Kabeera: Masaka’s newspaper vendor wants to do job for life

Mr Matia Kabeera displays newspapers to attract customers in April. PHOTO/MICHEAL J SSALI

What you need to know:

  • The experienced vendor has an interesting story to tell about his work during the two successive Covid-19 lockdowns. 

Many travelers that often make a stop-over at Total Fuel highway restaurant in Nyendo suburb, Masaka City and are regular newspaper readers must be familiar with his face. 

Matia Kabeera, 58, has been a newspaper vendor in Masaka City all his adult life. 
“The Monitor is celebrating 30 years, but for me I was selling newspapers even before its inception .The newspapers we sold back then are no more. They included Uganda Times, Munno, Taifa Empya, Musizi, Weekly Topic, and Ngabo. And in those days, very few people had access to radios and TVs and most people had to buy newspapers and magazines to really follow what was taking place in the country,” he reminisces. 

However, for the last 42 years, Kabeera’s main station has been at Nyendo Total highway restaurant near the round-about.  
He spends his day moving from one vehicle to another in a bid to find buyers. 

Most vehicles stop at the fuel station to refill their tanks while other drivers head to the restaurant to grab a bite. 
The main newspapers today that make up his stock are Daily Monitor, East African, New Vision, Bukedde, Red Pepper, Bwino, and Observer.

“I enjoy my work because I am paid daily,” he says in an interview. “The good thing with newspaper selling is that at the end of each working day, the newspaper vendor goes home with his money. We earn a commission from every copy sold. The more newspapers we sell, the more we earn,” he says. 
Kabeera wakes up to report to the newspaper agent in Masaka City where he picks the newspapers before heading to his work place.

The 58-year-old is not happy with the arrival of the Internet. 
He said: “I have told you about people getting the news from radios and TVs, this is not helpful to us as newspaper vendors. The problem is a lot bigger these days because more people read the newspapers on their phones and computers, which has reduced the sales so badly. I don’t know why a newspaper gives out all the news it prints to the phones and computers.” 

As a child, Kabeera reveals he spent four years in school and only learnt how to read. 

During the lockdown

The experienced vendor has an interesting story to tell about his work during the two successive Covid-19 lockdowns. 

“Most people stopping to buy the newspapers required me to wear hand gloves while others began with spraying the entire front page and back page with disinfectant (sanitiser), especially where I had touched, before unfolding it for reading. Yet many others would pay me with big notes, like Shs5,000 or Shs10,000 and refuse to receive the balance from me out of fear of catching Covid-19. A copy of a newspaper such as Daily Monitor costs only Shs2,000. They would let me keep the change,” he said.

Friends made
His job has also given him the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the country’s big shots.
 “The Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga, now knows me personally and whenever he passes by he calls me by my name and often gives me something that keeps me going for days,” Kabeera says.

He says he came to know Mr  Mayiga when he was still a practising lawyer.  He adds: “This is his home area [Masaka] and many times he stopped over for meals here. Sometimes he had cases to handle in the court at Masaka.”

Kabeera also says the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, who is also Nyendo/Mukungwe legislator, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, is his friend. 

“He also knows my name and he tells me to keep the change whenever he buys any newspapers from me yet in most cases he gives me quite big notes,” he says.

His other friend is Bishop Serverus Jjumba of Masaka Diocese.  “God will always bless that man, and I am so happy that he became bishop,” Kabeera says. He adds: “He was one of my best customers before he became bishop, always buying Daily Monitor and New Vision. I don’t see him very often nowadays, but this must be because I think it is other people who go out to buy newspapers for his office.”

He is also an acquaintance with Patrico Mujuuka, a presenter on Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) Radio. “We met right here at my work place as my customer and time and again when I am listening to the radio, I hear him calling out my name and sending me regards. People around here also hear him and they joke and laugh about it, telling me that I am very well-known and famous.”

The rising costs of living has, however, made Kabeera’s job less paying. 
“On average, I get a commission of Shs250 per copy of the newspaper that I sell and that amount has not been raised despite the rise in boda boda charges. Every day I must put aside Shs8,000 for my boda boda transport, but these days that amount of money is no longer enough,” he says.
He rents a house at Ndegeya Trading Centre in Masaka City, where he lives together with his family. 

Kabeera hopes to build a house one day in the plot of land that he bought 10 years ago.  Kabeera is a father of seven children, two daughters that are now married, three boys, who live and work in Kampala. Two of his sons are in Senior Four and one daughter is in Senior Two at Mbira Secondary School in Masaka City, where his wife works as a cook.