Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 lockdown restrictions cripple vendors

By Nyaradzo Nyere 

Sixty-five-year-old Naume Muchemwa from Harare’s Southlea Park suburb wakes up daily at 4am to catch the first bus to the city’s busiest fresh produce market. 

For more than 10 years, Muchemwa has been a vendor, selling fruits and vegetables. 

But since last year, her trade hasn’t been the same. 

More recently, the travel and transportation restrictions put in place by the government in June, have seen Muchemwa spending more time trying to get transport as opposed to being at her vending stall.

“It’s a nightmare, usually in the morning l have to wake up early and board whatever kind of transport that l find,” she said.

“But l face the biggest challenge on my way back from Mbare Musika. 

“I usually walk from Mbare Musika up to ZBC while carrying the vegetables that l sell.”

Muchemwa said sometimes she is forced to board banned commuter omnibuses because the buses do not come on time.

The Zimbabwean government banned privately owned public transport providers as part of measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Only buses owned by the Zimbabwe Passenger Company (Zupco), and other public transport providers that were roped into a franchise arrangement by the state owned bus company, are allowed to operate.

The restrictions, however, have led to a serious shortage of public transport in urban areas.

“You need to be agile and move with speed to board these illegal commuter omnibuses because the police are always chasing (after) them,” Muchemwa said.

“But we have no option because transportation isn’t readily available. 

“At times l have to walk up to Rothmans which is about 5km from Mbare Musika.”

The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) in its latest Covid-19 Accountability Tracker, cited public transport as one of the areas where the government’s interventions to minimise the impact of Covid-19 have produced negative outcomes.

“The Covid-19 pandemic brought to the fore the deep socio-economic and structural challenges bedevilling the country, and it exposed how critical social service delivery systems and structures had been dysfunctional over the past decades,” ZPP said.

The ZPP said Covid-19 has affected millions of people that were  dependent on the informal economy and contract and casual workers in the formal sectors, with women being the worst affected. 

Closure of informal economy businesses, marketplaces and vending sites deprived them of their sources of livelihoods and incomes.

The lockdown has not only affected Muchemwa, but other vendors across the country.

Emmanuel Manyati, director of Better Life Foundation, an organisation that works in the rural areas of Mashonaland East says small scale farmers have been restricted in movement.

“Areas such as Mutoko are well known for market gardening, travel restrictions from city to city definitely affects farmers as they face transportation challenges to sell their produce to Mbare.

We call upon the government to come up with mechanisms to ensure smooth flow of such agriculture sectors,” Manyati said.

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