The government has given mobile operators six months to phase out airtime recharge cards as a response to the challenge of litter created by the airtime top-up option.
According to a report in the Herald, this ultimatum was announced by the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate; Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri. The minister has urged the mobile operators to come up with electronic recharge systems as alternatives for the recharge cards.
It is part of a raft of new regulations that will also result in the banning of kaylite packaging which is used in the food industry, the introduction of a deposit on all beverage containers to encourage people to return bottles instead of dumping them and the introduction of fines and mandatory community service for criminal offenders.
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All three mobile operators, as well as other telecoms service providers such as Africom and TelOne, have relied on airtime vendors to distribute their recharge cards. This option has provided a cost effective alternative to not only sell airtime but also to create brand visibility for the operators.
The biggest implication of this move, however, will be the loss of employment and income generation opportunities for the thousands of airtime vendors in Zimbabwe.
In an economy where formal employment opportunities are limited, all forms of vending, including of airtime, have been taken on by thousands of Zimbabweans as an avenue to generate some form of an income.
The government has at some point even considered taxing airtime vendors through a $1 a day levy after having realised the sizeable number of Zimbabweans turning to recharge cards as a form of livelihood.
Is there any hope for the vendors?
To ensure the survival of their businesses, the vendors will now have to change their distribution model to match the electronic requirements. The vendors biggest value proposition has always been ease of purchase and convenience, something that has helped them maintain relevance even in a market where mobile money airtime top-up options exist.
As such they will have to find other ways of selling airtime that are almost as convenient as the recharge card model. Fortunately, there are ways of selling airtime via electronic top-up platforms that have been in the market for years but haven’t caught on versus the convenience of the recharge card.
There are also alternatives like Telecel’s e-Juice service which was introduced by the operator as an electronic option for selected airtime vendors. Telecel will now have to double down on this option, with other operators likely to explore the same route.