The first few cases of coronavirus were recorded in Zimbabwe towards the end of March 2020 in Harare, with neighbouring country South Africa recording over a thousand positive cases at that time. To prevent further spread of the highly contagious disease a national 21-day lockdown was announced with allowances for essential services to continue operations. The lockdown was further extended by an additional 14 days as the number of positive cases continued to rise. According to authority statistics, as of 29 April 2020, there have been 7, 642 tests conducted and of these 40 have tested positive while four individuals have mortally succumbed to the virus. The lockdown has disrupted economic activities and has had an especially massive impact on the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Zimbabwe has a very high rate of unemployment and the informal sector makes up a high percentage of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to a study conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) entitled, “Shadow Economies around the World: What Did We Learn over the Last 20 Years?” more than 60% of the Zimbabwean economy is informal, second only to Bolivia’s 62.3%. Most individuals survive on buying and selling (cross-border trading) and only make enough to feed themselves and their families on a day-to-day basis. They rely on being physically present to set up shop and carry out their operations for the day. The lockdown has negatively impacted the informal sector because individuals are no longer able to earn an income and support their families. And those who chose not to adhere to the rules of the lockdown retort with a Sophie’s choice scenario; die from hunger or die from the new coronavirus. A bleak situation indeed.
Startups and small businesses have been looking into innovative ways to pivot their business models and how their operations can involve minimal human contact and more online correspondence. Various initiatives, such as the Zimbabwe Youth Council Relief Fund have been started locally and across the region, that aim to assist companies to survive through this time. These resources are made available via online platforms. The major challenge with moving operations online unexpectedly and accessing the resources that are being shared is the lack of access to an internet connection. Currently, the cost of data is not affordable to the average Zimbabwean. Therefore having members of staff working virtually is not a viable option for most businesses due to this cost. Human-centred businesses have suspended operations. This means a lot of small businesses are waiting for the lockdown period to end to resume operations if they find it viable to do so. Larger companies have either given employees a forced leave of absence until operations resume or are paying part salaries so as not to terminate contracts.
On a positive note, communities have come together to come up with ways to assist the vulnerable communities, from raising funds Coronavirus updates by Zimbabwe National Covid African Trust to providing food packages and ensuring facilities are available to test and house patients who have been tested positive COVID-19 Testing in Zimbabwe. Various sectors from NGOS, private sector and government have come together to combat the effects of the new coronavirus. Organisations are providing opportunities for the general population to participate in coming up with the next solution to help combat the virus through challenges and funded opportunities. Be sure to follow the following Twitter pages to stay up to date with all the coronavirus stats and initiatives happening around Zimbabwe.
We unfortunately do not know when this uncertain period will come to an end. What we do know is that life as we know it is has departed. Together we can and will figure out the new normal. Did we miss a COVID-19 initiative? How have your communities been affected by the pandemic? What are you doing in your personal capacity to combat coronavirus? Share in the comments below: