Ever since the enactment of COVID-19 preventive and precautionary measures the informal sector has been the hardest hit. This has left many people in dire straits especially considering that Zimbabwe is an informal economy. Did you know that Zimbabwe has the second-biggest informal sector (roughly 60 per cent) globally? That is concerning the proportion of the informal sector as a percentage of the whole economy. That is a huge proportion especially when you consider that a country like Switzerland has an informal sector standing at just 7.2 per cent. As COVID-19 regulations have been easing gradually the informal sector has gotten some form of relief. Interestingly, two significant informal markets in Zimbabwe are set to resume normal operations soon.

Two Informal Markets In Harare To Reopen Soon

Many of you know the informal market called Mupedzanhamo and that one in Glen View 8. It has been indicated that they are resuming normal operations this week. Of course, by ‘normal’ I am referring to re-opening since COVID-19 regulations are going to be at play. Thus wearing masks, sanitization and social distancing are going to be imperative. There shall also be mandatory registration of enterprises with the Harare City Council to operate.

The Rationale Behind This Decision

One might wonder why this move has been taken. Well, authorities cited that people were now circumventing the closure of those informal markets by operating from undesignated places. Some were now operating from their homes or spots close where those informal markets are located. Scores of people were now thronging these news spots. When you think of the lack of proper toilets or none at all at these spots you somehow get the picture.

In a way, you can say that the authorities caved in to the silent pressure of traders resorting to new places of business. This is because those people that would normally trade at the informal markets simply continued their business elsewhere in a similar fashion. The missing element was a compliance mechanism to ensure people are wearing masks, sanitising and practising social distancing. When you closely analyse this rationale you can see there are discrepancies – I will discuss them later.

Remarks By The Harare City Council (HCC) Spokesperson

Mr Chideme, The HCC spokesperson had this to say: “Mupedzanhamo will open this week, we are yet to finalise consultations with the traders at the market. This is the same with Glen View 8 Complex. We want to avoid problems in the past where people were paying rent to space barons, prejudicing council along the way. This time around we want to protect the interests of traders.”

He emphasised that it is only those who would have registered with the HCC that will be given space and allowed to operate. He also clarified why registration will be imperative. It would be for purposes of contact tracing in scenarios where someone gets infected by COVID-19. It is worth mentioning that some traders had paid US$10 to space barons. The HCC indicated that those people were duped because those arrangements were not going to guarantee to get the space.

Worth Noting…

Opening the two aforementioned informal markets ignites an interesting discussion. For starters, those marketplaces are normally characterised by high volumes and concentrations of human traffic. How feasible will it be to implement social distancing, in particular? After all, elsewhere these things have not be been effectively adhered to. Take for instance ZUPCO buses or kombis – the queues and the seating arrangements are the opposite of COVID-19 regulations. Judging by the nature of the business at Mupedzanhamo and Glenview 8 one wonders even if wearing masks will be adhered to. I cannot help but feel that we no longer have a lockdown at all.

What about kombi operators? They are feeling left out in all this. They feel that if there is a domain that should be allowed to operate normally again it is them. Logically they do have a valid case because I feel the rationale behind the opening of the two informal markets applies also to them. Ideally, ensuring masks are worn, sanitization is done and social distancing is done can be easily ensured for kombis. Anyways, let us not forget that ZUPCO did indicate that kombis can register under them to operate. Those who have not probably do not have the required paperwork or they feel it is not a fair deal. Most people do feel that the roads are much safer without the often notorious kombis though. Sadly there is a great shortfall in transportation capacity which has left people stranded for hours at a time without transport.

Overall, we continue to see hypocrisies and inconsistencies in policies regarding COVID-19. The other day I was having a chat with someone on my way to town. We got to a police roadblock and he paid US$5 to pass – typical corruption that you find at police roadblocks. This is because his vehicle was overloaded. Funnily there was a car that had arrived prior and the driver was fined; guess what for? It was for not having a letter validating his getting into town. He was alone in the car and even had his mask on. Yet in the other guy’s car, it was only me who had a letter and more than half the passengers were not wearing masks. The irony in that is insane and is just one of the many examples of how poorly local policies and their enforcement is implemented.