Timing is important, if you are selling to beer drinkers. Too early, and they won’t buy. Later on – when they crave something salty, you are in business
By Dr Eddie Mahembe
For us who grew up in arid areas of Zaka in Masvingo, catching mice 🐁 was a truly rewarding exercise. On one hand, mice was an important source of protein and on the other boys would charm beautiful girls. But it was also a business!
When I was around 10 years old, while in Grade 5, I decided to take the catching, preparing and selling of mice seriously. I wanted to raise money for my very first school uniform and shoes. I was attending school at Museki Primary School and I had never had school uniform nor shoes since Grade 1. The only consolation was that I was not the only one in my class or the entire school.
Mice are caught at night. Therefore I would go to our fields and neighbors’ soon after school to set up mice traps (mariva).
Early in the morning, before going to school, I would go and retrieve the mice (kupikura mariva). With improvement in my skill, and the number or traps, my average catch improved from around 10 to 50 or even 80 per day.
Time permitting, I would prepare the mice but my mother would do the preparation which included delicately removing the hair and intestines.
Today would want to share some important business lessons I learned in the village, through this mice-catching venture.
According to Zimbabwe’s richest man, Strive Masiyiwa, the three most important skills in business are to read, count and sell. Through my mice catching business, I learnt more than these three business skills.
1. Preparation and packaging
Mice catching is a lot of work, which needs skill, dedication, discipline and good time management. For example, you can only set the traps towards sunset, when the cattle have been put in the kraals, otherwise cattle will trip your traps.
However, there is a very small window between the time you start and the darkness of the evening.
Remember, we didn’t have torches or even cellphones.
So in a space of around 2 hours you have to set up as many traps, which are far away from each other, as possible.
Without the skill, you can even spend 10 minutes on one trap or even injure your fingers. This was delicate work which has to be done in a very short period.
2. Preparation and Packaging
As you know, a mouse is hairy, no sane customer would want to eat a mouse full of those hairs. On the other hand, the mouse’s skin is so thin that in trying to remove the hair, you might end up removing the flesh (the main meat). So one has to devise a method which only removes the hair and leave the meat not only intact but looking appetising!
The best approach was to use moderate fire, usually made of firewood. We called this entire process kubvura nekutumbura (removing the hair and intestines).
For the best results, you had to do one mouse at a time. My mother or siblings used to help on this, otherwise with a bigger catch, one would need several hours.
After this process, the mice would have to be cooked.
The biggest tricky was to make sure that you put the right amount of salt and pepper for your clients.
My niche market was beer drinkers, and they needed higher dosages salt and pepper. It’s important to know your clients’ needs and expectations.
The last stage was to make the mice into biltong (kusasika). This is a very important stage because the majority of the clients did not like it when it was too soft.
Secondly, if the mouse becomes too dry, it’s size would shrink and therefore would fetch a lower price.
Balancing these two competing demands would need skill and dexterity. One has to deliver what the client wants and also make sure that you get the highest level of income possible.
Nicely packaged, delicious looking and bigger mice would attract the attention of buyers and fetch you a good return.
4. Selling and Marketing
Good preparation and packaging will go a long was in guaranteeing a good day at the market.
However, because the main buyers were beer drinkers one had to be strategic, especially the time to approach them. If you approach them too early, they might not buy as they are more focused on the main matter at hand: drinking. If you approach them too late, they might have become too drunk (and become too argumentative) and broke.
They will be bargaining too much! Timing was therefore important. Just when the beer was going down soothingly, you wouldn’t need to convince them that they needed something salty and chilli.
4. Credit Control and Management
Despite how much you want to avoid selling on credit, there will be some who would forcefully take and say ‘I will pay you tomorrow’ or ‘come and take your money at home’. You will need to keep a record of all debtors and follow diligently.
During my boywood, the Zimbabwe Dollar was really strong, and one mouse was being sold at around 30 cents for small and 50 cents for bigger ones.
Once you get the precious cash, it was also important to keep it safely. I thank God for our mother who would keep it safely.
5. Doing Big Things with Small Money
One of the biggest separators between boys going somewhere in life and those without a future was how they use their own personal money.
The majority would use it to buy sweets and the older boys could even buy beer and cigarettes. I always wanted to do big things.
When I was in Grade 5, I made a decision to generate enough money to buy myself school uniform (short, shirt and shoes). Remember this business is seasonal and to raise such amount of money is a tall order. With a lot of hard work, thrift, delayed gratification and mommy’s encouragement, I managed to buy myself my very first school uniform at Jerera Growth Point.
Unfortunately, the money was not enough to afford the shoes.
This article is part of a series from my upcoming Autobiography (Book) by Dr Eddie Mahembe titled ‘Hope, Perceive, realise. The Sunday Express will run selected chapters in the coming weeks in the run-up to the launch, scheduled around December 2021
Dr Eddie Mahembe is a Development Economist. He holds a PhD in (Development) Economics, MCom in Economics, BCom Honours in Econometrics and BSc. Honours in Economics. He can be reached on Email: email@example.com and/or WhatsApp +27 60 532 8754.