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Covid-19: Life hard for street vendors

Covid-19: Life hard for the street vendors

Vendors selling their fruits : (Photo: APA-EFE/Aaron Ufemedi

The life of street vendors continues to be hard because of COVID-19 restrictions. The Christian Voice went into the streets and interviewed some vendors. Street vending is associated with crowding, which is generally against social distancing as prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Care. 

Some vendors said that the COVID-19 regulations are repressive and a violation of human rights. Talking to Tendai Gova, a vendor along 6th street in Bulawayo said life has become a nightmare.

“My life as a vendor changed since the start of COVID-19. When the government announced a lockdown last year I kept my goods at home and only a few people that knew me came to buy from home. When we came back to the streets, life has been hard. We are always on the run, as the Bulawayo city council Police is always on our case for selling illegally. I have had my goods confiscated by the same police, and that killed all my profits.”

A male vendor who requested anonymity pointed out that, street vending has now become a hard craft and requested that the government be kind and human enough and consider their plights.

“Life is now hard. Government should provide jobs so that we stop vending. If they can’t, we should not be stopped from it. If I stay at home you die of hunger. I know COVID-19 is there, but I think more should be done, other than just being chased from the streets every day”, he said.

He further said the best way out as vendors is to bribe the authorities so that they continue to sell and that seems to have become a norm in Zimbabwe.

“Most of the times, we bribe the city council police and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, so that we can continue selling. We do that even when we have been arrested. Your money frees you.” he laughed out.

The Bulawayo Tredgold area is famous for money changers (Osiphatheleni). This place is also known as the World Bank, and is replete with money changers. The Christian Voice interviewed some of them and the issue of bribing the police is commonplace.

“I would rather bribe the police and stay out of custody, and continue doing my business. Children need food and school fees and where do you expect me to get that from?" asked one money changer.

In a twitter comment, the award winning journalist and human rights activist Hopewell Chin'ono said lockdowns won’t work because most people get their livelihoods through buying and selling. 

"Lockdowns ONLY work if there is testing and use of high efficacy vaccines! They ONLY work when there is a social welfare net so that people can stay at home. In Zimbabwe the majority survive on a day to day hustle, lockdowns won’t work! Unless you want them to die from hunger!"

A novelist, playwright, and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga also commented showing that vendors are in a catch-22 situation, where they have to fend for their families through vending, but at the same time are told to stay home.

"In our conditions, lockdowns criminalize most people's subsistence activities.  Strange that this isn't common knowledge in spite of public discussion on the matter.  Perhaps a sign of hope- and helplessness: if we do lockdown, at least we can say we did something?”, said Dangarembga.

According to a report by the BBC last  over, 100 000 people were arrested for violating COVID-19 regulations  which are aimed are reducing or curbing the spread of Corona Virus. Most people are arrested for not wearing masks, unnecessary movement or breaking the curfew rules. 

Zimbabwe is based on the informal economy which makes many people depend on vending, and money changing. Vending is at loggerheads legality and informality. Streetpreneurship is now the order of the day in Zimbabwe.

Most of the youths and graduates are unemployed leaving most of them to be involved in vending. It is estimated that over 90% of Zimbabwe’s population is not formally employed and COVID-19 has worsened the situation as these restrictions affect their informal trade.

According to the ZimStates the Food Poverty Line  (FPL)  for one person in May 2021 was $4,139.00. This adds up to $24 834 for an average family of six. On average, most employed people are getting paid less than that, making it hard to make ends meet thereby by resorting to street vending.

The cases of COVID-19 continue to soar in Zimbabwe.  The Ministry of health and Child care, reports that as of 07 July 2021, “Zimbabwe had 60 227 confirmed cases, including 42 330 recoveries and 1 973 deaths. To date, a total of 819 058 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

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