As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps closing down businesses and leaving people jobless, new survival strategies in Zimbabwe are offering a silver lining.
Solomon Gumunyu owns Kitchen Boutique, a business venture, in the capital Harare. But due to lockdown restrictions, his shop is closed.
But with social media came the boon for the 32-year-old. Having switched to Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, Gumunyu said he was surprised to see his business performing even better.
“Social media marketing has enabled me to drive up my sales,” he said. “In fact, double my sales.”
Gumunyu said his customer base has grown substantially, but “the only challenge he has faced is related to the delivery of the products.”
“It has actually made me reach a wider audience than just having physical premises,” he added. “I have managed to interact and sell our products across Harare.”
He uses the apps to market his products, and meet his customers on appointment.
Zimbabwe first introduced a tough lockdown in March 2020, but had gradually eased the restrictions.
This year, month-long restrictions were imposed in early January, and later twice extended until at least March 1. A nationwide 8pm to 6am curfew is enforced, and non-essential businesses closed.
Social gatherings are also banned, affecting Trymore Mudzipurwa (31), who hires out entertainment equipment and is also a DJ.
But he said that many people reached out to him during the lockdown through the internet.
“I’m always updating my followers on how I will be operating after the lockdown,” he said. “Many have already booked me, and made pre-payments for events planned once the restrictions are over.”
Similarly, social media provided Bridget Mudota, who is based in Harare’s high-class Gletwyn area, a new opportunity to keep her business stay afloat.
The 49-year-old is selling jewellery items such as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, headbands, and anklets for the last four years.
“Lockdown has hit our jewellery project badly, but thanks to social media, we have been able to remain afloat. We have had to adapt quickly to the ‘new normal’ of using various social media channels to advertise our services to an even wider range of customers than before,” she said.
“Before the lockdowns, the sales were less as the target reach was narrower. Social media advertising has enabled us to reach a wider market, hence almost a 20% rise in sales.”
Social media not cheap
But for many independent entrepreneurs, as well as customers, social media has not come cheap.
“The cost of data is of great concern for most of our customers. With WhatsApp, we use a combination of text messages, voice notes, short videos, and images,” said Mudota.
Forty-one-year-old Retsepile Sithoboli, who trades in imported shoes in Harare, expressed similar apprehensions.
“Due to this pandemic, business is a bit slow. During this period, l purchased my products online and used social media to advertise, market, and sell the products,” Sithoboli said.
“A lot of data is needed, and I’m supposed to always be online to attend to clients. Another issue is frequent power cuts, meaning sometimes my phones are out of battery. Some clients are not patient once I go offline and they look for other options.”
In terms of affordability, Zimbabwe ranks 99th on the Inclusive Internet Index 2020.
The report said that the Southern African country has suffered from years of under-investment in its communications infrastructure, making it difficult to achieve progress in extending the internet and its benefits widely to the population. “… high data costs relative to incomes are arguably the most debilitating…”
Gov’t backs social media use
Though businessmen, at times, violate coronavirus regulations by meeting the clients they connect with via social media, the Zimbabwean government backs innovations to counter the negative impact of the pandemic.
“The use of social media for businesses has greatly increased as part of Zimbabwe’s adaptation to the ‘new normal’ and we welcome this innovative use by the nation,” Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.
“The government will continue to strive to ensure that it provides an environment for businesses to thrive.”
But, she asked Zimbabweans from all walks of life to practice social distancing, and limit face-to-face meetings. – Anadolu Agency