Informal traders in Bulawayo have revealed that they are yet to receive the promised Government funds to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 as their trade endures the effects of the 21-day long lockdown meant to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Through the Social Welfare Department, the government identified one million households whose sources of income were affected by the 21-day national lockdown, to benefit from the $600 million kitty availed to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
The $600 million package, for three months, was announced two weeks ago by Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube.
This comes as the number of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases has risen to 24, with two recovered and three deaths as of yesterday.
In a bid to keep their trade sustainable, vendors who are now operating from their homes have hiked prices of their wares beyond the reach of consumers.
Head of cabbage now costs ZWL50, a single tomato costs ZWL2, and a head of onion is ZWL10.
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) executive director Michael Ndiweni called for the government to intervene in the traders’ plea.
“The state of vending is not in good shape, things are very bad because people are not working since they survive on hand to month which means that their incomes have been depleted and what they had bought in their homes is finished. These traders do not have savings, they live on hand to mouth and shop owners have hiked prices of basic commodities in local shops since we can’t access the cheaper shops in the CBD.
The government cushion funds we were promised is yet to come through and we hope the government will do so in time because things are now getting out of hand, operations have seized and families are suffering from hunger,” he said.
Ndiweni urged citizens to adhere to the lockdown regulations of social distancing.
“We also encourage people to adhere to the rules and regulations put in place by the government and also the World Health Organisation to stay at home and maintain social distancing to curbs the spread of the pandemic. Life is more precious so let us be disciplined and save a life,” said Ndiweni.
Agnes Khumalo, a vendor in Emakhandeni high-density suburb said she is waiting for the government to act on the situation as they cant afford to feed their families.
“It is close to three weeks of operating on a lose. We are trading from home following the ban by the government and it is not every day that I manage to go to the CBD for hoarding, I live on hand to mouth basis and if I don’t work during the day, I won’t be able to feed my two daughters in the evening.
“I call upon the government to assist us in these dire times and also for them to quickly avail the promised cushion funds that they promised,” she said.
A customer in Makhandeni only identified as Makhumalo blasted vegetable vendors for taking advantage of the lockdown by hiking prices.
“This is unfair and ruthless. We have a few vendors operating in our community and they are taking advantage of the demand and supply matrix and the fact that no price control agents are operating during lockdown hence they are overcharging us. This is daylight robbery, we can’t cope with this anymore, the government should intervene,” she fumed.
Another vegetable vendor identified as Fikile Moyo said due to the travel ban enacted by the government she has been walking to town every morning to get her products at the market.
“Since the market in town where I get my wares from opened, I have been walking to town because I don’t have a pass that enables me to board the ZUPCO buses. The only way I can get into town is by foot from Njube. I wake up early in the morning around 5 am and get into town around 6:60. The police and soldiers manning the roadblocks are less strict on passengers on their way back to the western suburbs so I can safely take my ZUPCO trip back home,” she said.
Thulani Ndebele, an informal trader in New Lobengula suburb has moved from selling vegetables to beer due to the closure of beerhalls and bottle stores in his area.
“With the closure of beer gardens and bottle stores in my area, I have moved in to close the gap by selling beer. I sell Chibuku Super beer which is readily available at OK stores in town. I get them for ZWL24 for a 1,25 liter container and sell it for ZWL 35 for cash and ZWL45 Ecocash transactions. This is a viable market I have to take advantage of during these times, people in the townships want to drink to remain sane and they will do anything for alcohol.
However, we plead with the government to help us with a cushion and we hope if its going to be distributed let it be done fairly and no corrupt activities should mare the process. May the government in the future be prepared to deal with such issues and have some funding set aside for informal traders when such disasters happen,” he said.