Eswatini, like the rest of the world, has been severely by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the outbreak of the coronavirus Eswatini has taken measures such as closing borders to contain the spread of the virus. These border closures and similar measures taken by neighbouring countries have negatively affected the operations of small-scale cross-border traders whose main livelihoods depend on cross-border trade. This means many families have lost their main source of income. This study focuses on the impact that COVID -19 and the restrictive measures have on women involved in cross-border trade in Eswatini. Fifteen women were selected to participate in the study. A desk review and interviews with the women highlights the nature of the cross-border trade with neighbouring countries, including the member states of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The interviews reveal that most traders engage with suppliers and with clients in South Africa and Mozambique. A key finding is that the implementation of restrictive measures by one country has an impact on neighbouring countries. This is a reminder of the importance of coordinated responses to crises that transcend national borders.
When asked about the challenges that they face at the border posts, the women who were importing their wares pointed out that the fees they paid to be paid to the customs administration were very high, particularly at the Oshoek/Ngwenya border post. The women who export their handicraft wares noted that they had to declare their goods using the services of a clearing agent, who charged them for the service. The women, whether they are importing or exporting, in general do not have access to the system to create a self-declaration. This confirms that more information about trade rules and procedures must be made available to women informal cross-border traders. The women indicated that they often resort to using informal crossing paths that may expose them to violence, harassment, bribes, high fines and confiscation of their merchandise if caught by border authorities. They also recounted experiences of sexual abuse and solicitation of bribes for entering or exiting the country in the conduct of their businesses. This was also the case during the pandemic, when the additional factor of close borders posed challenges to their businesses. The women adopted various methods of coping with the effects COVID-19 had on their business continuity. Of the women, 66.6 per cent opted to use informal border crossings, since formal borders posts were closed, to ensure the survival of their businesses and families. Using these informal border crossings placed their and other people’s lives at risk because, both in terms of contracting COVID-19 but also because of risks that they already encounter.