The border town of Beitbridge is reeling under the unforgiving economic effects of COVID-19 lockdown as the informal sector, which is the life blood of the town remains effectively banned.
In happier days, the town would be full of life and abuzz with activity, with people from all walks of life going about their businesses. Lately, the town has turned into a pale shadow of its former self, its informal sector having suffered an unprecedented asphyxiation inflicted by the pandemic.
Informal traders are used to crossing the border to purchase their wares which they then resell. However, the spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths forced the hand of the authorities, leading to the imposition of strict rules and regulations and a lockdown. The closure of the South African border has compounded the informal traders’ situation.
Beitbridge Residents and Ratepayers Development Trust Chairperson, Mr Emmanuel Takutaku bemoaned the closure of the border in the context of there being no industries in the town.
“For your own information Beitbridge has no industry which can employ our people, meaning almost all people here are vendors, one way or the other,” said Takutaku.
A grim picture of the prevailing situation stemming from the lockdown was painted by Takutaku as he highlighted the significance of the border closure.
“The informal sector has been heavily affected by the closure of the border since almost all their wares come from that other side of the Limpopo. Not working at all has been a terrible nightmare for the informal traders”, he said.
Takutaku added that, “For the vendors to survive, they should be seen outside, selling but now that the border is closed and the fact that their operations are stifled means they are suffering.”
Since most residents are into vending as a means to eke out a living, most of them who live in rented houses are incapacitated as far as paying their dues is concerned. The failure to pay rentals on time has led to inevitable evictions in the midst of a rainy season.
Japheth Nyathi, a resident and informal trader said he has been struggling to pay rent for the past 3 months because he has no other source of income. Nyathi said “My landlord is very understanding but lately, I have been observing a straining of our relationship because I am struggling to pay rent. The prospect of eviction is becoming more real by the day.”
“I have personally witnessed a number of lodgers being evicted from where they stay due to failure to pay rent. It’s now difficult for residents to pay their rent on time, some have gone for months without paying while some have been evicted from the rented properties and are now staying in makeshift and semi-finished houses,” said Takutaku.
The lockdown has caused a considerable number of clashes between traders and law enforcement agents. In a bid to survive the harsh economic conditions some vendors have been operating illegally leading to running battles with law enforcement agents.
“We often witness vendors playing cat and mouse with the municipal police as well as police and army officers enforcing lockdown regulations. Scores of vendors have been arrested and fined ZWD 1000 each”
“Moreover, some cheeky traders have been using illegal and dangerous entry points into South Africa, in an attempt to circumvent the closed border. However, these escapades are fraught with dangers.”
“Due to the closure of the border, some vendors have resorted to illegal entry points into South Africa, seeking to buy goods to sell back home. Unfortunately some have been, robbed and raped in the process,” said the residents’ leader.
Takutaku went on to articulate the position of Beitbridge Residents and Ratepayers Development Trust which calls upon the government to ease the lockdown regulations so as to ameliorate the crisis faced by the informal traders.
“As Beitbridge Residents and Ratepayers Development Trust, we are so worried and dismayed by the prevailing situation. We therefore call for the government to ease these lockdown restrictions and allow vendors to operate formally while following all the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Vendors should be allowed to operate while observing social distancing, wearing face masks properly as well as using sanitisers. We urge everyone to stay safe, mask up, sanitise and observe social distancing,” he said.