By Moses Charedzera
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negatively on economic activity in communal areas with rural communities scaling down economic activities due to the lockdown imposed by government.
The lockdown which has been extended by two more weeks by President Emmerson Mnangagwa is set to introduce more unwelcome shocks on livelihoods, especially on those families depending on selling horticulture produce while rural traders have not been spared.
A survey conducted by Great Dyke News 24 indicates that most villagers in communal areas are complying with the lockdown and this has resulted in a decline in economic activities hinged on trade in agricultural produce.
Most people interviewed by Great Dyke News 24 acknowledged the availability of health services at a time when the COVID national infection rate is rising, though noting some limitations to the available services.
Mr. Willis Dambanevana from Chihota about 40 kilometres east of Harare, while noting the decline in economic activity said some traders were going about selling their produce with some people trying to beat the lockdown by moving at night.
“Due to hunger some people are moving around selling their products. Here and there you can see some villagers who were used to going to bars walking around. Most of the people are complying with the lockdown order. Village heads are also informing people about the lockdown and those seeking health services are being attended to at health facilities in our area.
“We are however seeing a lot of movement at night and we are not sure where the people will be going. We are praying as Christians and asking God to intervene, “he said.
In Goromonzi, another area near the capital, a local farmer Mrs. Odette Murisi says the lockdown has been observed by the generality of the local populace but has impacted on villagers who depend on horticulture produce to eke out a living.
“In the last two weeks I been in Rusike village and have moved around five villages namely, Dhewu, Chihwai, Chishiri, Dinembira and Mushawatu. I noticed that people observed the lockdown measures. When you visit the local service centres there are no people milling around and the shops close at 3pm. Bars are selling alcohol but the usual gathering in numbers is not there.
“All the houses I visited I noted that there is a bucket of water and a tablet of soap at the door for washing hands. You are asked to wash hands under running water. They have done away with handshakes and are using elbow or foot greetings. They are also maintaining social distance and following lockdown measures,” she said, adding there is assistance from donors operating in the area.
Mrs. Murisi noted the negative impact of the lockdown on livelihoods. She said, “The people here survive through producing and selling horticultural produce and currently they are harvesting their crops. I have however noted the scale of these activities has gone down”
She noted that clinics are open and people are being attended to and accessing medicines. Travel out of the area is not easy as this requires an authorisation letter from the Provincial Administrator’s office and most villagers are just cutting down on unnecessary travel according to Mrs. Murisi.
In the southern parts of the country, Mrs. Olivia Maposa, a mother of two from Munjanja Village under Chief Bota in Zaka District whose husband is a general goods trader said many people in the area who operate small scale business have been hit hard by the lockdown.
“Most people in the area rely on small scale businesses, and they are now grounded, because the businesses have not been coded as essential in the lockdown regulations and this is making it difficult to survive, since the resources they have been holding on to are also depleting.
In terms of health services, she said people have limited access to health facilities as the health personnel have little knowledge about the COVID-19 adding the clinic staff do not have protective clothing and fear for their lives and are only attending to serious cases.
While noting that the lockdown is generally being respected, she said that some people are roaming around without travel authorisation letters and social distancing is difficult to enforce during distribution of food aid.
In the shadows of the northern part of the Great Dyke, Mercy Muchada a 48-year widow from Gwashure Village in Chief Bepura’s area in Guruve bemoaned the lack of knowledge about COVID-19.
She said, “People are going about their chores and don’t have adequate knowledge about the lockdown. There are challenges in social distancing at boreholes where people scramble to get water. The young people in particular are also moving aimlessly too much. Many people are saying the disease is still far off in urban areas and won’t spread to our area.
A recent update by the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association indicates that the lockdown has entrenched inequalities in the agricultural sector where small holder farmers have limited access to the market. With the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down, rural farmers are set to feel the pinch of the lockdown which has hit economies globally.