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Matabeleland North stakeholders discuss the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19

Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) conducted a stakeholder engagement with Civil Society Organisations operating in Matabeleland North where they deliberated on the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 on Matabeleland North citizens. The keynote speaker for the meeting was Honourable Richard Moyo, the Matabeleland North Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution. The following issues were discussed:

Effects of the pandemic on livelihoods

The Minister highlighted that since Matabeleland North is largely dependent on tourism, cross border trading, artisan mining and informal traders, the closing down of borders and the travel bans due to the COVID-19 regulations had negatively affected the livelihoods of many with some losing their tourism jobs. Travel and border restrictions largely affected informal traders who usually export products from neighbouring countries such as Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. He went on to say that most farmers were also not able to transport their produce to the market in the city due to travel bans and most markets were closed as well. Nomqhele Siziba the Executive Director of Youth Invest who was also in attendance reiterated these sentiments highlighting that most women rely on selling crafts to tourists and have been affected by the nationwide lockdown. She went on to say that in areas such as Jambezi, many have not received cushioning allowances which has led to a decline in food security for many households.

The most vulnerable districts in the Province

Binga is the most affected District in the Province previously with 72% households being food insecure, the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have since worsened the situation on the ground. The District depends on supplies from Bulawayo and Gokwe and thus the restricted movement of people affected food supplies. The Minister highlighted that 12 wards out of 25 depend on fish harvesting which was banned during the initial lockdown period and later lifted but the market was affected as buyers from Harare, Bulawayo, Hwange and Victoria Falls could not travel. The Minister however said that all the households whose livelihoods were affected by the lockdown were eligible to receive cushioning allowances.

Ill-treatment of employees in the mining sector

Alfred Sihwa the Director at Sibanye Animal Conservancy and Welfare Trust expressed concern on the abuse of local Zimbabwean mine workers by Chinese mining companies in Hwange which has been rampant during the lockdown. He went on to say that these mining companies have been prospecting within the residential areas which is a hazard to the homes of many. The Minister said that he has will plan an engagement meeting with the DDC and other relevant stakeholders in Hwange to discuss this issue and hear the concerns from the community.

Information dissemination

The Minister said that efforts were made to ensure that rural communities have access to information on COVID-19 in their local languages, in this regard the Risk communication Sub-Committee is active in the Province. The Province trained Village Health Workers, community influential leaders (chiefs, village heads and headmen), church leaders and teachers to disseminate information to the communities on COVID-19. The information on COVID-19 was disseminated through hailers to communities in the Districts. Information was also shared at funerals during visits to clinics and food distribution points among others. IEC materials in local languages were also produced and distributed to communities and radio broadcasts were also done in local languages such as Nambya, Tonga, Xhosa and Chewa which are spoken in the Province. Meeting participants were however concerned as they noted the laxity of members of the public especially in remote areas in adhering to the COVID-19 regulations such as wearing of masks, social distancing and sanitising and said that more still needs to be done in sensitising communities.

Social welfare services rolled out by the Government

Presenting on access to social welfare the Minister said that Government introduced the COVID-19 Cash Transfer Program which targets vulnerable individuals whose sources of livelihoods have been greatly affected by the lockdown. He highlighted that through the Department of Social Development, the government of Zimbabwe has so far managed to distribute only 1401 NetOne SIM cards for the Cash Transfer Program in the 7 districts of Matabeleland North. The Minister said that the registration of affected individuals is still ongoing and affected individuals are encouraged to register. Njabulo Moyo from Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ), however, said that the Cash Transfer Program has not been very effective mainly as a result of late disbursements of funds which saw the value of the money being highly corroded due to inflation rendering the intervention futile. Moyo went on to say that the Government may need to make use of technology avenues in order to expedite the disbursement processes. The Minister concurred that there is need to review the process of registration and disbursement t as well as the amount so that it is practicable and of assistance to the beneficiaries.

Safety nets for informal traders

The Minister highlighted that Government disbursed ZW89 million under the informal sector cash transfer to cushion workers in the informal sector across the country from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He went on to say that the Department of Social Development is working hand in glove with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development to register affected citizens. Registration of beneficiaries is ongoing and respective beneficiaries can approach the District Social Development Offices in the seven districts of Matabeleland North. Michael Ndiweni the Executive Director at Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) reiterated that informal traders had been dealt a heavy blow as they had been forced to close business since they were not deemed as an essential service. He implored the government to avail the cushion funds for informal traders so that they can utilise them as capital to restock on their businesses as most had been corroded by inflation.

COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan in Matabeleland North

On the COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, the Minister pointed out that the Ministry of Health and Child Care Head Office held a COVID-19 vaccine sensitisation meeting on the 9th of February 2021 which was also attended by representatives from Matabeleland North. There was also a training of trainers which was held on Tuesday 16 February 2021 in Matabeleland North. The Ministry is also planning on rolling out a sensitisation meeting with frontline workers which will be followed by vaccination of health workers both in the public and private sector and other frontline workers including members of the police service, defense forces and immigration officers.

Areas of collaboration with development partners

The Minister said there is need for more resources to be availed in order for information dissemination to be on-going thus reducing the prevalence of the disease. He also said that it is necessary to upgrade hospitals/ clinics in some districts so that there are designated isolation centres and his requires a lot of resources. The private sector and development partners can partner government in this regard. One of the participants highlighted that their organisation has been partnering with informal traders by providing them with face masks and hand sanitizers to enable them to comply with the WHO Protocols so that they can resume their businesses. The participants were all in agreement that there is need for setting up of collaboration platforms of development and private partners so that they contribute resources to fighting against COVID-19 in Matabeleland North,

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