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BVTA Executive Director’s Note

2020 has been a challenging year for workers in the informal economy. It began as a promising year, with plans set and hoping that we will continue advancing the interests of vendors and informal traders. As an organisation we started well by launching our two-year Strategic Plan for 2020-2022 and we developed our Advocacy Strategy in the beginning of the year, it was a bright start for the organization when we thought that everything was in place for us to roll out our programs.
Sadly, the COVID-19 induced lockdown derailed all our good plans and we saw ourselves on the back foot, having put so much work at the beginning of the year. The outright lockdown meant that informal traders were not going to be allowed to go to the markets to do their business. This had a serious impact on informal traders because they lost their source of livelihood.
Everyone hoped that the lockdown would come to an end in a few weeks but it continued for seven months meaning people’s little income and savings were depleted, as we all know that informal traders do not have savings, they rely on hand to mouth, and they eat what they kill. Informal traders expended the little savings that they had and seven months later, most of them are facing challenges around restocking and some are failing to restart their businesses.
During the outright lockdown in April 2020, the government promised a cushioning fund that only came in August 2020, a paltry 600 RTGS that could not add any meaningful impact on the losses faced by informal traders. To date, this means that vendors and informal traders continue to face the heavy impact of COVID-19 lockdown. It is still a very difficult period for vendors and informal traders because they are still trying to find their feet after the government relaxed the lockdown restrictions and opened the markets.
The cost of complying with protocols to combat the spread of virus continue to weigh on traders’ shoulders. Informal traders are still burdened with the need to sanitize their clients, this means that they must purchase sanitizers with their little incomes so that they conform to COVID-19 Ministry of Health and Child Health Care (MOHCC) protocols that stipulate that everyone who gets into a market must be sanitized. Informal traders contribute an average of USD10 towards buying of sanitisers monthly, in market places while business has been reduced by the impact of the pandemic. Informal Cross Border Traders (ICBTs) have not been spared after the re-opening of the borders. The re-opening of borders means ICBTs now have to bear the burden of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) certificate that costs an arm and leg, they have to cough USD 60 on average for them to access the certificate that will enable them to cross and is only valid for about 48hours. All this is a burden to people in the informal sector.
Our view is that the government must reduce the cost of the PCR certificate and it must ensure that the certificate is accessible because people are already taking advantage of traders who want to go out of the country to buy or sell goods by selling fake certificates. This may also increase the possibility of spreading of the virus because some people will buy the certificate and will not be tested thereby exposing their families, communities and other citizens to the disease.
We are also calling on government to ensure that the cushioning fund is reviewed and continues to be available because some people are still struggling to survive. They have lost all what they had saved before lockdown. Some were working in markets that have been reduced in size in terms of carrying capacity, where authorities had to reduce the number of traders in order to conform to COVID-19 protocols and as result some people still do not have places to trade.
All this has a serious impact to the livelihoods of people in the sector and we hope that there is going to be a way that ensures that people’s lives are saved and people’s social protection is promoted by ensuring that people have access to medical health services through the provision of a medical scheme and some kind of cushioning from the government.
As we look ahead to 2021, we have a cocktail of interventions lined up to continue advancing the interest of informal traders despite operational challenges envisaged in the COVID19 era, we hope our pleas with addressed.
We also wish to congratulate Bulawayo City Council for making sure that the Bulawayo Informal Sector By-Law was reviewed and gazetted as Statutory Instrument 181 of 2020 in line with our pleas over the years and our submission of the Informal Sector Model By-Law in 2018. We are in the process of analysing the provisions of the newly gazetted By-law to see if it is in line with what we advocated for. We pray other local authorities take a leaf from this progressive milestone.
On behalf of the BVTA family, let me end by thanking all our partners who supported or collaborated with us throughout the year. Without you we wouldn’t have gone this far. We wish you a Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year.
“Stay safe from COVID19 and observe all the protocols”.

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