Call it a “street” car wash or be repulsed at the idea of having your posh car washed in the street or an area along the banks of a city stream, but these car washes in most of the city’s roads are something to write about.
They are not even close to fancy and you are not likely to find girls in skimpy tops and “bum-shorts” gambolling on car bonnets.
Rather, you get serious men at work, some of whom you would be tempted to think are homeless on account of their looks and attire. Car washing is one initiative that has been embraced to earn some dollars, with the activity now widespread across the CBD and at suburban shopping centres.
At many parking spaces youths can be seen carrying mutton cloth brooms, liquid soap and plastic containers with water mainly sourced from leaking pipes nearby.
They swoop down on motorists, first assisting them with finding a parking spot then hustle for a cleaning job. It is a busy Friday midday along Fife Avenue, an area that has been taken over by street vendors, who sell anything and everything there.
With so much ease and the craftsmanship of a seasoned car washer, a 17-year-old polishes a Mercedes G63 and occasionally steps away a few metres from the car as if he is in disbelief at the type of vehicle he is washing. After all, his pay-day and the possibility of extra cash for a job well done is dependent on how good the work he does on the vehicle is.
“If I do a good job, he will give me $35 for cleaning the car inside and outside, including polishing the tyres and wiping all the windows,” said Tawanda Mafusire. “He (owner of the vehicle) trusts me only to clean his car because the other boys steal whatever they find inside and he does not like that.”
It’s a school day and judging by his age, Tawanda should be at school like his peers, not washing cars.
One would assume that the youngster is just a delinquent that ran away from home to live off the streets and do odd jobs, or even engage in criminal activities like pickpocketing and snatching bags in the Avenues area. “I hate school.
I was never good at it, so what is the point of dragging myself to class every day when I do not even understand what the teachers would be saying.
“It is better that I come here, make some money and help my family,” he said.
There are hordes of young men like Tawanda that roam the streets of Harare asking for permission from motorists to wash their cars for a few dollars. Almost in every street in Harare, you find men offering parking space and there after negotiate with motorists to wash their cars.
From the area that the teenager operates from to the parking area in George Silundika Avenue, the parking bays at the now defunct Ximex Mall and the vicinity around Zimpost Office, men from as young as 15 can be seen soliciting to clean vehicles.
What started as a “part time job” cleaning cars has grown into a full time occupation for some men and they have no plans of leaving the street anytime soon.
According to another teenager, it is important to learn the tricks of the trade to survive in the competitive business of cleaning cars.
Known as Bilo by his peers, the teenager said he has been cleaning cars along George Silundika Avenue for over three years and considers himself a veteran in the business.
“We all have our regular clients, from cab drivers to some businesspeople with shops around this area.
“They leave their vehicles with us for cleaning, while they go to their respective workplaces. We have managed to create very good relationships with our customers.”
Because it is illegal to wash vehicles at undesignated places such as parking areas, municipal police officers are always on the lookout for offenders and issue out fines to those caught on the wrong side of the law.
“We do not use too much water in order not to attract the attention of city council officers, and it is always safe to look for a partner when cleaning a bigger vehicle so that it is ready when the owner is done with his business,” he added.
He says he makes around $80 on a good day. Weekends and public holidays are always the most lucrative.
“I have to buy polish for the tyres and cleaning detergents to do a good job, so I do not always spend all the money that I make.
“Some of the customers pay well while others always complain that we did not do a good job, just as an excuse to pay less, but we are used to it.”
The group of car washers wants their “territory” along George Silundika demarcated legally to enable them to conduct their business without harassment.
Some have ambitions of expanding into formal car washing and acquiring premises so they develop into full businesses.
Mushrooming car washes and street “garages” are a boon for the unemployed youths these days. Everywhere you go, youths have taken advantage of the influx of ex-Japanese vehicles to establish their makeshift car washes and street garages.
The good news is that by cleaning people’s cars the youths, not only beat unemployment, but become occupied, and, therefore, shy away from criminal activities.