South Africa violence shake Bulawayo women informal traders

By Lubalethu Ndlovu

Jacqueline Ndlovu (34) is an informal trader from Mpopoma, one of the oldest suburbs in Bulawayo. Jacqueline says when COVID-19 hit the world early in 2020, it took time for her to adjust to the new normal. But before she had settled, there was massive violence and looting of businesses that took place mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces from 9 to 17 July 2021.

A member of the South African Defence Force (SADF) patrols a mall vandalised by rioters. Cross border traders in Zimbabwe fear that the violence may destroy their enterprises. Photo:

Jacqueline says the majority of women in Bulawayo survive by cross border trading where they buy different wares from South Africa for re-sale in Zimbabwe. The COVID-19 lockdown measures had disrupted their work but many women had found ways of dealing with the imposed restrictions on movements.

“My family survives on cross border trading. I had found ways of circumventing travelling restrictions induced by COVID-19, but the upheavals in South Africa have completely disrupted my plans,” says Jacqueline.

Jacqueline says when the lockdown was imposed, she continued bringing in goods from South Africa through haulage truck drivers. The drivers had their ways of dealing with border officials to enable the crossing of goods into the country.

Jacqueline further says she hopes that the violent looting will be contained quickly so that the livelihoods of many women is not completely ruined.

“Looking at my business a lot of things are going to change because of the situation in South Africa. Many retailers in South Africa may stop operations for a while. This means that I will have no goods for re-sale,” says Jacqueline.

She also says haulage trucks are experiencing challenges in South Africa and many truck drivers feel unsafe to transport goods.

“Truck drivers are fearful that their vehicles will be burnt down and it is already so risky to hire a haulage truck to South Africa because it may be attacked,” says Jacqueline.

Busiswa Sobani (22) of Nkulumane suburb is also one of the affected cross border traders in Bulawayo. She says the violence in South Africa is a wakeup call for women to develop innovative ways to be self-sufficient.

“I feel like this looting in South Africa directly affects us since all our products are produced there. Our lifeline has been disrupted and there is no more business for us. This raises the critical issue of self-sustenance as a country. Women need to be creative and innovative entrepreneurs so as to support their families,” says Busiswa.

Busiswa notes that the violence in South Africa will result in the increase in the prices of goods and sink many families into deeper poverty.

“This looting affects our families and the general economy in the sense that Zimbabwe’s economy relies on the South African economy. Many family in Zimbabwe will starve because of food shortages,” says Busiswa.

Busiswa feels that women who survive on cross border trading should establish projects locally such as farming so that they are not easily affected by what is happening in the neighbouring countries.

“I think we need loans for women so that we can start-up businesses such as poultry, farming, and baking so that we do not rely on neighbouring countries,” says Busiswa.

Many informal cross border traders buy goods in South Africa but there have been successive disturbances such as the 2019 xenophobic disturbances. The currents violence follows the arrest of former South African president, Jacob Zuma.

The violence that followed the arrest is now rippling in Zimbabwe where women now find themselves in limbo as they cannot travel to import goods.

This article was written as part of the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) project that seeks to strengthen the voices of women and girls, especially under the grim impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). CCCD has used the WhatsApp mobile application to train women and girls so that they express their voices on what is happening in their communities.

Creative Centre for Communication and Development, Zimbabwe