05 July, 2009

This foreigner is busy vending to enjoy Fest!

By Sophiane Bengeloun
Jean Khenda is a foreigner from the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the National Arts Festival, he makes the trip down to Grahamstown to work down High Street (and very close to the Cathedral) selling his stuff. “I’ve been here three days and all this time I barely sold anything,” Khenda said. “More than that, the rent I pay per day is digging a big hole in my budget. I’m worried about not making any money out of this.”

Khenda has been coming to the festival for the last four years, and says this is by far the worst things have been. To start, the organisers initiated a well-intentioned but little-advertised move away from the Village Green to the Rhodes University campus, which many blame for the slump in sales. Because a lot of festinos are impulse shoppers, High Street is often the place where vendors catch them on their way to lunch, or to shows.

Armani Dusabe who also from DRC, sells second-hand shoes next to Jean’s stall and says she is feeling the pinch too. Dusabe who lives in Johannesburg, came to Grahamstown on a friend’s recommendation but she is very disappointed.

Vendors are also involved in cut-throat price under-cutting. “I know some of the guys out there are cheaper, Khenda said, “but I can’t let my prices go any lower than that, I’ll make no profit out of my sales if I did.”

Neither Jean nor Armani have a place to stay at night because they can’t afford Festino inflated B & B prices and have had to make do with sleeping bags next on the ground and sleep on the streets to be able keep an eye on their merchandise. Until Friday, they add a spot near the cathedral where they could plug cell phones and water heaters, but the power has since been cut and Police officers kick them out of their sleeping bags in the mornings,
“I am a woman”, says Armani talking about her needs, “and I need a little privacy, or at least a quiet place I could take care of myself without being scared or disgusted.”

What the vendors did not say is that financial crisis has probably also affected their sales, with shoppers being more discriminating and having real budgets.
With all this fuss, you would think people will be so disappointed they will not be back. “I’m definitely not coming back next year,” Khenda said.

Sophiane Bengeloun is a University student from Senegal who’s in South Africa participating in the Future Journalist Programme (FJP) Winter School at Rhodes University.

No comments: