ZIMBABWE’S informal sector has been growing due to the shrinking of formal jobs on the market. Informal players have been plagued by a plethora of problems. To get insights on the sector, our reporter Fidelity Mhlanga (FM) spoke to Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Association secretary-general Wisborn Malaya (WM, pictured). Below are excerpts of the interview:
FM: How has been the year 2020 for informal traders?
WM: 2020 has been a year of tribulation for many informal workers and traders. The year started with a battle with authorities on vendors trading, then suddenly came Covid-19 which totally shut down informal businesses for a strong five months. Within this period many operational places for informal traders were demolished by local authorities citing them as hazardous to health and a vector in the spread of Covid-19.
As a result there was a high record of domestic violence, people suffering from hunger, teenage pregnancies, violence and abuses in the homes and communities due to stress, pressure as well as abuse of drugs by young people.
The last part of the year (August to December) promised to be a recovery path but the damage for the year can never be repaired over a short period of time.
FM:What issues do you think were not resolved by authorities?
WM: The authorities committed to put up new infrastructure which is health-friendly and habitable for business for many of informal traders to operate from. It is unfortunate that as much as this project was started only a few local authorities completed the project.
As a result people have resorted to the old same system of setting up operational shades for themselves.
This is a serious cause for concern because authorities may demolish these structures again. The authorities should have also reviewed their informal sector policies so that they do not continue to criminalise the traders who are a big player in this economic developmental agenda towards 2030.
FM: Did your members receive the Covid-19 relief fund to support their businesses?
WM: Unfortunately we never recorded any of our members in receipt of Covid-19 business relief fund. We can only confirm that some received cash transfers for the food support only.
We can confirm only about 300 out of the target submitted of 16 000 members from across the country received food support.
FM: Are your members enjoying brisk business during this festive season?
WM: Members are just at most enjoying a light recovery path by being able to trade again though still under risky conditions. Also business is not as usual because the effects of Covid-19 still cut across systems to this day. Already the period is a scramble for survival with school fees already knocking on the door. So it is a tight call festive season.
FM: With 2021 coming what are your plans as an association?
WM: Our major plan for 2021 is to build a solid relationship with the government on initiatives that improve the lives of informal traders across board. This speaks to the long-term advocacy on reviewing the regulatory framework so that it recognises the contribution of informal economy traders to the country’s GDP. This is a key socioeconomic agenda which has a crucial role towards NDS1 and the 2030 agenda. We will also focus on playing our role in the fight against corruption, violence and harassment in the world of our work.
FM: What do you want authorities to rectify so that your members will trade well?
WM: Authorities should review their bylaws to suite the prevailing economic conditions where many people are trading in the informal economy. They must work with informal economy organisations to properly regulate the many informal traders (bringing us to the table) in a developmental and sustainable manner which builds the nation.
Criminalisation, violence and harassment of informal traders must stop in Zimbabwe at all levels. This is the only true transformative agenda that can build a better Zimbabwe for all. I confirm some authorities are beginning to apply these positive actions.
FM: What are your views on the recent imposition of presumptive tax on informal traders?
WM: The imposition of presumptive tax is not a good move by the government, neither is it a practical approach. The government should first put up a clear policy that protects the operations of informal traders at all levels before imposing these tax regimes on the target. In every country where the informal traders are taxed:
They are supported by a friendly policy that regulates their operations
The taxes are fair
The members benefit from the tax investments
They participate at platforms that decide issues that affect them and their work.
So all these are still lacking in Zimbabwe and at the end of the day tax positions to the informal traders are made on misinformed advice. At the moment not many can afford this presumptive tax. It has to be reviewed within conditions of a supportive informal sector policy framework.
FM: What do you expect authorities to do for you going into 2021?
WM: The informal economy is a key player in Zimbabwe’s true recovery through the NDS1 and Agenda 2030. Therefore there is need for the government in 2021 to have a biased approach of putting up attractive measures that allow this sector to operate with protective and developmental rights.
It is important for President ED Mnangagwa and his cabinet to bring the informal economy organisations to the table and harvest from the sector’s rich input for sustainable development.
If this is done truly everyone will be a happy and committed towards the 2030 agenda. As we say in the informal economy nothing for us without us, also no development for us without us involved.