Cross-border traders, who make their living from transactions with neighbouring countries are defying lockdown regulations to cross into countries such as South Africa and Mozambique illegally, according to authorities.
Zimbabwe’s Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, says smuggling activities especially along the vast Mozambique border pose a serious threat as imported Coronavirus cases are on the increase.
“An increase in the smuggling of second-hand clothes into the country through border posts with Mozambique such as Mt. Selinda and Sango poses an unprecedented danger of spreading Covid-19 to those who wear them”, Mutsvangwa says following a Cabinet meeting on the issue last week.
“The government will upscale the enforcement of the law banning the importation of second hand-clothes,” she added.
Zimbabwe first banned the importation of second-hand clothes in 2015 to protect the country’s textile industry but relaxed the restrictions two years later as it is a major source of income for informal traders hit hard by the collapse of the economy.
Traders source bales of the clothes from Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia to resell to locals whose shrinking sources of income make it difficult for them to buy brand new clothes.
The country closed its borders on March 30 to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, but desperate traders are resorting to using illegal entry points into South Africa and Mozambique to source merchandise, which they smuggle back into Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s Vice President , Kembo Mohadi, who leads the country’s taskforce to tackle the pandemic, said smugglers operating along Zimbabwe’s borders with South Africa and Mozambique pose a serious threat to efforts to contain the coronavirus.
According to President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations, Lorraine Sibanda, income loss caused by the ongoing lockdown has led to a surge in criminal activities, including smuggling, as a means of survival adding that informal traders are risking their lives to cross borders illegally and banning the importation of second-hand clothes is not the solution.
“There is a need to determine whether second-hand clothes can be a factor in the transmission of Coronavirus. Some of our members suggest that they be allowed to continue selling second-hand clothes because they will disinfect them and adhere to World Health Organisation guidelines on the prevention of the spread of the virus,” says Sibanda.
She adds that the government had failed to make funds available to informal businesses to ensure their survival during the lockdown.