While informal sector trading is a legitimate option for many Namibians to defy poverty, operating in this largely unregulated economy became exponentially more difficult when Covid-19 lockdown measures were imposed in March. The lockdown virtually closed down the informal economy, leaving thousands of Namibians without a much-needed income.
This has prompted the Namibia Informal Sector Organisation (NISO) to seek the intervention of the Office of the Presidency to formulate a national comprehensive policy on the informal economy as a matter of urgency. In a letter dated 22 July 2020 and addressed to President Hage Geingob, NISO Secretary General Veripi Kandenge, requested for all informal trading activities to be legitimised through the granting of trading licences to all informal traders, including roaming informal traders.
According to Kandenge, NISO represents close to 6 500 members linked through various membership organisations.
“As is apparent from the content of the petition, many obstacles are deliberately put up by the powers that be, to frustrate and accentuate the suffering of the informal traders. They are constantly being imprisoned, their goods confiscated and they are fined unreasonably heavy fines that they are unable to afford and this drives them into the deeper quagmire of poverty,” Kandenge wrote to the President.
He continued that regulations designed for informal trading activities should be applied universally, irrespective of whether the informal trading activities are conducted in central business districts or informal settlement areas.
Many economists agree that Namibia’s informal sector is of vital importance because it provides employment to more than 150 000 people and contributes at least 12% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The informal sector consists of countless small businesses such as barbershops, hair salons, taxi and bus operators, street vendors and hawkers, plumbers, welders, builders, tilers, shebeens, gambling machines, kapana vendors and many more.
According to Kandenge, informal traders and their representative organisations must be consulted regarding rules that govern them and their legitimate trading activities.
Kandenge also demands that Social Security Commission benefits be extended to the informal economy and that municipal services be should be provided to informal trading sites. He also requested that duly qualified and trained municipal officials, not the police, should enforce the compliance of informal traders.
“The government must develop and build new market stalls and industrial stalls at the informal economy operators’ sites. Regular training on all the necessary aspects, such as the hygiene requirements, laws, rules and regulations, must be held in order to ensure full compliance,” Kandenge added.
Taking NISO’s demands even further, Teondor Ekongo, an informal trader at the old Four Seasons Salon at Gutenberg Platz in Windhoek’s central business district, asked that government considers meeting the needs of informal traders halfway. The nail technician said that since the Covid-19 lockdown that weeks can go by without a single customer. “We also need some rental reprieve from the landlords and we need them to consider giving us some discounts on monthly costs,” Ekongo added. She explained that since the start of the State of Emergency she has had to stretch her meagre income to focus on essential goods only while still supporting her daughter as well as other family members.
Linea Nuuyoma, a hairdresser at M Expert Salon opposite the College of the Arts, echoed these sentiments, saying that it has been an uphill battle from before the lockdown, when she had up to 50 clients a month, to a dismal 10 clients a month, which is currently the case. Nuuyoma added that while she received a month’s rent reprieve, she feels it is crucial for the government to provide a conducive operating environment for informal traders. Nuuyoma state that once the Covid-19 lockdown commenced she had to change her business model and started focussing more on wigs that she picked up and delivered to her clients.
Another informal trader, David Shikulo from Clean Kicks in Windhoek’s CBD, also told New Era that his business is suffering. “Before the lockdown, our business was doing very well but now the business is not moving due to this virus scare,” said Shikulo. Admitting that trading is gradually accelerating since Namibia migrated to stage 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown, Shikulo suggested a stimulus package specifically for informal traders. “I am still waiting for my N$750 because this money really helped so many people and I believe it will also help informal traders,” Shikulo concluded. – email@example.com