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Post Covid-19 Recovery For Informal Traders Takes Centre Stage

By Shingirai Vambe

A lot of Zimbabwean informal traders and various emerging enterprises have not fully recovered from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which started over 2 years ago with various stakeholders meeting this past week lay a framework for the operationalisation of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) sponsored pilot project meant to rebuild social lives in the country.

The week-long workshop at a local hotel in Harare, saw the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises, local authorities, traders unions and financial institutions put recommendations to find a common ground on the operations of informal traders.

The IMF ranks Zimbabwe as the second highest informal economy in the world after Bolivia at over 61 percent.

The program by UNDESA is being undertaken in 2 countries in Africa including in Zimbabwe and in other 2 Asian nations to benefit in proposed pilot projects in rebuilding the social lives of people, traders, women and people with disabilities to be self-sustainable.

UNDESA launched 2 different projects on “Strengthening National Capacities for Enhancing Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Resilience and Building Forward Better to Accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Zimbabwe” and on Strengthening Resilience of MSEMs in Africa and Asia”.

Stakeholder who participated at the workshop bemoaned the obtaining economic crisis in the country marred by rising inflation and rapid currency devaluation which are a thorn in the flesh for business players.

It was also noted that majority of the traders are not registered because of strenuous process required which are also very costly.

Shelton Sithole of Bulawayo City Council, Planning department told delegates at the event that vendors have been the hard hit and have been forced to create markets in their homes because of shrinking market space attributed to the need for social distancing, responding to covid-19 protocols.

“There was nothing we could do, just like any other town and cities we were forced to close, restructure and open other spaces to accommodate our traders, but as you know the number has massively grown, we failed to accommodate majority of them and it’s thus my proposal that we look to other possibilities,” said Sithole.

Shelton Sithole:BCC planning department

To solve this problem, Sithole proposed the utilisation of abandoned industries in the city.

“Bulawayo just like other cities, due to the crumbling economic situation is left with empty privately owned warehouses and industrial space, it will be prudent enough to look at this opportunity to grow and formalize the various work of traders across the country.”

He further highlighted possibilities of creating movable structures for traders to ensure orderliness in the cities.

People with disabilities represented at the workshop said they were not recognized, as structures and facilities put in places for traders are hardly considerate of their conditions.

It was also noted that representative organs should also include them so as to include other required amenities for their constituency.

However, despite the ministry of women affairs having two financing arms, the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance bank (ZWMB) and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Corporation (SMEDCO) it was apparent that most traders were not aware of the existence of these facilities meant to bridge the funding gap.

Most commercial banks tend to shun small enterprises citing huge risks, a situation that has made it difficult for small traders to access financing.

Following a tour by the Parliamentary Portifolio Committee on Women Affairs chaired by Mutasa legislator, Chido Madiwa and Thematic Committee on Indigenization, it appears there is a massive information gap among most small traders.

Then there is the challenge of market space barons and political activists working in corhoot with local authorities who constantly disrupt operations of traders.

Bulawayo representative, Shelton Sithole said the relationship that is there between council and traders in Bulawayo is something that should be emulated.

“Nothing for us without us, everything that is in place between traders and the council, is because of the engagement meetings and relations in place. The fees which are being used, even the payment in US dollars it was their proposals,” said Sithole.

In other cities, there is no harmony between MSEMs and Municipal police as they play cat and mice everyday. This has resulted in many vendors losing their merchandise and making it difficult to survive and in some instances to repay loans which are already at high interest rates of 10% per month or 120% annually.

However the Vaidah Mashangwa who came in to represent the Permanent secretary in the ministry of women affairs encourage informal traders to formalize their operations for sustainability of their businesses and also be able to attract financing.

Delegates at the workshop noted with concern that the parent ministry lack innovation and has no clue of the people or product or database while it also doesn’t liaise with local authorities who deal with traders on a daily basis.

Amson Sibanda, Chief National Strategies Development Building Division for Sustainable development goals UNDESA said to get back on track and recover from social dislocation and economic contractions caused by covid-19 pandemic, it is imperative that countries focus on rebuilding better and stronger by pursuing policy choices that enhance sustained, inclusive and equable growth. These policy choices have to equally focus on MSMEs.