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COVID minimize ladies off crucial jobs in southern Africa

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Before the borders closed, Michele, 31, earned a modest income by buying clothes and electronics in South Africa and selling them for profit in Zimbabwe. But when the pandemic brought most of the traffic between the two countries to a standstill, her income dried up and she had to “try other means to earn a living”.

Thousands of other cross-border traders in southern Africa face the same dilemma. For decades, this informal commercial network has offered people, especially women, permanent jobs in the border areas of the region. The United Nations estimates that industry accounts for 40% of the $ 17 billion trade market in the 16 countries of the southern African developing community. But the pandemic has wiped out this vital economic pillar for communities where job opportunities are low and access to COVID-19 vaccines is limited, sparking an endless financial downturn.

According to the UN, almost 70% of traders in Zimbabwe are women who have to look for other sources of income. Some have tried to buy and sell goods domestically in order to make less profit. Some have teamed up with smugglers who sneak across the border to move products and cut sales. Some, like Michele, have started selling sex, food, and company to truck drivers stuck in the city for weeks due to delivery delays, COVID screening bottlenecks, and confusion over changing government policies.

A trucker has been with Michele in her little house in Beitbridge, Zimbabwe for two weeks, waiting for clearance to get back on the road to transport goods to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a 15-hour drive. She prepares him meals and a warm bath every day.

“This is life – what can we do?” Said Michele, who requested anonymity in part because she did not want to make her current work situation public. “I don’t want to think ahead. I work with what I have at the moment. “

Beitbridge, a trucking hub with a busy port along the Limpopo River, and other border towns have long had upward mobility through a busy transnational trade network that has brought with it an infusion of the South African rand, the value of which has become more stable than the Zimbabwean dollar has been weakened by the years of hyperinflation. But because this trade network is limited, the economic engine of these communities stutters.

“The virus and the resulting lockdown happened so quickly that women did not have enough time to prepare for economic impact,” said Ernest Chirume, researcher and faculty member of the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty of Zimbabwe Catholic University, who a. wrote paper on the impact of COVID-19 on informal traders.

Before the borders closed, Marian Siziba, 40, bought large appliances such as refrigerators, four-burner stoves and solar panels from South Africa to sell to small shops in downtown Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. For months, she was able to make ends meet selling foreign currency and granting small loans, which left her with customers with ongoing debts. Recently, however, many of their customers have been unable to meet their obligations.

Before the coronavirus, “we were already used to economic hardships,” she said. “It’s only worse now because we can’t work.”

Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe International Organization for Migration, noted that the pandemic is affecting informal cross-border trade more than other sectors. But without government relief, financial setbacks that once temporarily appeared to Michele, Siziba, and other cross-border traders feel indefinite.

The transportation challenges have increased wealth inequalities. Either people have the means to bypass border restrictions or they don’t.

Nyasha Chakanyuka runs a popular clothing boutique in Bulawayo and said the road closures haven’t hindered her sales as she has long relied on air travel, which most retailers speaking to BuzzFeed News couldn’t afford. Indeed, the situation gave her the opportunity to expand her business: she bought up bulk stocks in other countries and sold goods to traders who could not leave Zimbabwe.

Others have approached vans illegally crossing land borders. “You can give money to someone you trust to buy goods for you in South Africa, but that requires extraordinary trust as the risks are obvious,” said Siziba.

Those who can’t afford to pay others to move their goods have had to find other ways to make ends meet while they wait for a return to normal business operations.

Getrude Mwale, a Bulawayo trader and mother of five, adjusted to the new circumstances and began selling clothes in front of her house within a month of clearing.

“When you’re selling from home, you’re only selling to people you know in the neighborhood,” Mwale said. “It was’nt easy.”

Before the pandemic, 33-year-old Sarudzai, who applied for partial anonymity to keep her work situation private, traveled to Malawi to buy children’s clothes that she sold at a flea market in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, the equivalent of thousands of US dollars each earned year.

When the pandemic broke out, she suddenly had a pile of shirts, pants and socks in her house, but no one to sell to. With her business stalling, she decided to move to Beitbridge.

She sells samosas, fries, and soft drinks, but much of her income these days comes from business relationships selling sex and company to truckers who live with her in the one-room wooden house she rents. She now makes enough money to send her two children back to school in Masvingo, where they stay nearly 200 miles from their mother.

“I always knew truckers had money – that’s why I made it here,” she said.

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