BOTSWANA: YOUNG MAKING A LIVING SELLING AIRTIME
In busy streets and malls, a new breed of vendors loudly announces the prices of its single commodity. The vendors carry the product sticking out of a 'purpose built' side of a carton box. The vendors of mobile phone airtime are increasingly becoming a very distinct and conspicuous group of traders around town. Their aggression and persistence is perhaps only second to Combi men and bus touts.
A growing number of young people like Mpho Moitaodi are joining the trade. In 2003, he was a fresh-faced 17-year-old. He was restive but with no income. When he joined the trade, a good number of the players were graduates of the street, seeking to augment their earnings from other businesses like car washing and guarding in the car parking lots.
When he ordered his first bundle of airtime at a Gaborone West point of sale, he had overcome the stigma that comes with the trade. By sunset, he had discovered an untapped potential. "There is money in the selling of airtime. The response is overwhelming. People, particularly elders are impressed by what I do," he says and adds that he is living his dream. "I have always wanted to be a businessman, I did business studies at school." With great care, he would look at every passer-by and attempt to strike a conversation. Some are not interested. He is not discouraged.
Moitaodi lives at the low-income SHHA houses in Gaborone West. He sells airtime at Maruapula shopping complex. "I earn a living out of this business," he confesses as his eyes travelled upwards to where a group of people stood. His eyes stare intently at a man who walks towards him. "I can afford to pay rent and send some of my profits to mum at Kookane." Unlike most people who start business just to escape from poverty, Moitaodi says he has always been business minded. He has been inspired by his peers to venture into the airtime business. He has a burning desire to go back to school. This also inspires him. He hopes he will make money to go for further education. "I really want to go to school," he says adding that he will never abandon his airtime business.
He is full of life. His busy day starts in the morning. He goes to queue at an airtime point of sale in Gaborone West before he heads to Maruapula shopping complex. "Everyone is my client here," he announces, perhaps to gain more inspiration as some people look down upon him with disdain. He has managed to make enough money to buy a pay phone. He says his turnover on a good day can be P1,400. "I must tell you that I never go home with less than P900," he says proudly and adds that he enjoys his business to a level that he even dreams about it at night. He is thrilled. "I can afford to save at least P200 per day. I like my business," he says.