Before the border was closed, Michele, 31, made a small fortune buying clothes and electronics in South Africa and reselling them to benefit from the Zimbabwe border. But after the epidemic closed most traffic between the two countries, he said his income was reduced and he had to try “alternatives to raise money.”
Thousands of other cross-border traders in southern Africa are facing a similar challenge. Over the years, these marketing strategies have provided sustainable employment for people, especially women, within the region. The United Nations estimates that these companies make up 40% of the $ 17 billion market share among the 16 countries of the Southern African Development Community. But the epidemic has knocked down an important economic pillar in areas where employment opportunities are low and there is no chance of access to the COVID-19 vaccine, leading to permanent economic instability.
About 70% of Zimbabwean businessmen are women, according to the UN, and had to find alternative sources of income. Some have tried to buy and sell real estate, in order to make a small profit. Others have joined traffickers who smuggle across borders in order to move goods, reducing their income. Others, such as Michele, have begun selling sex, boarding, and friends to motorists clinging the town for several weeks due to shipping delays, COVID closures, and disruption to policy reforms.
Another driver had been staying with Michele in his small apartment in Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, for two weeks while he waited for a 15-hour drive to get back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. She prepares food and bathes him every day.
“This is life – what can we do?” said Michele, who asked not to be named because he did not want to announce his performance. “I do not want to think about the future. I work with what I have right now. “
Beitbridge, a car park with a port on the Limpopo River, and other border towns have been offered access to the land through a global trade union, which has resulted in infusion of the South African rand, whose value has stabilized more than the Zimbabwean dollar weakened by years of sharp rise. But because of the ban on the commercial networks, the economy of those areas is in shambles.
“The HIV / AIDS epidemic was so rapid that women did not have enough time to prepare for any economic crisis,” said Ernest Chirume, a researcher and member of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Zimbabwe. paper on the effect of COVID-19 on unstable traders.
Before the border closed, Marian Siziba, 40, bought large equipment such as refrigerators, four-plate stoves, and solar panels from South Africa for sale at small shops in Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe. For months afterward, he was able to make ends meet by selling foreign currency and borrowing small loans, which gave him less money from clients who were over-indebted. Recently, however, many of its customers have been unable to meet their basic needs.
Prior to the coronavirus, “we were already accustomed to the financial crisis,” he said. “Unless it’s bad because we can’t work.”
A spokesman for the Zimbabwe International Organization for Migration, Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti, said the epidemic had made cross-border trade more difficult in some areas. But without government support, the financial crisis, which at first seemed to be short-lived for Michele, Siziba, and other border traders, is now coming to an end.
Transport problems have exacerbated economic inequalities. Either people have access to border crossings or they don’t.
Nyasha Chakanyuka runs a popular clothing store in Bulawayo and said the closure of the roads did not stop her from selling because she has long relied on air travel, which many traders who spoke to BuzzFeed News said she could not afford. Instead, this gave him the opportunity to grow his business: he has been buying a lot of goods in other countries and selling goods to traders who cannot get out of Zimbabwe.
Others have turned to transports that cross the border. “You can give money to someone you trust to buy goods for you in South Africa, but this requires a lot of trust because the risks are obvious,” said Siziba.
Those who cannot afford to pay for the relocation should have to find other means of subsistence while waiting for them to return to business as usual.
Based on the incident, Getrude Mwale, a Bulawayo businesswoman and mother of five, started selling clothes on the doorstep of her house, although the business slowed down so it took her a year to clear her belongings. cleaning within one month.
“Selling at home means you are only selling to people who know you nearby,” said Mwale. “It hasn’t been easy.”
Prior to the outbreak, 33-year-old Sarudzai, who asked for anonymity, traveled to Malawi to buy baby clothes for sale in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. year.
When the plague came, she suddenly had piles of clothes, trousers, and socks in her house, but there was no one to sell her. When his business stopped, he decided to move to Beitbridge.
He sells samosas, fried, and soft drinks, but most of the money he earns today comes from prostitution brokers and the car drivers who live with him in a rented one-room wooden house. She now earns enough money to send her two children back to school in Masvingo, where she lives, about 120 miles[200 km]from their mother.
“I always knew motorists had money – that’s why I did this,” he said.