AD385: COVID-19 lockdown a crisis for informal traders disadvantaged by government inaction

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Dispatches
2020
385
Simangele Moyo-Nyede and Stephen Ndoma

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many countries to take drastic actions to reduce its spread and impact. In Zimbabwe, a national lockdown in effect since late March has been eased to allow select industry and commerce to operate, but the informal sector remains locked down (Government of Zimbabwe, 2020).

While the lockdown may be a necessary evil, it represents a financial crisis for the three-quarters (76%) of the economically active population who earn their living in the informal sector (Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, 2020). If vendors and other self-employed workers are barred from leaving their homes to ply their trade, how are they to feed their families (Mukeredzi, 2020)? The government promised a once-off cushioning allowance of 200 ZWL to vulnerable people, but more than four months into the lockdown, only 202,000 of the 1 million households targeted for assistance had received it (Buckle, 2020; Mpofu, 2020).

Moreover, authorities in Zimbabwe’s major towns and cities have recently demolished thousands of vending stalls, purportedly in a campaign to clean up and renovate workspaces occupied by informal traders before post-lockdown business resumes (Kulkarni, 2020).

This one-two punch hits a portion of the population that was already vulnerable before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Afrobarometer surveys in 2017 and 2018, most Zimbabweans said the government was doing a poor job of addressing the needs of vendors and of creating jobs. Only one-fourth of respondents were employed, and more than half depended on buying and selling goods to make ends meet.

We explore how those in the informal sector struggled before the advent of the devastating pandemic and how their status is likely to be compounded by the twin problems of central government’s failure to address their needs and failure to create employment.