FOR 34-year-old Constance Mariko, who resides in Ascot Extension suburb in Gweru, vegetable vending has been her major source of income for the past decade.
A mother of three minor children, Mariko used to trade her produce at the now-closed Kombayi market. The market was shut last year by the city council to pave way for renovations after the government directed all local authorities to demolish and refurbish old vending sites.
After Kombayi market had been locked, vendors immediately created an illegal fresh farm produce in Mtapa suburb. Mariko, alongside hundreds of other vendors, were soon found at the new vending site which council however later condemned as unhygienic and a hotspot for the spread of Covid-19 in the Midlands capital.
Traders from Gweru and surrounding areas soon congested the new site where no coronavirus regulations like social distancing, wearing of masks and sanitising were observed.
Those who stay in nearby suburbs also complained that the place had no ablution facilities and vendors were relieving themselves in the open, exposing the public to diseases. At that time, Gweru mayor Josiah Makombe said the vendors would not chased away from the site “on humanitarian grounds” although he indicated plans to relocate them.
In the past fortnight, the local authority moved the vendors to a yet-to-completed new vending site opposite Mtapa Police Station.
But when the government recently announced a 30-day lockdown, the vendors, like other informal and formal businesses, were ordered to cease operations.
Only this week the traders started streaming back to their initial illegal vending site, raising health concerns, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic which has so far seen the country recording more than 20 000 cases and 500 deaths.
“Do we have a choice as informal traders?” a vendor quipped to The NewsHawks on condition of anonymity.
“We are aware of Covid-19 but one has to choose between bringing food to children or staying at home and starve. We are caught in a tricky situation and one we do not have much choice over.”
Another fresh farm produce supplier from Lower Gweru who has since returned to the illegal spot said they had found ways to “deal with law enforcement agents” who usually raid them.
“If you are caught, you have to pay (bribe),”he said.
“Without support mechanisms from government during this lockdown, people will take all the risks to survive. It’s easy for people to speak on the dangers of the pandemic in their comfort zones and a totally different issue for those who have no alternative means of living.”
Makombe however said it was disheartening to see vendors continuing to defy Covid-19 regulations, especially those returning to Mtapa illegal market.
He said council had managed to relocate vendors to a more appropriate vending place in Mtapa and said the lockdown was affecting everyone hence the traders needed to observe regulations to prevent the spread of the pandemic in the city.
“Covid-19 pandemic is still prevalent and everyone should play their part to prevent it from spreading,” he said.
“Vendors might think that the illegal market where they have started returning to is convenient but I tell you that place is a health time bomb.”
In the past few days, the Midlands province and Gweru in particular has been recording an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths.