By Nyaradzai Gogo

For the past five years, Tsitsi Muchena, 32, has operated a small grocery shop in downtown Harare, but the business is not growing.

Like many across Zimbabwe’s mainstream and informal economies, Muchena has seen a steady decline in sales due to reduced consumer spend.

But the major hindrances to growth have been access to funding, poor exposure and limited market access, particularly for small women-run businesses.

“While access to finance remains the biggest challenge for most small to medium scale enterprises (SMEs) several non-financial obstacles were also a huge threat,” said Muchena, a marketing graduate who could not find a job two years after leaving university.

“These include access to markets, business advisory services and support networks, lack of infrastructure, limited leadership and management skills, and poor marketing and growth strategies and financial management.”

With Zimbabwe’s economy gone to the dogs, many people, including university graduates, have found succour in the informal industry, running own small businesses or vending.

The informal sector now employs over 85 percent of Zimbabweans, according to official figures from the state-run Zimbabwe Statistical Agency.

However, the growth in SME numbers have not translated into the actual growth of small businesses.

While the Finance Ministry estimates that there is over USD7 billion circulating in the sector outside the formal banking channels, many struggle to get loans from lenders.

Across the financial industry, many lenders are reluctant to extend credit to SMEs because of lingering concerns over their capacity to repay.

Women SMEs feel the pinch more. “The financial challenges that SMEs women face often manifest themselves, banks should be cognisant of these underlying factors,” Muchena said.

Beyond the traditional scope of banks and micro – finance institutions providing financing and money management solutions to their clients by accepting deposits, advancing loans, investing funds, banks have an important role to play in providing business development service, she said.

“This performance determines whether, for example, SMEs can meet their loan requirements or payments terms. In turn this influences the level of risk the bank assumes by financing an SME especially a female since the business world has been regarded as a male dominated industry and that alone maybe intimidating for women to approach responsible authorities for funding, ’’ Muchena said.

Zimbabwe has a dedicated SME government ministry, but one that is poorly funded. In the 2015 national budget, the ministry was allocated just USD5 million, barely enough to fund a handful of serious medium sized enterprises.

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A 14-year-old Chipinge girl was sexually harassed by her school teacher on a sports day.

It is alleged that the teacher fondled the helpless girl in broad daylight in the presence of other students.

Questioned by Nyamukwakwa school head master, the perpetrator who cannot be named to protect the victim did not deny the allegations but said he was under the influence of alcohol.

Disturbed by the incident the girl’s parents visited the school to seek the way forward.

The teacher requested to settle the matter customarily however, but the matter was reported to the police.

The Chisumbanje police station has been contacted and is yet to send a team to investigate the case.

This case leaves one to wonder why a grown teacher, whom a lot of pupils look up to, would go to a school event in drunken state and later on fondle the breasts of an innocent girl in broad daylight.

Such actions are detrimental to the girl’s well being.

Many young people continue to be abused as they do not see themselves as victims because they are not aware of what abuse really is.

Abuse can take many forms, there is physical, emotional sexual as well as economical abuse, most of the time the abusers do not see them selves as abusers as they are quick to blame their actions on the victims or surrounding circumstances.

Sexual harassment and sexual abuse has been increasing in primary schools.

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