Informal traders in Bulawayo are defying the health workers and government advice for citizens to maintain social distancing and stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease, which has claimed thousands of lives across the world.
BY SILAS NKALA
The government and the health sector have been out in full force advising citizens to maintain social distance everywhere and even to stay at home if they have no important business to do in public places as a way of scaling down and reducing the chances of the spread of COVID-19.
Zimbabwe so far has recorded three official cases with one of the victims, broadcaster Zororo Makamba, succumbing to the disease on Monday.
A survey done by Southern Eye around Bulawayo’s vending sites, vegetables and flea markets established that it was business as usual, with traders and their customers mixing and mingling oblivious of the dangers associated with the virus.
Interviews conducted with some of the vendors showed that most of the traders were still not taking the scourge seriously.
Close-range greetings and shaking of hands were still the culture among the traders and general citizens despite advice by health personnel to shun the practice.
“I have heard and still hear about coronavirus, but since vending is the only means for me to sustain my family, if I stay at home, I and my family will die of hunger,” a fruit vendor who preferred to remain anonymous said.
“The problem is that since I want customers, it is not easy for me to say I can maintain the social distance you are talking about. If I do that, how then will I attend to my customers? It’s not possible.”
Another vendor, Sibongile Ndlovu, said she was not well-informed on the preventive measures considering the time she spends in trading, where she has no access to either radio or television services as she will be busy selling her wares.
Several other vendors just had a casual talk and approach to the coronavirus, a sign that they still do not take it as serious as it should.
However, Streetwise Informal Traders Association director Percy Mcijo said it was unfortunate that as a country, little had been done in an effort to curb the spread of the highly infectious virus.
“A human being is a social being and cannot be easily separated from other humans, but since the pandemic knows no race, no tribe, no ethnicity, no status, it’s a must that people should comply with universal measures in order to stay safe,” he warned.
“My opinion is that vendors and the society in general have a responsibility to stop the spread through adherence, which can only be possible if there could be vigorous campaigns through distribution of pamphlets as well as putting up of posters and billboards at places where many people can be found.”
He said without such awareness information being given, people easily forget to take precautions to stop the spread.
Mcijo said this was the time to use hailers and roadshows to disseminate important information to save lives. He also appealed to the city councils across the country to decongest the areas in their jurisdictions.
“The city council must decongest the city streets by removing buses and kombis from undesignated areas and that would open up space for vendors to be able to comply with social distancing,” he said.
“Egodini project (Bulawayo) seems to be on hold, and if possible for the time being, it can be used as a temporary terminus. Everyone must be serious, Zimbabwe is not a neutral zone as far as the spread of the deadly virus is concerned, let’s work together as a nation so that we can prevail.”
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association director Micheal Ndiweni said it was true that people were still going to the markets, the simple reason being that most of them rely on informal trading.
“In our economy, about 70% is informal, so as a result, you see a lot of people going to the markets even if there is an outbreak of COVID-19. The problem is that people have no other source of livelihood. It is not that they are not afraid of the virus, but it’s because there is no other choices for them to survive,” he said.
“But as associations, we have communicated to them to try and avoid crowded places and to observe the World Health Organisation recommended precautionary measures like sitting one metre apart, washing hands regularly, avoiding touching their faces and to cover their nose, among others.”
Ndiweni said the unfortunate thing was that most of people relied on trade to put food on the table, adding it would be difficult for them to stay at home.
“Our prayer is that if the government was serious about this, they could have made provision of kind of grants or stipends for families to be able to stay at home and survive in the short term. But apparently, the government has done nothing meaningful. As a result, you then see people having to find means to survive,” he said.
Ndiweni said his association had since advised the traders to stop going outside the country to buy their wares after the outbreak.
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