HARARE - Zimbabwe’s large informal economy started feeling the pinch of COVID19 even before a confirmed case had been recorded in Africa. It only has two confirmed cases so far, but suspension of sports events worldwide has affected Zimbabwe's gambling industry, which had turned into a 24/7 business in some parts of the country.
By the time Zimbabwe confirmed its first coronavirus cases, gamblers in this southern African nation had already started feeling the pinch. That is because most sports were banned worldwide as part of early efforts to curb the growing pandemic.
Via WhatsApp, one of those gamblers - 45-year-old Julius Mbeve - said he has for the past five years been getting between $150 to $200 a month from betting on all major football leagues in Europe and in neighboring South Africa.
He now hopes a solution for COVID19 is near.
“For health reason this ban of all sporting activities is a very noble idea. But indirectly it has affected us as soccer punters as we also make out something from the soccer bettings. Now we have gone for a few weeks without betting. It’s loss of revenue on our part. Some other months we do not make profits. But it has kept us doing something. And sport, being sport, it has kept us together,” said Mbeve.
Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is at around 85 percent, say independent economists. Thirty-five year old Farai Chitengwa told VOA via WhatsApp that for the past last 10 years on a good month he gets between $700 and $800 from soccer betting. It is his only source of income.
“Obviously we need to contain this virus which has gone astray. But at the same time it has an impact on some big punters, I also included. We make a living out of it. We all hope that they manage to contain Corona(virus). So that we can start doing what we know best. But trying to cover a gape of $700 that we were doing through sport bet to all of a sudden to find other means, it is really stressful in a way,” he said.
Trust Chikohora, an independent analyst, said via WhatsApp, that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government should act to ensure Zimbabwe’s fragile economy is not further affected by COVID19.
“So until things get under control in terms of the disease that sport betting industry remains dead. So it’s necessary to avail funding even for the private sector, so that the private sector can be able to withstand this problem. We urge the international community, the IMF, the World Bank and other pan-African institutions such as Afrexim (African Export–Import Bank) Bank to come in assist (African) governments so that we can be able to withstand the ravages on the economy that will be felt because of COVID-19,” said Chikohora.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week said his government was deeply concerned about COVID-19 and called it “a real threat.”
Zimbabwe’s measures include banning groups of more than 100 people to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
For now, they have succeeded in stopping business for a vibrant part of Zimbabwe’s informal sector.