Informal traders have begun registering or confirming registration and are readying their stalls in response to President Mnangagwa’s announcement of the lifting of a ban on informal business activities but most are only expected to resume operations next week after repairing and cleaning market areas.
Most of the informal sector has been inactive for 10 weeks since the start of the lockdown at the end of March to curb the spread of Covid-19 infection. Farmers’ markets and vegetable vendors received early emptions and the informal industrial sector came back into operation a little later, with all these opening under set conditions.
Government statistics suggest that close on three quarters of the economically active population earn their living in the informal sector, and while there is a temporary programme to give the most vulnerable families a survival stipend of $300 a month, the re-opening of this sector has had a high priority within the required public health guidelines.
Under amended regulations, those in the informal sector, but excluding cross-border traders and a few others, can resume business under the same conditions imposed on the formal sector so long as they are registered, which means they have hawker and vendor licences from their local authority, and pay presumptive taxes at the same time, or they have stalls in approved flea markets and peoples’ markets.
Besides registration they will have to follow the rules of compulsory mask wearing, social distancing and personal hygiene for both themselves and their customers.
Already the leadership of groups of informal traders are working to put safety measures in place.
At Mupedzanhamo market, men were hard at work fixing the panels of the precast concrete wall around the market, one of the conditions set by Harare City Council before the market reopens.
Mupedzanhamo traders are already registered by paying fees to the council but now have to fix up the market as well. Chairman of Mupedzanhamo Traders Committee Mr Charles Marufu told The Herald they expected to be back at work next week.
“We are already registered. We were already paying money to council and that has not changed. We engaged council informing them of our intention to reopen and they gave us conditions, which we are in the process of satisfying,” he said.
“We were told to fix precast walls, which were vandalised, and we are almost done with that then we engage them for inspection and subsequent reopening,” said Mr Marufu.
At the Mbare Market, the fresh produce and wholesale section was re-opened while the lockdown was at level four since food markets are deemed an essential service.
But the retail section has been tightly shut. Now the traders, again registered by paying council fees, are cleaning up their market. They have buckets with water and detergents at the entrances with a sanitisation booth being erected at each of the two entrances, which will be used.
Mbare retail market committee chairman Mr Archford Manjoro said traders were dedicating this whole week to cleaning.
“We were already registered, but we felt we could not open immediately after the President’s declaration. During the lockdown we were already engaging Médecins Sans Frontiers. They drilled a borehole for us and gave us sanitisation buckets, which we are currently using,” said Mr Manjoro.
In both markets, they have held meetings and came up with a set of rules, which include allowing limited numbers into the market, social distancing and mandatory wearing of face masks.
At Siyaso, the light industry area, there was less enthusiasm for Covid-19 precautions, and few were observing social distancing. No one had any idea if they were registered or deemed to be registered.
Harare City Council officials were also in the dark over the precise registration requirements. While the statutory instrument exempting the informal sector under conditions clearly states that paying presumptive taxes via a local authority, or renting stalls in a formal market, were the two routes, the mechanics have yet to be communicated to municipal staff.
In other cities and towns, local authorities were seized with registering informal traders seeking to make a quick return to their work.
Beitbridge Municipality has started registering and verifying existing registers for those wishing to operate under the local authority’s jurisdiction. Acting town clerk, Mr Sathulani Moyo said they expected the informal traders to start work today.
“First they register with our security and then the environmental health team will educate them on standard guidelines in line with national Government standards.
“We already have existing registers and the council has since contacted the people to find out if they are still available. In addition, we are registering new players,” said Mr Moyo.
Informal traders in Bindura have to wait a little longer before they can resume. Bindura Municipality said officials would meet the informal sector today and map a way forward on their operations.
Town clerk Mr Shangwa Mavesera said they received the statutory instrument yesterday and needed time to go through it and acquaint themselves with its implications.
In Marondera, informal traders were not allowed into their workplaces, as security officers could have none of it. But Marondera Mayor Chengetai Murowa said they were waiting for informal traders to come for registration.
“We have been waiting for informal traders to come for registration, we have been moving around the town to see whether vendors are back,” he said.
Informal traders, especially vendors in Kariba continued with their normal activities amid calls for others to register their businesses.
Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Association (ZCIEA) vice president Mrs Stella Chivandikwa called on players in the sector to register in compliance with Government’s precondition for resumption of business.
“We need our members to register but as of now we are yet to see how people are responding since it is something new. We hope by end of this week it will be clear on how people are responding,” said Mrs Chivandikwa.
The return of informal traders will increase pressure on Zupco, which is already strained for resources at peak periods although the major problem between peaks is that buses appear irregularly since Zupco has yet to reintroduce scheduled services.
Zupco acting chief executive officer did not respond to questions sent by The Herald on how it intends to react to the imminent increase in passengers.