60.”

Shumani starts her day at 05:00 in the morning to cater for travellers who pass through Makonde in the morning. “Sometimes you can sit there on a cold winter’s day and go home empty handed at 19:00, but I do not give up. Other days, business is good and that is what gives me courage to soldier on. I encourage other unemployed women to stand up and create jobs for themselves during these challenging times.”

The surprising thing is that Shumani and her colleagues do not even pack their stock up again when they leave their stall to go home at night. Asked if they were not afraid that people might steal their produce during the night, she replied: “Once we unpack our stock, it remains here on the side of the road until they are sold out. It is not good to move sweet potatoes around because their skin is very sensitive. Once the skin is damaged, customers don’t want to buy it. We do not have any security to look after them at night, but we rarely experience any theft. One good thing about leaving our stuff there is that we have faithful customers who pass there late at night or very early in the morning. If I go to my stall in the morning and find that some of the containers are empty, I don’t worry because I know that the customer who emptied the containers will come back during the day to pay me.”

Moving with the times, Shumani also takes orders from local customers through social media. “I don’t have a car, but I can walk and deliver to my customers in the area,” she said.



Date:24 June 2022 - By:

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