When President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that Zimbabwe was to ease COVID-19 lockdown
restrictions, there was a sigh of relief from the generality of people, who had endured close to two
months of a strictly enforced lockdown that barred those in the informal sector from operating.
Zimbabwe’s informal sector is the largest employer and source of income in a country that has
heavily de-industrialised over the past two decades.
According to a 2016 report by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, over 85 percent of the
country’s active population is in the informal sector and the figure could have gone higher as the
country continued to experience company closures and retrenchments over the past five years.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Zimbabwe and the world at large, government imposed
restrictions on the operations of the informal sector, further increasing the vulnerability of this large
section of the population whose income is solely hinged on their informal work.
In its surveys carried out countrywide in January and February 2021, Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)
asked Zimbabweans what they thought of the lockdown and the general responses showed that
many wanted government to find ways of opening up the operating space for the informal sector.
“I am a vendor. I sell shoes. My profits are very little. So, if I do not operate, my family goes hungry.
All I need is some space to operate within the COVID-19 protocols and I hope my government
provides that…” a 27 year old Bulawayo father of two said in an interview in February.
So, when the announcement came, it was like what everyone was waiting for.
For some, as observed by ZPP countrywide, it might have come a little late. Some had already closed
“I lost all my savings during the two months of not operating and now I will have to go through the
struggle of getting the capital to restart my business and take it back to where it was before. It is
difficult,” said a 36-year-old mother of three who used to run a canteen in Mutare’s Sakubva suburb.
So, it was in this context that the month of March was marked by nationwide attempts by those
mostly in the informal sector to restart their operations in an environment that still had a very
pronounced presence of state security agents who used all forms and methods to stifle the informal
In addition, those that had been left vulnerable by the COVID-19 restrictions and did not receive any
form of social support found themselves on their own amid government pronouncements that the
economic situation was set for better fortunes.
The healthcare situation remained dire, with the poor and vulnerable communities unable to access
basic medical care let alone access to information on the COVID-19 vaccination process, which was
launched in February.
So, even as some businesses reopened and people were back on the streets, the threat of a third
wave of COVID-19 cases remained hanging in the air as government paid a blind eye to its
responsibility to ensure that the generality of the population had all the resources needed to operate
The situation pointed towards a state where those without, were living separate lives with those with.
Read the full report here (2MB PDF)