Zimbabwe’s informal traders’ battle for survival amid Covid lockdowns

By Bernard Mpofu

Its 15:30hrs and several people can be seen in a beeline coming out of a popular supermarket in Harare’s Mabelreign suburb.

Some look dejected after they were turned away because the supermarket was closing for the day in line with the new Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

Momentarily, a few cars are seen pulling over close to the supermarket and before long vehicle boots are opened and business commences again. 

The vehicle boots are full of agriculture produce being sold to passers-by. 

Others are discretely selling alcoholic beverages as police officers deployed at the station within the shopping business centre ensure that bars remain closed.

For some astute traders, social media platforms have become marketing tools for selling goods that are ordinarily sold at supermarkets that have to close early because of the lockdown restrictions.

While Harare’s central business district will be deserted after 6pm, some shrewd informal traders are making a killing in townships under the cover of darkness.

Soldiers, who in the past were manning checkpoints, are now playing a lesser role as municipal police have taken over to enforce Covid-19 restrictions.

For vendors with no cars, running battles with authorities have become the order of the day.

With property owners not extending any reprieve to the downtrodden Zimbabweans, hustling and moonlighting has become the only way to eke out a living.

Samuel Wadzai, Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation director, said vendors continued to bear the brunt of economic turmoil caused by lockdowns.

“The fact that we are unable to go to markets and operate means reduced income,” Wadzai said.

“Already we are coming from a situation where most informal traders were struggling to restock after the initial lockdowns and this latest one has simply exacerbated our plight.

“We are further witnessing the demolitions that are being conducted by local authorities, which have caused a lot of suffering for the already crippled informal sector. 

“What is needed is an inclusive approach in addressing the challenges being faced by players in the sector not demolition of markets.” 

He added: “The government needs to come in and inject money into the informal sector and assist players in the sector to rekindle their operations. 

“It is our considered belief that social security for the informal sector should not be done through haphazard or piecemeal interventions that are not guided by policy, as they are then subject to abuse and patronage due to the lack of safeguards. 

“We have in the past tabled a policy paper on a comprehensive social security scheme proposal for the informal sector and have availed ourselves for consultations with (Public Service and Social Welfare minister Paul Mavima’s) the ministry, something we hope he will take us up on.”

National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe chairperson Stern Zvorwadza said government should assist informal traders whose savings have dried up during the lockdowns.

The World Bank last month said the outbreak of Covid-19 had pushed 1,3 million Zimbabweans into extreme poverty.

In its Zimbabwe economic update titled: Overcoming Economic Challenges, Natural Disasters, and the Pandemic: Social and Economic Impacts, the World Bank said the number of extremely poor citizens now stood at 7,9 million or 49 percent of the country’s population.

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