PROPERTY worth more than US$500 000 was reduced to ashes after a fire engulfed Bulawayo’s biggest flea market, Unity Village, last week.
Traders were left counting their losses, with no source of survival.
The flea market, which is located at the corner of Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street and 6th Avenue, saw about 37 stalls, stocked with a variety of goods, destroyed by the fire which broke out at around 9pm last week Thursday.
Reports say some of the traders had to be ferried to hospital as news filtered through that they had lost over 20 years of investment to the fire.
Some traders cried uncontrollably, while others fainted as they arrived to the grim scene at the market the following morning.
Traders lost stocks ranging from clothes, footware, cellphones and laptops, among other things.
Some of the traders at the market said they lost all their investments, including cash, and are now appealing to Government to give them a boost so they can make a fresh start.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, one of the well-known informal markets Magaba-Siyaso at Mbare Musika in Harare was also razed down by fire.
Magaba-Siyaso home industries (loosely translated to mean tins as in metal containers), also known as ‘Durawall’, is a market place for selling anything one can imagine; from wood, metals to plastics, among other things.
According to City of Harare records, there are around 500 registered operators, but over the years, a further
3 000-or-more have found their way there.
In June, another fire razed down the Glen View Area 8 furniture complex in Harare.
This was not the first fire at this complex.
There have been repeated fire incidents at the complex, but investigations have been unable to establish the cause so that a lasting solution could be found.
In 2016, the complex was again razed to the ground; it also happened in 2015.
In September 2011 and in September 2012, fire broke out at the complex, with similar destructive ferocity.
All these fires have destroyed not just the infrastructure, but they have also destroyed livelihoods of thousands of families.
Stakeholders have also raised the need for informal traders to invest in insurance business so that they have a back-up plan in times of such accidents.
Insurance and Pension Commission (IPEC) said sudden catastrophes such as this point out the need for business insurance, especially among SMEs.
“It is certainly wise and advisable for the small-to-medium business owners there to seek out insurance so that their businesses and properties are protected if such a calamity were to strike again,” said IPEC public relations officer Lloyd Gumbo.
“Imagine the cost they have to incur to replace the goods they had made, some of which probably had already been paid for.
“Yet if they had insurance, replacing the same would have been at little cost to them.”
IPEC said there was need to educate SMEs on the need for insurance that can cover them when such disasters occur.
“If smallholder farmers can insure their crops and livestock, why can’t traders at backyard industries?” said Gumbo.
“What is important is for them to see insurance for what it is — a financial protection tool, not an unnecessary cost.”
With the majority of Zimbabweans in the informal sector – with neither a bank account nor fixed income – most insurance products do not cater for their financial situation.
Yet, for those surviving on day-to-day incomes, they stand to lose more when calamity strikes.
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) showed that Zimbabwe has the second largest informal sector in the world.
Only the South American Bolivia has a larger informal market.
The working paper titled, Shadow Economies Around the World: What Did We Learn Over the Last 20 Years? says more than 60 percent of the Zimbabwean economy is informal, second only to Bolivia’s 62,3 percent.
Economic analyst Tilda Sibanda said while low-income consumers are willing to insure themselves against risk, these products need to cater for their specific social and economic circumstances.
Said Sibanda: “Cigarettes are sold one cigarette at a time.
“Low-income consumers don’t buy a pack because they cannot afford it.
“They buy one cigarette and yes that cigarette is expensive, but they can afford it at that moment in time.
“Why can’t we offer insurance like that?
“Let’s offer insurance so that a person who does not have a fixed predictable income can actually buy insurance, in a small, affordable unit as and when he can afford it.”
Sibanda said the process of signing up and purchasing insurance, as well as filing claims, also has to address the needs of an informal trader.
IPEC, through its Micro-insurance Framework, urged insurers to be innovative and continue introducing products that speak to the needs of the market, including small enterprise traders.
“Contrary to the myth that only established businesses or those in the upmarket require insurance, insurance companies that we regulate have come up with insurance products that are tailor-made for SMEs,” said Gumbo.
“The thrust of the framework is that insurance must be accessible and affordable to everyone, including those in the informal sector.”
In a drive to increase insurance uptake, IPEC will be in Mutare tomorrow (Saturday) for an awareness campaign commemorating Pensions Awareness Day.
National insurance uptake currently stands at four percent.
IPEC said the series of awareness campaigns being held would assist in doing away with misconceptions.
“We are using road shows to demystify the misconceptions about insurance and pensions where some people think insurance and pensions are just for the elite or those who are formally employed,” said IPEC pensions manager Nhau Chivingira.