By Nyaradzo Bakari
After becoming a widow at the age of 35, Gloria Ruwadza (40) was left with the responsibility of taking care of her three children and two nieces.
The first two years were manageable because her husband had left her some inheritance and her in-laws were able to help when they could but the economy got tougher yet her children still needed to eat, get clothes and go to school.
Being unemployed and uneducated, the widow ventured into the fast-growing informal sector where she imported second hand clothing (amabhele/khothama) for resale.
The past three years in the market have been good for Ruwadza. She and the children are surviving on the money she makes.
However, Ruwadza’s source of livelihood is under threat. She and many other informal traders are worried about the ban the sale of second hand clothing.
In a move to fight Covid-19, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Bulawayo City Council Mayor Solomon Mguni on Thursday announced an immediate ban of the sale of second hand clothing in the city on weekends.
Mguni said the ban will help maintain social distancing as part of minimising the spread of corona virus.
Although this decision serves to guard against health hazards, Ruwadza and other informal traders are gripped by anxiety and insecurity.
“I do not make enough money to save some for future use so how am I to survive? Most of us survive on a hand to mouth basis so if I am to stop selling today then my children will have nothing on the table in the coming week or so. What’s really worrying is that we are not certain when this will end, how are we supposed to survive in the meantime,” she said.
“I understand they say it’s for our health but they too should understand we sell these clothes for our livelihood. Enforcing this ban is similar to someone who is taking food from our mouths and leaving us to die. Where do we find alternatives in a country that is economically crippled?”
The president Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday announced a 21-day national lockdown beginning on Monday to curb the spread of Covid 19.
Only state and health workers on duty will be exempted from the lockdown. However, in an economy that is struggling with most Zimbabweans earning a living from hawking on the streets; a shutdown is likely to leave many with no income and food.
Second hand clothes, imported from countries like Mozambique, have become popular in the country because they are more affordable, making the business one of the most lucrative.
Robert Sithole, a second hand clothing trader who operates from a market near Highlanders sports club during the week said the ban of weekend khothama is not good for them as business was more profitable on weekends.
He said: “Fine the city council may say we can operate from other places besides tower block but honestly there is no business here. We are just here because we have no option. We only realise profits during the weekend because that’s when more people come to buy so this idea of suspending khothama on weekends will leave many of us starving.”
Virginia Mlambo, another trader said the shutdown will cripple all informal traders and hunger is likely to strike in their homes.
“One thing that might have been overlooked is the survival of three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population. We are already having trouble making ends meet while business is open, what more when there is a total shutdown. Our children are going to die of starvation because many of us are not ready for the lockdown. We have no food stored or better yet saved money for future use. Only God will see us through this tough time, she said.
In his address on the lockdown, the president encouraged people to act responsibly and take hygiene seriously.
As of 27 March, Zimbabwe has recorded seven positive cases of Covid-19 including one death.