Bruised and battered: the struggles of older female informal traders in urban areas of Zimbabwe since the economic reforms

  • R. Mupedziswa School of Social Work, University of Zimbabwe


In Zimbabwe, the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) launched in 1990 with the goal of improving the living standards of the people, has had the opposite effect in that it has caused untold financial hardship, particularly among marginalized groups. In the wake of the difficulties, many individuals have turned to the informal sector for survival. Traditional informal-sector operators, who include older women as well as new entrants, in particular retrenched formal-sector workers and school leavers, find themselves jostling for space in the new harsh economic environment characterized by austerity. These developments have resulted in the informal sector being saturated, compromising whatever viability the sector may have commanded. A group whose activities have been most negatively affected is older female informal traders. This paper analyses the plight of older female informal-sector traders and concludes that the women need assistance to enable them to survive and to remain self-reliant.


Apt, N., Koomson, J., Williams, N. & Grieco, M. 1995. Family finance and doorstep trading: social and economic wellbeing of elderly Ghanaian female traders. Southern African Journal of Gerontology, 4(2): 17-24,
Bijlmakers, L., Bassett, M. & Sanders, D. 1995. Health and structural adjustment in rural and urban settings in Zimbabwe: some interim findings. In: Gibbon, P. (Ed.) Structural adjustment and the working poor in Zimbabwe. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, pp. 215-282. 12 Southern African Journal of Gerontology (1999), 8(1)
Brand, V. 1986. One dollar work places: a study of informal sector activities in Magaba, Harare. Journal of Social Development in Africa, 1(2): 53-74.
Brand, V., Mupedziswa, R. & Gumbo, P. 1993. Women informal sector workers under structural adjustment in Zimbabwe. In: Gibbon. P. (Ed.) Social change and economic reform in Africa. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, pp. 270-306.
Brand, V., Mupedziswa, R. & Gumbo, P. 1995. Structural adjustment, women and informal trade in Harare. In: Gibbon, P. (Ed.) Structural adjustment and the working poor in Zimbabwe. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, pp. 132-214.
Daniels, L. 1994. Changes in small-scale enterprise sector from 1991 to 1993: results of a second nationwide survey in Zimbabwe. GEMINI Technical Report, No. 71. Maryland, USA: Growth and Equity Through Micro-enterprise Investments and Institutions.
Government of Zimbabwe. 1998. ZIMPREST: Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation 1996 - 2000. Harare: Government Printer,
Hansen, K. 1989. When sex becomes a critical variable: married women and extra-domestic work in Lusaka, Zambia. African Social Research, 30: 831-849.
Horn, N. 1986. The informal fruit and vegetable market in Greater Harare. Department of Land Management. Working Paper 4/86.
Kanji, N. & Jazdowska, N. 1993, Gender specific effects of ESAP on households in Kambuzuma, Harare. International Development Research Centre (IDRC/NUC1) Seminar, February.
Kaseke, E., Gumbo, P,, Dhemba, J. & Kasere, C. 1998. The state and dynamics of social policy and practice and research in Zimbabwe. Harare: School of Social Work.
Loewenson, R. & Mupedziswa, R. 1996. Monitoring the social dimensions of the economic structural adjustment programme: an evaluation of sentinel surveillance in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe: Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, and UNICEF.
MacPherson, M. 1991. Micro and small-scale enterprises in Zimbabwe. Results of a country wide survey. GEMINI Technical Report, No. 25. Maryland, USA: Growth and Equity Through Micro-enterprise Investments and Institutions.
Meagher, K. & Yunusa, M. 1996. Passing the buck: structural adjustment and the Nigerian urban informal sector. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.
Mhone, G. 1993. The impact of structural adjustment on the urban informal sector in Zimbabwe. Discussion Paper 2. Geneva: International Labour Organisation. Mundy, V. 1995. The urban poverty datum line in Zimbabwe. Harare: Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe.
Mupedziswa, R. 1990. The marginated in an urban world of plenty: a study of small scale production enterprises in the Greater Harare area. Paper read at the Economic Development Institute Higher Education for Development Cooperation (Ireland) Workshop, Dublin, Ireland, December 4-7.
Mupedziswa, R. 1994. The informal sector and employment in Zimbabwe: a study of small scale production enterprises in the Greater Harare area. Occasional Paper Series No. I. Harare: School of Social Work.
Mupedziswa, R. 1995. The role of small scale (informal) enterprises in employment generation: the case of Zimbabwe. Paper read at the United Nations University ' Wider Workshop on "Changing employment patterns and the structure of unemployment in Africa, Accra, Ghana, July 28-29.
Mupedziswa, R. 1997a. AIDS and older Zimbabweans: who will care for the carers? Southern African Journal of Gerontology, 6(2): 9-11.
Mupedziswa, R. 1997b. Empowerment or repression? ESAP and children in Zimbabwe. Gweru: Mambo Press.
Mupedziswa, R. & Gumbo, P. 1997. Zimbabwe: Karapen for att overleva. (The struggle for survival: plight of informal sector operators in Zimbabwe.) In: Ohm, II. (Ed.) Overlevnadstrategieer i sodra Africa. Sweden: Africa Group of Sweden, pp. 199-205.
Mupedziswa, R. & Gumbo, P. 1998a. Economic structural adjustment and informal sector women traders in Zimbabwe. Paper read at the Synthesis Conference on Structural Adjustment and Socio-economic Change in Sub-Saharan Africa, Copenhagen, Denmark, December 3-5.
Mupedziswa, R. & Gumbo, P. 1998b. Structural adjustment and women informal sector traders in Harare, Zimbabwe. Uppsala: Scandinavian institute of African Studies.
Robinson, P. 1991. What is structural adjustment? in: Social implications of structural adjustment programmes in Africa. Proceedings of a Workshop, School of Social Work, Harare, October, pp. 54-58.
Troubled Zimdollar nosedives. 1998. Business Herald, October 29, p. 4.