Pandemic piles pressure on ‘dollar-a-day’ survivors

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AT THEIR peak, commuter omnibus drivers and conductors bragged about netting double the salary of teachers within a month, but the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has pauperised and silenced the raucous individuals.

Their story mirrors the larger image of society, where many people who survive on “less than a dollar a day”, are finding it hard to make ends meet during the national lockdown.

“For the six weeks that I have been at home I have used all the money which I had. When the lockdown started, we had not anticipated it would take this long and every cent that I had saved has been wiped out.

“I normally get paid every week, and the money goes straight to food and rent.
“I have no bank account, where I can say I had any savings, like some businesspeople and well-paid people do.
“Right now I have been struggling to buy food or even pay rent, because I have no other means of making money,” 36-year-old Trymore Gumbo, a commuter omnibus driver, said.

When he went through a similar experience in 2008, when the country suffered a serious economic meltdown, Gumbo briefly fled to South Africa, where he got a job to meet the demands of his family.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic, the borders are closed and there is no other option, leaving Gumbo and millions others at the mercy of the trials and tribulations brought about by the virus which originated in Wuhan Province, China, and traversed all the corners of the world.

He said his story resonates with that of his peers, who have also been grounded over the past six weeks.
While the government relaxed the lockdown regulations last Friday, which allowed formal commercial and industrial businesses to open, commuter omnibuses have not been allowed to operate, except for a few government-registered buses owned by the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) and a few private players registered under the government-owned company arrangement.

With over 85 percent unemployment rate, Zimbabwe’s economy is largely informal, with millions owning vending stalls and involved in informal money-making businesses.

All these people have not yet been allowed to operate under the relaxed conditions, inflicting more misery in their lives in an already bad economic situation.

This was also made worse by the government’s decision to demolish stalls of illegal vendors, who have been surviving on these market places.

Namibia-based political analyst Admire Mare said the lockdown regulations had disrupted people’s livelihoods and spelt doom for many in the informal sector.

“Most of the people will not be able to restock after the lockdowns while others will have no market stalls to go back to after they were demolished.

“The situation presents a cocktail of socio-economic crises that the country will have to deal with once lockdown is lifted.

“Some of the informal traders will struggle to send their children to school and pay rentals because they survive from hand to mouth,” Mare said.

Without a precise direction on when the current lockdown measures are likely to be lifted and though it is a necessary evil, it has left a number of families in limbo, with no idea where to get the next meal.

Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said the lockdown was pushing people into a poverty abyss, with chances of triggering civil strife due to economic desperation.

“The lockdown just pushed people into deeper poverty as most people were just a day or $1 away from abject poverty. It’s sad.

“We are likely to have civil strife as a result of economic desperation if nothing is done to provide relief and bailouts to small businesses and social grants to the poorest people,” he said.

Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, said the lockdown was a devastating economic blow to the majority of the people in Zimbabwe, especially those who survive through the informal sector.

“And for some strange reason when the government talks about relaxing the lockdown measures, this does not accommodate the mainstream economy in Zimbabwe, which is in fact the informal sector and not necessarily the formal sector.

“There is increased lack of food, leading to malnutrition, leading to complications amongst those vulnerable groups in our society, many of whom were already suffering from a lack of public service, be it water and other amenities,” Mukundu said.

He said Zimbabwe has a significantly high rate of people living with HIV who need food, medicine, water and other basic necessities.

“We will come out of this Covid-19 pandemic with significantly increased cases of extreme poverty, amongst the majority of our people, which may exacerbate social tensions, which may result in more polarisation, protests and of course attacks on the government for its failures to address the economic problems,” he said.

The analysts’ sentiments also come after the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) recently raised concerns over the demolitions of vendors’ stalls.

“We condemn in the strongest terms, the demolition of vending stalls in markets in Harare, we recommend a progressive and consultative approach to the sector that literally holds over 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s economy.

“We remind government that in all provinces across Zimbabwe, informal traders are highly organised and fully capable of meaningful and progressive engagement. Government should therefore play an appropriate role in facilitating and supporting a broad-based engagement practice.

“We call upon government to resist the temptation, to set a standard, of the re-organisation of the informal trading spaces, which is driven and facilitated by a non-consultative and non-response approach,” WCoZ said.

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