Lockdown Relegates Vendors Into Economic Doldrums
Dressed in a torn and tattered dress and Tommy tennis shoes that exposed her two small toes, Susan Mushauripo from Goromonzi ran from one street corner to another playing hide and seek with Harare Municipal police officers who were on a mission to arrest anyone seen selling anything in the streets of the capital city in this lockdown period.
The lady could be seen taking cover from building walls, with her dish full of lemon and avocado fruits patched on her head.
For Mushauripo, a single mother of two sons, everything seemed normal as this has become a daily activity of their vending business in the city.
As soon as the “blue army” as they call them disappears, Mushauripo and other vendors could be seen taking their positions ready to resume business.
For days now, the single mother has tried to raise money to buy mealie meal which is not readily available on the shelves in shops. Where it’s available, the owners will be asking for US$5 to US$6 on the black market. However, this has proven to be beyond her reach.
The product, Zimbabwe’s staple food, is in short supply following a devastating drought that the country has experienced four farming seasons running.
“I sell second hand clothes for five years now. When the lockdown stated, I had just used all my capital to get more clothes. Now everyone is focusing on buying food and I can’t sell my clothes to anyone yet I need money to buy food for my children.
“I desperately need maize-meal now,” bitterly said Mushauripo dropping a tear.
Nine weeks into national lockdown that started from Level 5, and has now moved into Level 2 in a country battling a serious economic crisis, the exercise has left hundreds of Zimbabweans poverty stricken and counting loses further plunging the vulnerable into doldrums.
The situation has taken off people from their usual day to day activities which is their cash cow in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Recently, President Emmerson Mnangagwa urged all citizens to stay at home, with the exception of those seeking health services, buying food, medicine and vital suppliers, formal sector and those manning essential services.
“l know that these measures may seem drastic, and will upset all of our daily lives, but there is no other way,” said Mnangagwa, two weeks after declaring a “national disaster” and banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
To date the country has 178 confirmed cases of people who tested positive to COVID-19, four deaths and 28 recoveries.
The outbreak of the novel virus has posed a threat to millions of Zimbabweans who have been living from buying and selling amid soaring prices of basic commodities, stagnant salaries, depleted health delivery system, water shortages just to mention a few.
In December last year, the World Food Programme warned that Zimbabwe was facing its worst hunger crisis in 10 years with half of the population, seven million people failing to secure food.
“We are hungry and if the government does not intervene, we will surely die,” said Mushauripo.
Informal traders are on the verge of being mentally dysfunctional as most of them, who are breadwinners, depend on informal jobs to put food on the table.
“I was hoping that maybe the government has a plan for our families to survive during the lockdown. I have tried to look for avocados from a family friend’s tree so I can sell and buy mealie-meal but I can’t sell enough since I am always running away from the police who are roaming the streets,” added Mushauripo.
“I don’t know how I will be surviving during the lockdown period, we will experience the worst if they extend the lockdown,” said the single mother sobbing uncontrollably.
Mushauripo, whose daily diet comprises three meals of sadza, a corn paste, and vegetables cried that it has been a challenge to put food on the table for her kids since the lockdown started.
“I can’t afford to buy basic commodities since prices are going up everyday. My children are now used to soya mince and vegetables which are the only things that I can still afford for now. Meat is now going for ZWL$180 per kg and this has gone beyond my rich,” she added.
In an interview with Sekuru Mambire of Goromonzi who suffered stroke in 2018, said he is failing to get his routine check-ups and access his medication due to the lockdown.
“I suffered stroke in 2018 and have been taking my medication with the assistance of my niece paying for most of the expenses. It’s very hard now for me to continue getting the medication as the pharmacy is now charging in US dollars and she can’t afford that right now especially during this lockdown.
“I have since stopped taking the medication and will see if I can get any after lockdown. I know my God will be my keeper for now,” said Sekuru Mambire.
Serira Bisenti of Goromonzi who sells thatching grass said she has not sold any of her stuff as most of her clients are no travelling due to lockdown rules which restrict movement.
“I have piles of thatching grass but I don’t have buyers yet. The lockdown is slowing down my business at the same time I need to secure food and other basics to survive,” said Bisenti.
“As for medication, lm in need of medication and lm now skipping days to save the medicine so it can last throughout the lockdown,” Bisenti added.
Zimbabwe’s annual inflation soared to more than 500 percent in February.
The unemployment rate stands at more than 90 percent, medicines are scarce, and depleted state coffers mean that the government is unable to purchase sufficient supplies for the already weakened state-run medical facilities.
Zimbabwe is now in its eighth week and the Government has not released funds to assist vulnerable people who are in dire need of assistance.
Recently, Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Permanent Secretary Simon Masanga said the first payout of the relief fund will go to 90 000 citizens.
“I can confirm that Treasury has given us funds to send to people who have been approved. The money is with my ministry and as I speak they have begun sending the money,” Mr Masanga said.
“I was given money for 200 000 people, so after we are done with sending money to the 90 000, we will proceed to the remaining 110 000. I think the other beneficiaries will be getting their money next week around Tuesday,” Mr Masanga said.
However, the indefinite extension of lockdown by President Mnangagwa will continue to hurt the vulnerable and further plunge them into doldrums.