Zimbabwe’s prolonged lockdowns hit the self-employed hard

By Nyaradzo Nyere 

On a normal school day Felix Mauwa wakes up early in the morning to pick school children. 

Mauwa (70), a retired bus driver, drops the children off at various schools in Harare and waits for them to knock off for him to take them back home. 

That has been his source of income since he left active employment.

“For the past five years l have managed to put food on the table for my family,” Mauwa said.

The prolonged lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid-19, however, is threatening his only source of income.

Last month, Zimbabwe delayed the re-opening of schools by two weeks as Covid-19 cases skyrocketed. 

On July 13, the government deferred the start of the new term by another two weeks citing the rising infections and deaths.

“When schools are closed it essentially means that there is no income for us,” Mauwa lamented.

He is part of scores of Zimbabweans whose incomes have been grossly affected by the lockdowns. 

Thousands of self employed people such as Mauwa provide services to school children such as transportation and the prolonged school closures mean their income has dried up.

According to a research published by the Sivio Institute, a local independent organisation focused on ensuring that citizens are at the centre of processes of economic-political-economic and policy change, 90 percent of businesses in Zimbabwe are in the informal sector. 

The report says the lockdowns will increase the vulnerability of households that rely on the informal businesses for income.

While the government promised to avail an informal sector cushion fund to help informal business owners survive during the lockdown, no meaningful financial assistance has been received so far.

Emma Ncube,  a member of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, said people in the informal economy were on their own as the government was failing to provide safety nets.

“At the moment there is nothing,” Ncube said. “During the last lockdown in March 2020 we had very few people that benefitted from the $600 million given to the Public Service and Social Welfare ministry to assist informal traders, the elderly and child headed families,” Ncube said.

She said recent public hearings into the disbursement of the funds revealed that very few people had benefited.

“Truly speaking very few confirmed that they got the $300 each,” Ncube said.

“The statistics from the ministry are not clear and we are not sure whether the money reached the intended recipients.”

Samuel Wadzai, Vendors Initiative for Socio Economic Transformation director, said the extended lockdown will worsen the plight of informal workers and small business owners.

“The government is not doing enough,” Wadzai said. “We expected them to put in place sound social protection mechanisms to cushion the informal actors, but this hasn’t been done.” 

Mauwu said while waiting for business to resume, he was being forced to rely on handouts.

“l have become dependent on family, friends and church members for survival until l get back on my feet,” he said.

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