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

Living on the Margins in Zimbabwe

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.

Reflections from SDI at WUF

This year, a delegation from SDI’s network attended the World Urban Forum (WUF), here are our reflections from SDI at WUF.

Katowice, Poland hosted this year’s event from Sunday the 26th of June to Thursday the 30th of June. 

Established in 2001 by the United Nations, WUF is the premier global conference on sustainable urbanisation. The event aims to examine one of the world’s most pressing issues today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. 

Day 1 – 26th of June 2022

WUF11 Day 1 Line up

We attended UN Habitat‘s session focusing on ‘Grassroots Assembly’. The session highlighted the value and importance of localising Sustainable Development Goals, post-Covid-19 recovery and resilience, and building and maintaining partnerships.


Day 2 – 27th June 2022

Kickstarting the day, “Building a Cities4Children alliance” and a “Global Action Plan” dialogue were the first events to start the day for SDI. The WUF11 opening ceremony presented the perfect opportunity for a display of culture meets insightful dialogue. Delegates mingled with local and international officials, presenting the perfect networking opportunities.

A panel hosted by UN-Habitat tackled the issue of “Tackling the Slum Challenge” with housing ministers from South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe in attendance. The session saw interesting insights and informative yet challenging inputs from the Chair of SDI’s Board Joseph Muturi.

Delegates also met with Euan Crispin about their work with UCLG. The session presented a fresh perspective on some of the work, UCLG is producing.

We hosted a session entitled, ‘Recovery and Resilience: Community-led Strategies to Build Back Better in Informal Settlements.’ The session drew attention to the need to work with organised urban poor communities to address basic needs and services such as secure tenure, housing, food security, water and sanitation to build the resilience necessary to withstand future natural and manmade shocks and stressors. SDI at WUF

Day 3 – 28th of June 2022

The day was jam-packed, ranging from events with the World Health Organisation, Cities Alliance, DreamTown NGO, Habitat Village and The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

SDI’s Youth & Media Programme Coordinator, James Tayler, shared SDI’s role in the systemising of community-led housing in Africa.

Insights from the event highlighted the importance of the diversification of knowledge products. This may help to ensure active participation and communication between academia and communities.


Day 4  – 29th of June 2022

The delegates from SDI at WUF attended an amazing session with Plan International, Dream Town, World Vision and SDI co-presentation on the Inter-generational dialogue. The session consisted of video commitments collected by cell phone video across the world with youth speaking their truth. Shared by youth in person and online, in conversations with key professionals at the host institutions. This session was very interactive and the youth rose to the occasion and had a lot to contribute. 


A good exchange of ideas followed, with a number of new potential thematic collaboration points. 

It is clear that grassroots organisations are perhaps less well-represented at this year’s world urban forum than is ideal. Due to this, there was a lot of dialogue and exchange specifically facilitated by the co-habitat network around how to remedy this and raise the voices of grassroots CBOs.

Final Day – 30th of June 2022


Key Messaging


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