Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in Masvingo are still finding it hard to pick themselves up from the negative effects of the great Covid-19 induced lockdowns which forced most non-essential small businesses to operate on a lower scale since last year.
In March 2020, the Zimbabwean government adopted the first lockdown measures, and the informal sector, excluding agriculture and farmers’ markets, was forced to shut down as a way of conforming to the rules and regulations.
International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2016 reported that an estimated 94.5% of the Zimbabwean population earns a living from informal trading. The latest report by Zimbabwe Statistics (Zimstat) report concurs with the IMF as it reported that 94.5% of the 6.3 million people defined as employed are working in the informal economy.
Women and youth constitute the greater percentage of players in the informal economy. Labour Force Survey cited in (LEDRIZ) of 2017 estimated that 53% of those in informal employment and 29% of those in formal employment in Zimbabwe were female.
In Masvingo province, the International Labour Organization (ILO) 2017 placed cross-border trading, vending, and agriculture among the main informal sectors in which women are participating. The outbreak of Covid-19 brought SMEs and informal traders to their knees, many small-scale and informal traders have shaky finances and they survive from hand to mouth.
Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) Masvingo Territory president Tavengwa Mazhambe said those who are in the informal market are affected by the Covid-19 induced inter-city and cross border travel bans that are in place which are pulling down the small businesses.
“Those who rely upon or get their orders from outside Masvingo city are affected by the ban on intercity travels. The ban is not sparing out cross-border traders. Most of our activities were left out of the essential services bracket, which becomes a challenge to us in Masvingo.
“Those who used to conduct their business at night like cooking food, selling goods at long distance and cross border buses have been affected by curfew hours. Those who sell their products from Garikai Vegetable market popularly known as Kuchitima were affected by the limited trading hours. They reach their workplace at 10 am -limited time to sell their products as business close at 1530hours. This is affecting the livelihoods of many people including the youths, women, and children,” said Mazhambe.
He added that the informal sector constitutes a huge chunk of the economy as compared to the formal one; therefore, the government should not criminalize it during this pandemic era.
“Informal sector is arguably a pillar of our economy. Informal traders (informal Sector) is above 94% in Masvingo as compared to the formal sector. Those who were formally employed in the formal sector are joining the informal sector due to the 40% workforce reduction in workplaces. The government should not criminalize it but the responsible ministry and some other responsible authorities should provide Covid-19 cushioning funds to the sector,” added Mazhambe.
During the first months of 2020 Lockdown restrictions, only essential services were allowed to operate, amid a surge of Coronavirus infections in the country.
Monica Hungwe (52) a female SME who operates at Masikati Garage in the Mucheke Light industry said the pandemic is shaking down her business and it is affecting her livelihood.
“The covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted my business and I can no longer pay my children’s fees in time and we no longer have the luxurious meals we used to have. I would like a marketplace in town so that l can get customers who pay the full amount of the item they would have bought,” said Hungwe.
Chairperson for the SMEs in Masvingo province Michael Taderera said the country’s policies and strategies should cater for the SMEs in times of disaster.
“We don’t want SMEs to be desperate when disasters come. We want SMEs to be regarded as essential service providers and paperwork should be done here in Masvingo not in Harare only. If it’s not possible for the paperwork to be done locally the ministry must tell us why? When we are in business not politics but some politicians misquote us when we call the responsible authorities to engage us in dialogues.
“Also the relationship between the council (municipality) and SMEs is sour and this is mainly caused by the old by-laws. The by-laws should be updated to fit with the current situation. The sour relationship has been worsened also by the pandemic,” said Taderera.
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises should explore ways of giving SMEs a rescue package to enable them to recuperate their small businesses from the series of lockdown shocks.