Food app rescue Diasporans

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Petronella Mabhena, a domestic worker in South Africa, has been paying bus drivers to ferry food to her relatives back home (Zimbabwe) for over a decade.

As with many other families from Zimbabwe whose members depend on food from South Africa, the supplies were abruptly halted when the two countries restricted movement across their border in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“I was confused and did not know what to do,” said Ms Mabhena (53) who sends food to her mother and daughter.

A friend told her about an app that lets people in South Africa order groceries for delivery in Zimbabwe, where prices for food and other essentials have soared amid a severe economic crisis.

Use of the app called Malaicha – Ndebele slang for the traditional way of sending goods over the border with bus and taxi drivers – surged in April, said its managing director, Sayjil Magan.

While the border has been closed to people and the taxis and buses that would normally ferry food informally, Malaicha is permitted to import goods into Zimbabwe, offering an alternative. About a year old, the app has yet to break even, in part because its costs, including trucks and warehousing, are higher than the typical digital start-up. But if its user base continues to grow, it could emerge as a rare winner from South Africa’s lockdown, one of the world’s most restrictive. —

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