Zimbabweans To Feel The Pinch Of South Africa Lockdown
25 March 2020
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Zimbabwean cross border travellers in Harare

With over half a thousand confirmed cases of Covid-19, South Africa has moved its response a notch up.

The country has effected a 21-day lockdown starting from March 26.

This is aimed at reducing cases, which seem to be on an upward spiral.

An increase in positive South African cases should be a concern for Zimbabwe as there is a lot of human traffic in between the two countries.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa is to close all businesses except a few exemptions, which included retail, service stations, essential banking services and telecommunications.

Categories of people who will be exempted from this lockdown are health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency personnel, those in security services — such as the police, traffic officers, military medical personnel and soldiers — and other “persons necessary for our response to the pandemic”.

Most of these professions do not employ as many foreigners and it may happen that there may be many Zimbabweans who belong to the South African military or police.

Jobs are on the line, as projections for the economy keep pointing to a recession and Covid-19 has not made the situation any easier.

Nedbank chief economist Nicky Weimar was quoted in the Sunday Times business saying she projects the South African economy to remain in recession in the first quarter prior to outbreak of Covid-19 and the national emergency or disaster declaration.

“The first quarter decline will now just be deeper and likely to extend into the early part of the second quarter.

Thereafter, some improvement off a low base is still possible, if the world and South Africa manage to stop the spread of the pandemic and manage to treat the ill effectively.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had GDP growth of 0,7 percent for this year, then we revised it to 0,3 percent after China and Italy imposed their lockdowns. We will now have to re-examine our forecasts, but the risk of the economy contracting over 2020 is very high,” Weimar said.

There are no official figures on how many Zimbabweans are in South Africa although unofficial estimates peg the number between 2 and 3 million.

The ambiguity that surrounds figures as noted by www.southafricanimmigration.org is a sign that there is no data even at government level.

Resultantly, even when there is planning for social cushioning in South Africa, Zimbabwean workers are going to be left out.

There is a big number of South African based Zimbabweans who are into menial jobs and this lockdown may plunge them into destitution.

What will become of cleaners and restaurant workers in a foreign land? Some of them who are undocumented.

There is hope in that industries will remain open but again there is no numerical breakdown to aid perspective on how many Zimbabweans occupy space in this sector.

Some families back home in Zimbabwe rely on South African remittances.

According to Finmark, a South African financial research organisation, about R6,7 billion is remitted back to Zimbabwe annually by workers based in South Africa.

This shows the extent to which business activity in South Africa contributes to the Zimbabwean economy and all that stands threatened at the moment.

At the 2019 Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission meeting, South Africa’s President Ramaphosa said the two countries were joined by a umbilical cord.

As a response to unemployment, some Zimbabweans were engaged in cross border trading where they would hoard cheaper goods in South Africa and resell them back home for a profit.

Musina’s boom is largely attributed to this economic activity.

Cross-Border Traders’ Association (CBTA) says about 10 000 cross-border traders travel to South Africa daily.

The association’s president, Killer Zivhu, recently instructed members to put on hold travel plans until the Covid-19 scare is over.

“The message is that let’s heed the President’s call and avoid travelling outside the country for the next two months. There will always be an opportunity to do business.

“A lot of people are leaving the country for cross-border trading and they are at risk of infection because sometimes they have to shop or sell in crowded places,” Zivhu said.

This plea was cemented by enhanced measures announced by President Mnangagwa recently, where he closed borders except for cargo.

A number of families that relied on cross border trading will have to find alternative sources of income in the meantime as measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are implemented.

The same applies to self-styled runners who were becoming increasingly popular.

Known traditionally as Abomalayitsha, these people used to travel to buy groceries on other people’s behalf for a fee.

Now they have to halt operations until a conclusive end to the crisis facing Zimbabwe can be seen.

It is, however, not doom and gloom as there have been indications that the South African border will not be entirely shut.

Goods will be allowed in through the border but human movement is prohibited.

This means that even as Zimbabwean industries are yet to recover to a point of fully sustaining needs of the local market, South African products can still plug in gaps, provided they maintain their productive capacity.

South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi gave an assurance that their country will not close Beitbridge border.

“We have only one border post with Zimbabwe, that’s Beitbridge, and we will never close that one of course,” Motsoaledi said at a press conference recently.

It is not going to be a comfortable few days, weeks or months for Zimbabwe as its connection with South Africa will be trimmed only to the point of allowing essentials in.

But that is part of the script.

Everyone in the world is feeling the reality of Covid-19 and Zimbabwe has not been spared.

South Africa, who are pursuing a 21-day lockdown are on 554 confirmed cases and zero deaths as of yesterday, while Zimbabwe stands on two confirmed cases, one death.

There are fears that unregulated movement between the two countries may lead to cross infection and authorities have acted to mitigate this risk.