Covid-19 and impact on female entrepreneurs – Tell Zimbabwe


Chitima Market before lockdown

…worst of
lockdown may be over, but challenges remain



There are many
resettlement schemes around Masvingo that came into being courtesy of the
willing buyer-willing seller programme as well as the succeeding fast track
Land Reform Programme of the early 2000s.

These include Chidzikwe,
Chipinda, Mayo, Mazare and Summerton that are all under Masvingo Rural District

The Zimbabwe Farmers
Union (ZFU) Masvingo region says many agro-based entrepreneurs in these areas
are women who grow vegetables for sale in Masvingo city especially at
Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle Market.

More prominently known as
‘Chitima Market’, a colloquial name derived from its closeness to a railway
line, the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle Market is the biggest informal market in the

It was established in
2005 as part of the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle rebuilding exercise which followed
the controversial urban clean-up campaign known as Operation Murambatsvina.

The shanty market comprises
a vegetable section which is dominated by women, and a clothing section which
has both male and female traders. Under normal circumstances, the market is a
hive of activity, with farmers and traders selling all kinds of vegetables and such
grains as sorghum, millet, beans and wheat.

Before the lockdown, around
450 informal traders did business at the vegetable section of the market per

Many of those
entrepreneurs were female fresh produce farmers from the resettlement schemes while
others residents of the city who got their stock in bulk from the farmers every

When the first phase of
the lockdown came into effect at the end of March last year, the market was
shut down and all the farmers and traders lost their surest source of reliable

Council went on to raze
down the whole vegetable section of the market which was made up of wooden and
plastic vending stalls.

The local authority
has, however, so far not managed to adequately replace those makeshift
structures with proper ones as was promised.

“The lockdown has been the
hardest challenged we have faced since we got resettled. Not even the droughts
of 2002 and 2008 led to as much losses as we suffered this time around because
some farmers here have some small irrigation systems that draw water from
Mazare River,” said Ruvarashe Chuma of Mazare, who normally sells of her
produce at Chitima Market.

A mother of three who
is married to a polygamous man, Chuma said she suffered serious losses as her
tomatoes and cabbages, which were grown on a one-hectare piece of land, could
not be delivered to the market.

“I had many tomato and
cabbage seedlings which I had hoped to plant and harvest in winter when the
tomato market is usually undersupplied hence most rewarding. Unfortunately, I
did not make much from my efforts as I failed to get the tomatoes to town. I
looked for new markets in rural areas where I sold at giveaway prices. Some of
the produce actually went to waste,” said Chuma.

Her story was shared by
Dorcus Muzire of Summerton who said the lockdown was the most difficult setback
she had encountered in recent years.

Since 2012, Muzire had
been a regular of Chitima Markert where she traded either sugar beans from her
piece of land or millet (mhunga) bought in bulk from farmers in Mwenezi
district for resale in Masvingo city.

“I am sitting with over
300kg of millet and a similar amount of beans which I could not sell in time
due to the lockdown. I am a member of a women’s club in which we take turns
giving each other money per month to enable members to buy inputs and tradable
produce but we could not continue during the lockdown. There are eight of us in
the club and I owe my colleagues money,” said Muzire, a mother of four.

She said although the
lockdown had now been significantly relaxed, recovering from its devastation
would be an uphill task and would take a very long time.

Chitima Vegetable
Vendors Association chairperson Tamisai Katini said close to 300 women who are
members of her grouping were in dire straits.

“We are suffering. Our
regular income stream was blocked all of a sudden and our members, who are
mostly women, face severe financial difficulties. Some have since relocated
back to their rural homes. Others are trading from home but it’s never the
same,” said Katini.

She criticised council
for failing to replace all the destroyed market stalls in time, and for
allocating the few available spaces in the upgraded part of the vegetable side
of the market ‘in a non-transparent manner’.

“They razed the whole
market but what was built anew is not enough. Some traders who had always known
this place as their only workplace were excluded while new traders were allowed
in. We feel preference should have been given to those who worked here before
the lockdown,” said Katini.

Masvingo Urban Ward 1
Councillor Selina Maridza, whose ward incorporates the oldest and poorest part
of town, said she was working with many desperate women of her ward to help
them find new ways of doing business.

“Many residents in this
ward called Chitima their work place for over 10 years but they are now at home
where they live in worse poverty than before. We are working to encourage them
to trade from home and to form WhatsApp groups to market their merchandise. I often
tell them that as women, they should form groups and support each other rather
than needlessly compete against one another,” said Maridza.

Her counterpart in
Masvingo Rural Ward 5, Aleta Mokomeke said the lockdown had not only had a
negative impact on women’s earnings, but had also increased cases of domestic

“Many women in my ward
used to come to the city to trade but the lockdown stopped all that. As a
result, many women became more dependent on government and donor food aid
programmes. With less means to spend their time productively and almost always
at home, they have become victims of abuse at home,” said Makomeke who herself
has donated foodstuffs and money to some of the most vulnerable of women and
families in her ward.

Centre for Gender and
Community Development in Zimbabwe (CGCZ) operations manager Chida Mudadi, said
it was a sad reality that the lockdown had had a net effect of women’s earnings
and ultimately their safety at home.

“There is a correlation
between income levels and vulnerability of women and we noticed that the lockdown
made women more vulnerable as it froze their earning capacity and rendered them
more dependent on men. As a result, cases of domestic violence increased during
the lockdown,” said Mudadi whose organization works for women’s economic
empowerment, climate adaptation and supporting livelihoods in such rural and
peri-urban areas as Bikita and Mashava.

In Mhene village
Masvingo Rural Ward 12, CGCDZ also supports dozens of women who run a lucrative
horticulture project which was not fully spared by the impact of the lockdown.

Women Coalition of
Zimbabwe (WCoZ) Masvingo Chapter coordinator Belinda Mwale said the lockdown
did disrupt women’s lives. She however praised the resilience that some women
had demonstrated in the face of immense adversity.

“Many women resorted to
roadside vending in the night to evade a crackdown by the police but this
exposed them to greater dangers of abuse. Perishables also contributed to the
losses suffered by female fruit and vegetable vendors and farmers.

“It is pleasing,
however, that a whole new home industry has emerged in high density suburbs
where some innovative women are now producing and selling their goods,” said

With the lockdown
having been substantially relaxed at the beginning of this month, business is
slowly returning to the popular shanty market.

However, the coronavirus
pandemic means conditions of trade will never be the same and it remains to be
seen whether or not female entrepreneurs will be able to fully-recover from the









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