Informal Traders Embrace Skills Diversification

COVID-19 restrictions have necessitated skills diversification amongst informal traders in Bulawayo through skills trainings such as petroleum jelly, candles and cordial juices making. The restrictions have made it difficult for vendors to operate as most vendors who depend and survive on the cross border trade are facing challenges due to border closures. This was revealed through Market Bailiffs who monitor COVID-19 compliance in marketplaces in Bulawayo under Zimbabwe Resilience building Fund (ZRBF) funded Sizimele Consortium.

Thokozile Moyo, an informal trader who had the privilege to learn how to make petroleum jelly and perfumes said she is making a lot of money out of it.

“ZRBF Sizimele has helped us a lot with Business and Financial Literacy Trainings, where we met with experts who have taught us how to make petroleum jelly and perfumes. I am actually gaining a lot from selling these products and l get most of my customers through social media platforms,” said Thokozile.

The president of Bulawayo Vendors and Traders (BVTA), Mr Aleck Ndlovu said “Vendors faced challenges ever since the pandemic struck, leading to among other things, the crippling boarder closures. lt disrupted their livelihoods and led to the collapse  of many businesses, restocking challenges,  depletion of meagre savings that they had and  also failure  to pay rates and rentals  as well as biting hunger within families.”

Informal traders who spoke to The Special Edition Vendors Voice said that the closure of borders has forced them to diversify and look for alternative sources of income.

Sinqobile Sibanda, a former cross border trader said she had to make adjustments and make do with what is available in the market since it is no longer possible to import clothes.

“l have resorted to selling  bananas and tomatoes so that l can put food on the table for my children.” However she was quick to add that the bananas are not giving her enough money to take care of her expenses.

“Before the closure of borders, l used to buy all types of clothing in bulk from Musina (South Africa).Upon selling, l would gain up to 50% in profits but now with the selling of bananas the profits are too low. Sometimes I make as little as $2 USD per day,” Sibanda to The Special Edition Vendors Voice.

Gail Ncube, another vendor who used to survive on cross border trading also bemoaned the effect of lockdown on her economic situation as she can no longer afford basic commodities.

“My life has changed for the worst. I used to import my wares from Zambia and South Africa and would make good profits out of them but now l no longer have a reliable source of income and I am now forced to diversify and look for alternative sources of income as well as trying out different localized lines of trade that I am not accustomed to,” Ncube said.

Ndlovu, the BVTA president said, as a consortium they have tried to help members diversify their skills by training them to make things such as candles and petroleum jelly. “The consortium has helped members diversify their skills by training them in making candles, petroleum jelly, drinks, handbags, perfumes and clothing items,” he said.

Ndlovu also hailed the incorporation of technology to bring together buyers and sellers.

“The Consortium has come up with an e-marketing tool which will bring together buyers and sellers on the internet.  This has immensely helped some vendors as their products have gained larger market access as a result”, said Mr Ndlovu.

Ndlovu revealed that ZRBF Sizimele has taken deliberate steps to mitigate the impact by reducing the Cost of Compliance burden and after shock of COVID-19 through distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) such as masks, sanitizers, hand washing water dispensers and dissemination of educational information on COVID-19 precautionary measures.

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