By Tafara Mugwara
HARARE, July 17 (Xinhua) -- When Zimbabwe imposed a nationwide lockdown to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in late March, many families eking out a living in the informal sector were left destitute.
Their plight worsened when authorities further extended the lockdown indefinitely in May, adding more woes to families that were already grappling with a devastating economic collapse.
Government gave some informal traders a green light to resume limited operations in June, but restrictions on travel have disrupted supply chains, leaving many informal traders struggling to make ends meet.
After witnessing families struggling to put food on the table during the first week of the lockdown, a 35-year-old mother of two, Samantha Murozoki started a community kitchen in Chitungwiza, a high density dormitory township about 30 km outside the capital Harare.
The initiative, which was originally meant to provide relief to a few individuals during the initial three week lockdown period, has become a large scale project providing breakfast and supper to about two thousand individuals daily.
"The journey has been quite bumpy," Murozoki told Xinhua in an interview. "The COVID-19 lockdown has left us in a vulnerable spot worldwide, not only in Zimbabwe."
"People are unable to put food on the table because the majority of them are from the informal sector. So this is where I felt I would come in together with the kitchen to address that issue the best I could," Murozoki said.
Initially, Murozoki funded the project out of her own pockets.
"The project was initiated on a self-funded note, and later on the Zimbabwean community chipped in and now we are at a point where we also have people from the international community chipping in their individual capacities just to help a fellow Zimbabwean," she said.
Getting food on the table everyday can be an unimaginably difficult task for many residents of Chitungwiza.
Jenifer Kanengoni said she found it difficult to feed her orphaned grandchildren during the lockdown. She expressed gratitude to Murozoki for proving much needed relief.
"My children are fed porridge in the morning and maize-meal is the evening. I hope Samantha will get more donors because many people are getting assistance here," she said.
Murozoki, who has always had a tender heart for the disadvantaged since a young age, said:"The best moment of what I am doing is going to sleep at night, knowing that I have fed thousands of families successfully, and knowing that no one has been turned away, everyone is happy. That makes me smile."
She said in post-lockdown period, the kitchen, which has since been officially registered as a trust, will transition from simply providing temporary food relief to Chitungwiza residents to supporting long-term community development initiatives.
"Our journey is not going to end post-COVID-19. Post-lockdown is going to be an unleashing of projects that will give self-sustenance to humbled people, people who have been struggling financially, and people who have been labelled socially as inept and useless."
"We are going to bring social development projects that will generate income for them, and at the same time generate income for the trust so that we can improve," she said.
The situation in Chitungwiza is reflected across Zimbabwe.
With informal trade curtailed, a large fraction of Zimbabwe's poor urban population can not afford three meals a day.
Independent analysts predict that about 80 percent of Zimbabwe's 15 million people work in the informal sector. A lack of safety nets means life is tough for most of them.
Apart from the lockdown induced economic hardships, Zimbabwe is also reeling from the effects of a drought and an economic meltdown that has left about half the country's population in dire need of food aid, according to the World Food Programme.
The hunger crisis has been exacerbated by a dire shortage of foreign currency, soaring inflation, high unemployment and an acute shortage of fuel.
Unable to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus, many companies operating in Zimbabwe are either closing down or cutting jobs.
And without alternative income sources, these workers and their families stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.
Job cuts due to the pandemic across the globe, especially in neighboring South Africa, are also putting a squeeze on Zimbabweans who rely on remittances.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week warned that the lockdown could be further tightened due to a spike in new infections.
As of Friday, Zimbabwe's COVID-19 cases stood at 1,326, including 23 deaths and 425 recoveries. Enditem