Vending In Victoria Falls Amid COVID-19: A Tale of Danger

The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded a halt of the usual way of life for many, in Victoria Falls, restrictions and dangerous corridors are not a deterrent to the fight for survival.

Teenage mother Bokani Shoko walks over 20 kilometres per day to Victoria Falls town from her rural home in Chikandakubi to sell vegetables in order to fend for her family as hunger induced by the ongoing COVID-19 continues.

Shoko (17) was forced to drop out of school and face early marriage in 2019 after falling pregnant. The global COVID-19 has made her life and that of her husband together with their eight months old son harder—prompting them to sell vegetables in town despite stiff restrictions. Shoko’s husband, formerly employed in the tourism sector, lost his job early last year.

She narrates how she braves walking through dangerous wildlife, thick forests and without a travel document required by the law enforcement all to save her family from starvation.

“I wake up at 4a.m. every day with my husband to prepare for our journey to town to sell vegetables or maize corn,” says Shoko, teenage mother.

“We have a small irrigation and this is where we get okra, tomatoes and onions so we pack what we are going to sell the previous evening before we go to sleep then pack them the following morning before leaving for business.”

“We use a shorter route through the bush that passes along Sizinda and Monde villages until we get to Masuwe bridge, although frequently we have come across a herd of elephants and buffaloes,” Shoko says.

Shoko says they have faced minimum danger from these animals save for baboons, which snatch their wares occasionally. For the couple, the fear of wild animals is not a deterrent, the lack of income gives them resolve.

Shoko says upon entering town at around 8a.m., they task each other to sell in different suburbs before heading back to their village after 3p.m.

“I sell from Mkhosana while my husband goes to Chinotimba and we make about RTGS$1200 on a good day and this is how we have been surviving and most people in our village have adopted it.”

Sibongile Vundla from BH28 under chief Mvuthu is another vendor who has defied the odds to sell vegetables to fend for her three children.

Like Shoko, Vundla walks an average distance of 10 kilometres to town with her two-year-old son walking past the thick bushes infested with wildlife. Vundla has sometimes been forced to abandon her goods to protect herself and child from harm and death.

“This is risky, but what will l give the children when my husband has abandoned me?” asks Vundla.

“A lot happens in the bush, but we can’t stay at home when there is no hope of COVID-19 coming to an end. I sell okra and ulude (African Spider Flower Leaves) from my fields and at the end of the day l make about RTGS$ 500 and I use the money to buy mealie-meal among other home basics.”

Twice, Vundla has been made to drop off a ZUPCO bus at Masuwe Bridge roadblock for not having a clearance letter.

Acting chief Mvuthu Bishop Matata Sibanda acknowledges the story of the two women which resonates with many other villagers who have decided to venture into informal trading in order to make ends meet.

“People are suffering and starvation is being felt by many among the villages. We have seen even school going children resorting to vending or engaging in other small businesses to assist their parents and this is something that worries us as traditional leadership.”

Mvuthu says hopes were now being pinned on this season’s harvest.

The department of Social Development says Matabeleland North province has an excess of over 50 000 households in need of humanitarian bailout, but reaching out to them has been impeded by the economic inability.

In Hwange district the department said it offers 395 vulnerable households cash transfers to cushion them during the COVID-19 lockdown period, but the number of people in need of assistance is higher.

In the report, the department further notes that some vulnerable beneficiaries have not yet collected their sim cards to enable them to receive some cushioning funds due to the ongoing lockdown which makes life more difficult for the vulnerable groups.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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