Zimbabwe: On Mugabe’s directive, crackdown on desperate vendors begins

Zimbabwe: On Mugabe’s directive, crackdown on desperate vendors begins

Scores of pushcarts full of vegetables and fruit are pulled by their owners as they move around selling in the Harare Central Business District. Car boots are packed with clothes and food. On the pavements, wares are displayed. A loudspeaker is heard from a distance, “Rat killer and cockroaches.” This is an everyday scene as people try to eke out a living in this cash-strapped Zim economy. By SALLY NYAKANYANGA.

Recent weeks have seen dramatic and unprecedented price increases on commodities in Zimbabwe as the bond note lost value against the United States dollar. The rural prices are pegged differently for the same commodity, with 25-40% charged for electronic transfers and when one is using bond notes.

For many unemployed citizens in the country, vending has provided hope and a source of livelihood for many households.

Sitting on the pavement along one of the streets in the CBD, Catherine Maruvheya, 39, has travelled more than 20km to sell rat killer, passport covers and toothbrushes. Maruvheya, who is a single mother raising five children, says she earns $5-$10 a day from the sales in the CBD.

Selling in town is more profitable and this has enabled me to send my children to school and fend for them for the past seven years,” Maruvheya told Daily Maverick.

As expected, the president’s directive has been followed by action as the crackdown on vendors began last week. Samuel Wadzai, Director of the Vendors’ Initiative for Social Economic Transformation (VISET), says, “We will continue to operate from the so-called undesignated sites because the authorities have failed to create enough space for us.

The designated points are not ready at all, there is no water and other ablution facilities. First things first – finish the building of the infrastructure and then begin the process of registering vendors to occupy the designated selling space,” Wadzai added.

It is estimated that there are more than one million vendors across the country, with more than 100,000 in Harare alone. The Zimbabwe National Statistical Office points out that of the active workforce more than 80% of the active workforce are in the informal economy.

Various attempts have been made to evict vendors from selling in the CBD, but in vain. Over the weekend President Robert Mugabe announced the need for vendors to be removed from the streets and be relocated to designated points of sale.

Givemore Hatinahama, 23, who is employed by his older brother to sell secondhand clothing and earns $100 a month, said, “We are here for the money, it’s no point to sell where there are no people.”

Photo: Vendors sell their goods on the pavement in front of shops in Harare. Photo: Sally Nyakanyanga.

Wadzai explained that such a move is irrational, inhumane and barbaric, apart from the fact that it runs contrary to the constitutional national objective which obliges the state to promote private initiatives of self- reliance.

In a statement, the Acting Town Clerk, Josephine Ncube, stated that the city’s council, with full support of Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Zimbabwe Republic Police and law enforcement agents, is implementing Operation Restore Order, meant to decongest the city.

We accept that the informal sector is critical in income generating but there is need to balance that with order, compliance with by-laws and respecting formal businesses that contribute to the development of the country through taxes,” Ncube said.

There have been long running battles between vendors and city fathers, with vendors using strategies to survive attacks from police or city authorities. Some would sell their products in the evening or hide their goods when an authority appears.

We are in the streets not because we want but your poor administration and primitive macro-economic policies have brought us to this stage. There is nothing illegal about vending because you created it, Mr President,” says Wadzai.

Moyowatidhi Angarirai, who sells shoes, says he will continue to sell in the CBD as long as there are no jobs. “Where are the jobs? Give me a job and you will not find me in the streets,” Angarirai told Daily Maverick. Angarirai has been selling for the past nine years after he lost his job.

This is an attack on our livelihoods and where survival options are very minimal,” says Wadzai.

The Vendors Union laments how the government has been slow in accepting vending as an alternative employment avenue resulting in its tortoise pace in building of enough vending sites.

The government has to formalise and regularise vending with the urgency it deserves,” said Wadzai, adding that there is a need for sites to be located near customers to enable vendors to sustain their livelihoods.

The city fathers acknowledge that of the 30,000 vendors registered, some have since left their stalls. “We order all vendors with cards to return to their allocated sites,” the statement reads.

The vendor registration is said to have begun on Tuesday and vendors are expected to be paying $1.20 per day. Fresh produce wholesalers, pushcarts, sale of groceries in the streets and trading out of car boots are prohibited and illegal structures at vending sites in the CBD are going to be demolished, it says.

Will this be the lasting solution to the vending dilemma in the country? Human Rights Watch Southern Africa Director Dewa Mavhinga urged the government to convene an indaba with vendors and their leaders to discuss the best options. DM

Photo: Vendors sell their products along the streets of Harare. Photo: Sally Nyakanyanga.


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