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Life After COVID-19 Lockdowns: Informal Traders Struggling to Recover

Hwange informal traders struggle to recover post COVID-19 lockdowns. Image by The News Report

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | OCT 4, 2022

Informal traders who, before the emergence of COVID-19, were able to raise enough cash to feed their families, are struggling to make ends meet. For a majority of them, illegal vending provides temporary relief but isn’t the ultimate solution.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — It’s a Saturday afternoon. Mavis Nkomo touts for customers as she displays some clothes to attract people passing by the road. Nkomo sells second hand clothes in Lwendulu, a suburb near the Hwange main bus terminus. Nkomo only comes to this spot during sunset. During the day she will be vending around the compound.

“Things changed during the 2020/21 lockdowns which were long. COVID-19 was killing people and we appreciated the directives by the government to lock all the activities for our safety and health. However, Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) continued charging and demanding the rentals despite the fact that we were not doing business,” says Nkomo.

In March 2020, the central government declared a national lockdown. The lockdowns were reviewed fortnightly and people were confined to their homes and only essential service providers were allowed to work. Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) continued charging monthly rental on its market stalls despite a plea by vendors. A majority of the vendors failed to pay their rent and were evicted.

Annamore Shoko, a vendor, said the Colliery Company was inconsiderate.

“This is the time where everyone was home and literally locked down. We needed to focus on our health. But, to HCCL, a company we respect so much, it was about money. I wonder how and where they think we were to get rentals. It was a misinformed decision.”
Annamore Shoko, a vendor

During the same period, the government decreed through a statutory instrument that tenants were exempted to pay rentals at least for three months. Tenants would pay the dues when the country eases the restrictions allowing the economy to open. Trymore Mutale, a local social development consultant says the Colliery Company did not comply.

"Despite being a government entity it failed to comply. The decision reversed many gains which the Colliery Company had made before the COVID-19 pandemic in establishing order and sanity in the town. Now, every unoccupied place is being invaded by illegal vendors, the once stall owners,” says Mutale.

Well before the COVID‐19 pandemic, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Colliery police were having operations that made street vending increasingly challenging. Yet, vending continues to support thousands of urban households in Hwange. Most of the harassed street vendors could not secure market stalls as places were fully occupied.

HCCL was reached for comment, but the companies press relations department had not responded to questions sent by The Citizen Bulletin at the time of publication.

During the lockdowns when most of the market vendors failed to pay rentals, the desperate street vendors occupied the stalls and strived to pay until the market places were opened again.

“It was not easy. But, I needed the place, so I had to risk my health by continuing with street vending during the lockdown to pay rentals at the market. Sometimes, I approached loan sharks to cover the rentals.”
Betty Ncube, a vendor in Lwendulu

ALSO READ: COVID-19 is Almost Done , But Hwange Health Sector Remains in Tatters

During a listening session organized by The Citizen Bulletin and the Rooted in Trust 2.0 Project, vendors said drastic income cuts meant they could no longer afford to send remittances to families in their rural hometowns forcing them to opt for black market loans to supplement their meagre incomes. But the loans attract exorbitant interest rates and sometimes incurred threats of physical violence. Some had borrowed informally before the pandemic, and then found themselves in strife during the first lockdown.

“It was a hard time, even to take our inventories and try to sell them at home, we were unable to reduce sale prices due to minimal profit margins already, of course some ended up discounting their goods but it was a loss,” said Eunice Dube, a vendor.

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