The government’s decision to enforce a ban on the sale of second-hand clothes under the pretext that it wants to stop the spread of the coronavirus is not backed by science and could wreck lives of millions of people that survive on informal trade.
Cabinet last week resolved to enforce the ban that was first introduced in 2015, but was relaxed two years later, after reports of an upsurge in smuggling cases along the Mozambican border.
Smuggling rings are allegedly violating the lockdown regulations that saw Zimbabwe closing its borders to human traffic from March 30 to control the spread of the coronavirus that is wreaking havoc across the globe.
The smugglers allegedly bring bales of clothes that are sourced from different countries for resale locally by unemployed Zimbabweans.
Smuggling does not only occur along the porous Mozambican border, but the vice is also rife on the South African part of Zimbabwe’s border.
Zimbabweans continue to risk their lives and to defy lockdown regulations to cross into South Africa to source for basic commodities that are either in short supply or are highly priced locally.
It is an issue of survival.
This is why the government’s decision to target second-hand clothes traders alone does not make sense because there is no evidence that the virus that causes Covid-19 can be spread by second-hand clothes shipped from abroad.
Science, according to the World Health Organisation, shows that it is unlikely for anyone to catch the virus from a “package that has been moved, travelled and exposed to different conditions and temperatures”.
The bales of second-hand clothes that Zimbabweans fetch from Mozambique are transported from abroad through the sea and it takes weeks for them to reach the ports. Coronavirus does not survive on surfaces for that long.
Science aside, the government could have explored other ways to ensure that the informal traders carry out out their business in a way that does not expose them and their customers to the highly infectious disease.
The authorities can deal with cases of smuggling without criminalising citizens trying to eke out a living in these harsh economic times. Some even sourced the merchandise before the lockdown began.
There is obviously a need to improve border controls because banning the sale of certain merchandise on its own would not stop people from trooping to neighbouring countries even through illegal crossing points.
Only proper policing can stop illegal immigration especially at a time when countries have to deal with a novel pandemic like Covid-19.
It is high time the government based its decisions, especially those that have to do with the control of coronavirus, on science and the need to protect livelihoods.
The assault on the informal business sector will only perpetuate the suffering of people already impoverished by poor government policies and an insensitive leadership.