Zimbabwe: one vast informal business
Zimbabwe’s economy has seen a drastic collapse since 2000. Once a fairly highly industrialised country, Zimbabwe is now a vast informal economy after the collapse of its once-thriving manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
Industry is operating at 30% of its capacity. Since 2011, more than 6,000 companies have closed shop, rendering hundreds of thousands unemployed, according to a 2016 Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) study. The CZI is the umbrella body of the manufacturing industry.
Hundreds of thousands of school leavers are graduating with no hope of formal employment, the CZI says. Unemployment now hovers around 85% and for many, the only hope is now in the informal sector.
With President Robert Mugabe holding onto power for the past 37 years, and with no sign that he intends to let go, the chances of any respite are next to zero.
Mugabe is credited with lording it over a dying economy rife with corruption, fraud and tenderpreneurs, who are mostly politicians and well-connected party supporters.
Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, has historically prided itself as being Africa’s “Sunshine City”; its once gorgeous First Street Mall was often referred to as “little London”.
Its infrastructure and service provision were without comparison in the region outside South Africa.
Harare was a functional and hopeful city; it was peaceful, safe and pretty, especially with its jacaranda trees in full purple bloom.
But no longer. The sun still shines, but more likely in anger as it looks down on an unsightly mess. Thousands of desperate informal traders, or vendors, have flooded into the city centre to sell all manner of goods in front of high-street shops.
It’s only a matter of time before grinding mills – used for grinding maize into the staple, mealie meal – line up along First Street, adding their roar to the dissonance of vendors’ competing megaphones, touting underwear and affordable perfumes.
All this informal and largely unregulated activity, which offers all manner of products and services, including toiletries, motor vehicle spares and basic foodstuffs for sale to passersby, is seen as the “dark side” of the economy. Yet for many Zimbabweans it is a crucial resource for survival, given the collapse of formal employment.
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