A Year Later, Small Businesses Decimated By COVID-19 Count Losses

It’s been a year since Zimbabwe effected movement restrictions due to COVID-19. For many people, the virus has taken more than their freedom.

Nothando Ndlovu from Gwanda Town in Matabeleland South Province was left with no other choice but to shut down her clothing business which was her only livelihood source.

She could not afford to keep her business afloat due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown, where only shops selling essentials were allowed to open.

Ndlovu, a widow and mother of two children, moved her wares out of a shop she was renting in May last year. She also moved out of a house she was renting a room in Senondo Suburb and moved into her parent’s house.

“I realised that I couldn’t continue paying rent for a shop which I wasn’t using. The lockdown affected my business. I couldn’t fend for my children anymore as I no longer had a source of income,” says Ndlovu.

She says she started selling her stock from home, and she was forced to sell it at give-away prices in a bid to raise money to buy food. Ndlovu says she is now unable to resuscitate her business.

Since its outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has put both lives and livelihoods at risk. Some of the government’s measures to contain the virus’ spread, such as lockdowns and border restrictions, have inadvertently affected the food supply chains.

According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC), 2020 Urban Livelihoods Assessment, 84% of households could not meet their food needs, worsened by the effects of COVID-19 on livelihoods. As part of coping strategies, families reduced the number of meals eaten per day.

Twenty-five per cent of households reported reduced food sources, 21 percent reported reduced sources of income. Seventeen percent of families suffered the loss of business income, while about a tenth of households in the urban areas failed to access basic commodities.

Other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods included loss of employment, reduced salaries, restricted access to agriculture markets, failure to access health facilities and gender based violence.

Jeffrey Sibanda from Gwanda Town found it difficult to put food on the table after he was retrenched from work at a local mine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I lost my job, I had to find any possible means of making cash. I went around looking for piece jobs, but it was very difficult, I tried vending, but it also had its challenges. I even ventured into illegal gold panning. I did anything that I could to get money and sold anything to get my hands on. At one point, I had to sell most of my clothes,” he says.

Sibanda is still looking for a job, and in the meantime, he is still doing whatever he can to make ends meet.

The ZimVAC report further states that 49 per cent of household heads were unemployed in 2020 compared to 29 per cent from the 2019 survey.

The increase in the proportion of unemployed people depicts the severity of the economic hardships faced by the households and the negative impacts of COVID-19 and its associated lockdown restrictions.

According to the report, there is also an increase in the food expenditure ratio from 48,6% in 2019 to 55% in 2020. This shows an increase in urban household poverty and could be attributed to the inflation rates and income loss due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Mr Nqobizitha Sibanda, an economic analyst, says lockdown measures have resulted in the disruption of many business activities, which has affected livelihoods.

He says the government needs to put measures to cushion both the formally employed and those in the informal sector.

The COVID-19 induced lockdown has also seen a spike in prices.

“The cost of living is generally high in the urban areas when compared to the rural areas. Several households don’t have income generating projects and rely on their salaries. The salaries being earned by government workers are hardly enough to get them by.”

“Many businesses were closed during the lockdown, and owners were expected to pay rentals while they were not operational. This was a huge setback for many, and some of the businesses are yet to recover. People also lost their jobs which means that they don’t have a source of income,” he says.

According to the ZimVAC report, the income levels of urban households were at (ZWL 15 805), which is way below the total consumption poverty line (ZWL 23 350).

The Zimbabwe dollar’s purchasing power has been heavily eroded by inflation and the negative economic effects of COVID-19.

Matabeleland South provincial social welfare officer Criswell Nyakudya says the number of vulnerable households in urban areas has drastically increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the pandemic left many homes without a source of income.

Nyakudya says the situation has worsened as some Non-Governmental Organisations offering food assistance have pulled out due to the pandemic.

“There is a need for the government to increase the number of beneficiaries under the drought relief programme as many families are struggling,” he adds.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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