Living on the Margins of COVID-19: New Research unpacks the Impact on Informal Livelihoods in Masvingo, Zimbabwe

by James Tayler

Impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic have been felt far and wide, particularly by those living on the margins – a new study found in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.

The research published by Springer in a book entitled ‘Social Morphology, Human Welfare, and Sustainability’ suggests that the pandemic impacted slum dwellers’ livelihoods significantly. These impacts culminated in individual-based strategies to cope and collective advocacy for initiatives such as loan schemes.

The research was published in a chapter that investigates and analyses the impact that Covid-19 pandemic response measures have had on the livelihoods of slum dwellers in Masvingo, Zimbabwe including the coping mechanisms that individuals developed to mitigate its effects. 

Data collection

The primary data collection for this study was conducted by Dialogue on Shelter and the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF). The data was collected through informal conversations with people living on the margins who partake in loan and savings groups, as well as a survey about their livelihoods. Authors Thomas Karakadzai, Marcelle Mardon, Patience Mudimu-Matsangaise, Amelia Seabold, Joaquin Benitez and Daniela Beltrame were all integrally part of the research process. Karakadzai is the project officer at Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless in Zimbabwe Trust, Mardon is part of ZHPF which is SDI’s branch in Zimbabwe, Mudimu-Matsangaise is the executive director for Shelter for the Homeless in Zimbabwe Trust, Seabold is currently an intern at SDI’s Secretariat, Benitez is a doctoral candidate at the University of Buenos Aires and Beltrame is a consultant for SDI working with SDI in the African Cities Research Consortium

In the study, four types of impacts were analysed, namely informal economic activities, informal markets, cross-border trading and income and food security. Important and integral coping mechanisms were utilised by those living on the margins to make ends meet, including individual-based strategies (diversifying businesses) and collective advocacy for initiatives such as the Masvingo Urban Poor Fund loan scheme. 


According to the study, about 85% of market vendors surveyed in Masvingo were impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown measures. More than half listed loss of job as an impact. Lockdowns resulted in the closure and destruction of markets, and border closures which were particularly bad for the livelihoods of women.

The coping strategies which were revealed by the study, include subsidiary farming in the form of growing their food and utilising savings. The authors recognise that border closures severely affected cross-border trade and that more research into the gendered impacts of Covid-19 lockdown measures is required. 

The study suggests that many people used any savings they had available to ensure their families were provided with food. According to the chapter, 31.6% of those interviewed had used their capital, normally reserved for their businesses, to purchase food.


The authors make some important recommendations for policymakers and governments. Local governments may want to reconsider their public health policies, particularly those related to closing markets and destroying stalls.

In Zimbabwe, where cross-border trade is vital, the national government may need to reconsider the closure of borders or outline viable alternatives to informal supply chains for citizens to operate safely while protecting the country. Cross-border trading in Zimbabwe provides many essential items cheaply and often supplies local markets and businesses throughout Zimbabwe. The cut in access to merchandise created a loss in sales to businesses not directly engaged in cross-border trading, but which stock themselves from these networks. 

The final recommendation is aimed at NGOs and third sectors that are willing to offer monetary resources to cash-strapped economies in the Global South, microcredits, savings groups and cash transfer programmes. The variety of monetary offerings should be implemented in two different phases, the first being when the crisis is at its peak to help families make ends meet, supplementing loss of income and bringing food security. And the second is after public health crises have passed and the economy or society requires some assistance to move towards a new normal.

Access the full chapter here.