The growth in informal trading was exacerbated by the closure of major industries and the scaling down of operations by some companies in the eastern border city during the past few years.
The period from 2007 to 2009 saw major companies that include, Mutare Board and Paper Mills (MBPM), ZimBoard and Plate Glass (PG), among others, closing down. The remaining companies like Tanganda Holdings, Cairns Foods, Wattle Company and Border Timbers scaled down their operations, resulting in more employees losing their jobs, the majority of whom, have now entered into informal trading.
In an interview with The Standard last week, a Mutare shop owner, Shaquil Ahmed said: “I understand that there are no jobs, but now almost everyone is involved in the informal business. We have been pushed out of business, as some of the informal traders are selling wares that I also sell, just in front of my shop.”
There has been an influx of informal traders, who are selling their products on shop pavements. People have also been witnessing a huge rise of “mobile” restaurants, which thrive on door-to-door delivery of food .
A restaurant operator, Farai Zinyemba, accused unregistered food operators of creating disorder in the fast-foods sector.
“Informal traders are selling food openly in the streets and there are too many backyard restaurants. Others are even going door- to-door selling food in lunch boxes,” he said.
Zinyemba urged city fathers and the police to address the situation before more registered operators are pushed out of business. But some informal traders said they were only providing competition to the registered operators, whose goods and services were highly overpriced.
City of Mutare Town Clerk, Obert Muzawazi, said council was also concerned by the uncontrolled growth of the informal sector, which has brought disorder.
“Yes, I admit that there have been a rising number of the informal traders of late and this has been caused by the closure of companies,” he said.
“We have seen a situation where shop owners in the formal trade are refusing to pay rates, as they say the municipal police should arrest the informal traders that are operating in front of shops and pavements. We can work with the police, but it has become extremely difficult for us.”
council appeals to govt for help
Muzawazi said council in Mutare was encouraging the government to implement national programmes geared towards economically empowering informal traders.
“We require government funding to build market stalls or incubators in the city and high-density suburbs so that their business becomes formal,” he said.
Muzawazi said council had allocated land to some businesses to start major projects, but due to corruption and political interference, these have failed to kick-off.
He said the government should speed up efforts to fund small to medium enterprise activities in the city in order to give birth to a strong economic base that can sustain the city and the country at large.