Zimbabwe police impound fruit and vegetables during lockdown

Police load the confiscated vegetables

MUTARE – Police have impounded tonnes of fruit and vegetables in Zimbabwe, despite the agriculture sector being flagged as an essential service during the 21-day Covid-19 lockdown.

Police launched a nationwide crackdown that has affected vendors, who constitute a huge chunk of the informal sector.

Vendors and producers who spoke to TimesLIVE in Mutare — a town on the country’s eastern border with Mozambique — said a police blitz on Friday morning  will leave most of them counting their losses long after the lockdown.

“I don’t think that I’m going to recover from this. I had tomatoes, cabbages and onions worth about ZW$10,000 taken this morning. I was supposed to pay my workers and transporter from the sales for today. More than three tonnes were taken from vendors,” said Claudius Zama, a small-scale farmer.

He said that most of the produce was taken from the Sakubva Market.

Zama is worried that after the police raid he has no market for his ready harvest.

Much of the country’s available fruit and vegetables are sold in supermarkets, but are beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans because of the lockdown rules and prices.

In some shops a bundle of vegetables retails at ZW$15, while before the lockdown it sold for ZW$4. A box of tomatoes is selling for ZW$250 — up from ZW$100 before the lockdown.

Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation director Samuel Mangoma said there was a need to cushion traders.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday issued a stern warning to retailers who increased prices of basic commodities.

“It’s not necessary for you to force me to take measures against you,” Mnangagwa said during a stakeholder meeting where he was made aware of the surge in prices. “It’s time for patriotism and unity of purpose,” he said.

Zimbabwe has registered nine positive Covid-19 cases and one death from only 316 tests.

The president said, funds permitting, Zimbabwe could have at least 100 Covid-19 isolation centres. He said the centres could set the government back by US$25m.

Hence, the amount in aid Zimbabwe has requested from the international community and the private sector has been pushed to US$2.2bn.

The budget for the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Mnangagwa, has been pegged at US$220m.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube pleaded for assistance in “cash and kind” from the business community.

The response has been positive. Access Forex — a private financial services firm — on Friday made available US$200,000 to help the most vulnerable segments of society — mostly informal traders.

“Since most Zimbabweans are unemployed and are largely surviving on informal sector activities, they have been badly exposed to this situation (Covid-19) and need help,” said Stephanie Taderera in a statement.

She added the funds will be distributed to those affected in Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls before mapping out a plan for the rest of the country’s urban centres.

Friday was Zimbabwe’s fifth day of the lockdown, but the ministry of health and childcare warned that the period could be extended because people were not taking it seriously.