The economic sustainability of cross-border feeder towns to neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe has taken a massive beating during the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown.
In Musina, which is located about 15km from the Beitbridge border gate that separates Zimbabwe and South Africa, shop owners say the lockdown has practically destroyed their businesses.
“We are struggling because business is bad right now because of the coronavirus. Most of our customers from Zimbabwe are not able to come and buy anymore, so we lose half of the customers,” said Rana Masut, who owns a shop in the small town of Musina.
He said that, in the past three months, his income had dropped from roughly R6 000 per day to about R1 000 on a good day, due to the closure of international borders as a result of Covid-19.
Musina has agriculture, tourism and game farming as its major economic strengths.
Some Zimbabwean migrant workers in these industries are the sole breadwinners for their families but, since the start of the lockdown, transporting food back home has been a challenge.
“We don’t know when they are going to open the borders but the situation right now is very challenging because we cannot send any food back home. Our relatives in Zimbabwe are suffering,” said a Zimbabwean truck driver City Press spoke to by the border gate.
He said the only possible solution for transporting goods to their home country was to smuggle them through the border fence.
With no prospects of jobs, young people such as 22-year-old Webster Mdlongwa, who works as a shop assistant in one of the small retail shops in Musina, said that, before the lockdown business was booming because Zimbabweans bought most of their goods in South Africa.
Food, groceries, winter blankets and clothing were the most sought after items, he said.
“They buy everything here in Musina, so you can imagine what the lockdown has done. I might be unemployed again if the lockdown continues, after struggling to find a job since I matriculated three years ago,” said Mdlongwa, who lives in Phase 3 in Musina.
He said that he had also tried to look for a job in Polokwane, which is about two hours away from his home, but he had no luck.
Another shop owner, Shohel Rana, said that, without their Zimbabwean customers, their businesses were as good as dead.
“Most of our customers come from Zimbabwe and Zambia so we cannot survive without them, otherwise we close the shop and move on,” said Rana.
“You can see for yourself that we have stock, but we do not have customers, so I don’t know how I am going to pay rent this month.
“This lockdown has been the worst for my business, and I might have to think about closing down if things do not change,” Rana explained.
Another businessman, Hermanus Schoeman, who owns the oldest security business in the town and is also the owner and founder of Limpopo Safaris, said the economic effects of the lockdown had crippled the local economy.
“You must understand that 50% of the local buying market is from Zimbabwe and the other half is generated from agricultural produce and tourism, particularly from the game hunting industry.
“As I speak to you right now, I have lost bookings worth R20 million from international tourists who want to come and hunt game here,” said Schoeman.