By Gibson Nyikadzino

IT is an early and hot Sunday morning in Mbare’s Majubheki area, Harare. A thick cloud of flies buzzes over filthy plates that are heaped in an outside sink because residents have not accessed water for three days.

Ruvimbo Gezi (33) emerges from her illegally-constructed house, evident that it is not part of the main architectural plan.

Just behind her “house”, a stream of sewage flows down the street.

Her children are among others watching the stream with boredom as this is a constant occurrence in the neighbourhood.

The mother of three, a divorcee and informally employed, Gezi has lived miserably since government announced the first 21-day coronavirus lockdown on March 30.

Her situation is compounded by the piecemeal relaxation of lockdown restrictions and opening up of the economy by the government because nothing tangible to survive on has come her way.

“Things have been hard and challenging after government announced the partial relaxation of restrictions. It is difficult to have a proper footing because everyone or the majority is trying to get things in shape and not looking at the concerns of other people,” she said.

Gezi has never been formally employed, she has no medical cover, no constant source of income and does not qualify for social protection in Zimbabwe according to the Social Welfare Assistance Act Chapter 17:06.

The Act compels government to only extend social protection assistance to a “destitute or indigent person” who is “over 60 years of age, is handicapped physically or mentally, suffers continuous ill-health or is a dependent of a person who is destitute or indigent or incapable of looking after oneself”.

The government’s social welfare and protection grants are not meant for everyone, moreso in a time of crisis.

Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube in July said social welfare structures would identify the beneficiaries of government’s social protection grants.

The mother of three believes she is among the “vulnerable”.

“If government does not count people like me among the vulnerable who deserve social welfare assistance, then it is not serving the people. I have heard of the $300 cushioning allowance from government, but so far I have not seen anyone from government coming to the grassroots and monitor the situation. How will I fare with my kids?” she asked rhetorically.

To United Nations Children’s Fund executive director Henrietta Fore, the coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that was draining resources for families all over the world.

“Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades,” Fore noted.

Without alternative income sources, vulnerable families still have difficulties despite government relaxing some lockdown restrictions.

The International Labour Organisation announced that social protection systems are an indispensable part of a co-ordinated policy response to the unfolding crisis.

A 2018 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report says Zimbabwe’s informal economy is the largest in Africa.

The sector contributes around 60% of the country’s economic activity.

However, inadequate assistance from the government has pushed many informal businesses into difficult positions.

Though informal traders are now “operating”, government’s position since the easing of lockdown restrictions is that those who want to operate should register their businesses, operate from designated areas and present tax returns.

Before the lockdown, the World Data Lab estimated that global poverty was at 600 million, while the United Nations estimates that because of the coronavirus, poverty levels will rise to 1,3 billion people, which is 22% of the world population.

Further indications are that of the 1,3 billion poor people, 558 million are in Africa. The pandemic has pushed many into poverty and economies are heading south.

About seven million Zimbabweans are facing starvation and living in poverty, research shows.

The $300 social protection grant remains an unfulfilled pledge.

The majority of citizens lack access to food, healthcare services, endure a collapsed social service delivery and limited access to water, raising poverty levels in the country.

“I live in poverty. The situation I live in leaves me wondering if the government is interested in addressing increasing poverty levels among citizens. My savings were eroded because I could not get work and today I still find it difficult to get work.

“I have no money to register what I do informally because at times I sell second-hand clothes. On another day I might be selling plastic house ware, depending on what has a good return that time,” Gezi added.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed government’s social protection scheme.

Social protection is vital in responding to the coronavirus crisis by ensuring that people have access to healthcare, supporting job and income security.

Without such, it is more difficult for the poor to survive the post-COVID-19 era.

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