Fatima Bulla

OPERATORS in the informal sector have appealed to Government to consider phased re-opening of their small businesses as their livelihoods have been greatly affected.

While the formal sector has opened up under strict conditions in accordance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, the informal sector save for vegetable markets, remain closed since the lockdown began on March 30.

Even though not all informal activities are essential services, they are the only livelihood for many Zimbabweans.

Because of a desperate need to survive, some informal sector workers and small business owners are trickling back to work in defiance of lockdown regulations and risk running battles with police and council officials.

Siyaso market

The Zimbabwe Chamber for Informal Economy Associations Secretary General, Mr Wisborn Malaya said keeping the informal sector under lockdown means continued clandestine conduct of their businesses.

“A phased approach is more realistic, achievable, manageable, and appreciated. This must include practical, operational conditions from the Government. The same conditions   Government set for the formal sector where other expected health settings are work in progress should apply,” he said.

“Part of the conditions would be to encourage every informal trader to belong to an association for registration, monitoring, accounting and compliance processes. This becomes part of the formalisation strategy where everyone in work or business is part of a recognised set up.”

He opined that regulating the informal sector will strengthen the capacity to monitor and control all its activities.

Calls for Government to formalise the sector as a way of dealing with the chaos that has characterized informal activities have been growing.

Before the lockdown some small businesses were illegally operating on undesignated spaces.

Others were crowded on illegal spaces without proper sanitation creating fertile ground for the spread of the Covid-19 disease.

Mr Malaya said there is need for political will to understand and decriminalise some sections of informal trade that follow the law.

“People are suffering. Their income, capital and source of livelihood has been lost. Some people now have high blood pressure; gender based violence has increased; debts have been incurred on rentals and bills. Some are even borrowing food.

“The elderly who depended on the support of their children are in deep trouble. The same challenges are affecting children so families are now surviving on one meal per day,” he lamented.

Various ideas have been thrown in the hat to ensure the informal sector stays afloat.

And in a world were clients have been locked in their homes, businesses have shifted to virtual platforms.

However, the capacity of some SMEs and other informal sector players to migrate to e-commerce platforms is in question.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) president, Mr  Denford Mutashu said there is need to come up with an informal sector registration and regularisation drive at policy level.  This, he said, will capture sector players.

“The country has been losing fiscal revenue through leakages in the sector, but the Covid-19 induced lockdown should provide a platform to regularise the economy.

Most of the sector players are currently wallowing in poverty as the income sources are dry,” he said.

Confirmed cases as at June 8, stood at 282 including four deaths.