It is difficult to measure the size of informal busines sector in Zimbabwe just as it is the same for the taxman and ministers who are now seeing a source of revenue through taxes. No matter the government stance on this sector, many Zimbabweans now survive as small scale traders although they are not affiliated to the Small Scale Medium Enterprises and Co-operative Development plan. They run independently, just trying to make ends meet in a dire situation. According to research, about 67% of this steady and fast growing sector are women.
On my recent visit to visit that country, I met Nokuthula Siziba-Mguni and her business partner Siphathisiwe Dube. They run a decoration, catering and wedding gowns ‘company’ that is engaged in planning and organising parties. Designing wedding dresses is easy as Nokuthula is professional designer. However, she could not make a signaficant profit from designing and selling her dresses because of the influx of second hand clothes mostly from Mozambique. These were and still selling at a ridiculous e.g one US dollar for two! She therefore partnered with Pathi, who has expertise in cooking and catering, to start a Deco. Catering and Gown company and it operates mostly in the high density suburbs of Bulawayo. They can also take the business anywhere around town, even the posh parts of Khumalo, Hillside and the like. What they need is just an invitation as they are very flexible.
“Business is very slow these days as many civil servants have been laid off through downsizing. Many big companies have also closed down,” said Nokuthula.
I asked them why they were cooking over an open fire.
“Electricity is not reliable here. We can be cut off anytime even when busy preparing for a function,” she said.
“What about the heat from the fire, can you stand that?” I asked Siphathisiwe.
She smiled and said,”As you can see, we’re used to that now. At first it wasn’t easy.”
The resilient women also had round belly three-legged pots as part of their kitchen utensils. Washing soot off these pots is a challenge.
Every one of the helpers looked happy and grateful to be employed and able to take something home. The problem with the informal sector in Zimbabwe is that the government does not want to engage with them or create a conducive environment for them, although there is funny talk to start taxing them.
No matter what conditions they face, Nokuthula, Siphathisiwe and other small scale business women need to work and sustain their families, they say. The income from such projects go a long way to supplement whatever income their spouses bring home – and it can’t be much considering the overall economic condition of that country.
It all got me thinking. If only the government would not interfere adversely with such courageous providers including vegetable and second-hand ware vendors. A meaningful dialogue with them may be the only win-win situation.