THREE men who had been making a living solely through gambling for a combined 15 years were at the crossroads last year in March when the Government imposed a national shutdown that resulted in bet shops closing down to contain the deadly Covid-19. The family men who relied on placing calculated bets on events and other games of chance were forced to adapt to continue putting food on the table.
Bet shops were excluded from essential service categories, amid fears of being super spreaders of Covid-19.
Mr Mike Dube (41), Mr Brilliant Hochi (37) and Mr Philemon Zindimu (34) virtually had 8 to 5 jobs as they would be at gambling shops like Moors, Sport Bet and Africa Bet early in the morning and only go home when the establishments shut down for the day.
Mr Dube had been living off gambling for seven years and once hit a US$6 000 jackpot while Mr Hochi had been providing for his family for five years and Mr Zindimu had been at it for three years. On average with luck on their side, the punters said, they could make up to US$200 every month.
Their livelihoods were destroyed almost overnight when Covid slammed the door shut on their “jobs.” Being technologically challenged, the trio could not follow various online betting platforms.
Literally faced with starvation, they quickly adapted into farming. Mr Dube has a thriving poultry project at Sigola Village where he sells batches of 100 birds after every month.
Mr Hochi made use of three hectares of land in Dibiya area that had been lying idle for years, which he inherited from his father. He has a tasselling maize crop on two and half hectares and soya beans. Mr Zindimu, on the other hand joined scores of mopane worm harvesters and has fifteen 50kg bags for sale.
They thanked Covid-19 for opening their eyes.
Speaking inside his fowl run, Mr Dube said he was forced to abandon betting due to containment restrictions imposed by the Government and ventured into poultry farming. The gambler turned poultry farmer said it was easier and more satisfying to make money in poultry.
“I have been in gambling for the past seven years but Covid-19 crushed my source of income. Every time I went into a Moors betting shop, I felt like I was at work like anybody working in an office. However, I can say I’m getting more satisfied with the steady income I’m getting now,” said Mr Mike.
“I started the project mid last year in June having realised that betting was no longer helping. Now I have 100 chicks which I bought today and more than 120 broilers on sale. Poultry farming, especially broilers, is a fast and profit-making business since chicks only take six weeks to mature,” said Mr Dube, laughing into his face mask.
A broiler goes for US$6 or R100. The farmer said on every batch he can get a profit of up to US$300 which he said is enough to sustain his family. He said the deadly pandemic came at an opportune time because he was struggling with a gambling addiction. Mr Dube said he found working with his hands therapeutic and believes he has overcome the insatiable need to gamble that bankrupted him twice and caused him to attempt suicide on two occasions.
“Betting seriously affected my health as I could not manage to spend a single day without placing a bet particularly online. I was a risk taker when it comes to gambling. I paid my children’s school fees with money from Moors betting company, particularly a jackpot. However, I’m appealing to other gamblers, if they can, not to lose hope in life during this hard time but develop legal projects to earn a good living,” said Mr Dube.
Mr Hochi of Makawasha suburb in Zvishavane said the lockdown had caused him to refocus on life and gambler vowed to continue with farming in Dibiya.
He said gambling in Zvishavane used to be his only source of income but it had been stopped by Covid-19.
Mr Hochi said he was grateful to his brother who invited him to join him in farming and make use of his piece of land.
“It’s great to have peer support from colleagues for one to conquer poverty. It’s not easy to leave gambling especially if you have been at it for years. I embraced Pfumvudza/Intwasa, a government programme which supported us with farming inputs. If things remain like this you won’t see me inside a betting shop again,” vowed Mr Hochi.
Mr Zindimu of Pumula suburb in Bulawayo, who favours dog racing at Africa Bet Shop located at corner Jason Moyo Street and 3rd Avenue in the city, is now selling Amacimbi to support his family. Every day before 8AM Mr Zindimu would be at the bet shop ready to cast his dice for the day.
He said he is experiencing a better life after the shutting down of physical betting establishments.
“Since last year August where movements were still restricted, I sneaked out of the city searching for mopane worms in some parts of Filabusi, Gwanda and Solusi area. Amacimbi/madora are on demand even right now because meat is very expensive especially to informal traders,” said Mr Zindimu.
A mopane worm seller said a full bucket cost US$20 and a sachet goes for $1. He said that he is not facing any financial challenge since the announcement of level four lockdown. He had 15 bags of dried mopane worms stocked at his home. −