Haphazard vendors gearing for showdown with Chombo

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The country is currently grappling with the issue of the influx of vendors into central business district, which has brought about anarchy within the city of Harare. Concerned citizens are calling for the responsible authorities to immediately restore sanity and relocate these informal traders to Council designated points to ease the flow of human traffic within the confines of the city – Pictures: Believe Nyakudjara

A vendor representative union on Tuesday vowed that informal traders would not vacate street pavements across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities until municipalities offer them alternative vending sites.

The position effectively defies a 7-day government ultimatum and setting up potential clashes with law enforcement agents.

The government’s directive has raised the spectre of another crackdown similar to its controversial 2005 slum clearance drive, which left at least 700,000 people without a source of livelihood, according to an official United Nations report.

Local government minister Ignatius Chombo issued the directive Monday for vendors, who have mushroomed across Zimbabwe’s urban centres and are estimated to be around 6 million – virtually the country’s entire adult population – to leave the streets for designated sites.

Zimbabwe’s high levels of unemployment, estimated at above 80 percent, and poor enforcement of municipal by-laws has seen the explosion of unregulated informal commerce in its towns and cities.

Chombo issued the ultimatum in Harare after an inter-agency government meeting, which included high-ranking military and security officers as well as local authorities and vendor representatives.

However, National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) director Samuel Wadzai told a press conference in Harare on Tuesday that the government’s impending action was “cruel, inhuman and barbaric.”

“As NAVUZ, our position remains clear and we will communicate the same to our members that they will never be removed from their current vending sites unless alternative and equally profitable vending sites are provided for them,” he said.

The union accused government of militarising the issue by inviting a senior army official, brigadier general Anselem Senyatwe, a member of the Joint Operations Command, state security co-ordination organ.

“Zimbabwe is not in a state of emergency and inviting the army and the police to fight vendors is as good as declaring war on livelihoods,” Wadzai said.

Vendor groups say over 5,7 million vendors, close to half the country’s population, operate countrywide mainly in front of shops, prompting recent protests by retailers who were complaining of loss of business yet they were paying licence fees and taxes.

Last October, the government gazetted new laws governing operations of vendors in Harare to boost council revenue, prevent disease outbreaks and restore order in the capital where vendors have mushroomed as formal employment dwindles.

Apart from threats, the city council is yet to deal decisively with the issue of vendors who continue to operate from undesignated places while refusing to pay fees ranging between $1 and $3 to council.

Space barons were reportedly charging between $8 and $13 per vendor per day while remitting very little to council and pocketing the rest.

Vendors and informal traders in Bulawayo have vowed to defy the seven day ultimatum for them to cease their operations in the central business district.

Local government minister Ignatious Chombo threatened to unleash soldiers on vendors and informal traders who defy his call when the ultimatum expires on Monday.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations first vice president, Edward Manning said Chombo should accept that “street vending and trading are a reality of developing African cities that cannot be wished away but must be regularised.”

Manning said, as an association, they have long called for a national policy conference bringing together government, local authorities and informal traders, but the call has not been listened to.

The association which has about 5,000 members, said the government should regularise the sector and safeguard the citizen’s social and economic rights.

“We are therefore shocked by this ultimatum and request the Honourable Minister to rethink this ultimatum and get sound policy advice on how the informal sector can be regularised and get sound policy advice on how the informal sector can be regularised while safe guarding citizen’s social and economic rights as guaranteed by the constitution of Zimbabwe.

“The minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa has been quoted as admitting that the growth of the informal sector in our country is a symptom of economic decline in this country so for as long as we don’t have new jobs and investors we will have more vendors and informal traders on our street,” said Manning.

He said roping in the army to deal with peace loving citizens pointed to the second phase of Operation Murambatsvina.

“The only security problems affecting Zimbabweans are job and food security and there requires the economic ministries and so we request that the army should be allowed to fulfil its constitutional obligations while municipal police can check on vendors and informal traders,” said Manning.

He called on the Bulawayo City Council to expand the designated vending areas in the city centre to accommodate more vendors.

“As ZICEA we are calling on the city father to urgently expand street trade on 5th avenue to include the area between Joshua Nkomo and Jason Moyo streets. We are calling upon the Bulawayo city council to permit vending in pavements with a width of 4 metres, vendors can use half the pavement, say 2 metres while pedestrians use 2 metres,” Manning said.

He appealed to the acting president Emmerson Mnangagwa to stop the army from being involved in their day to day operations.

Manning also slammed Chombo for defying first lady Grace Mugabe’s order for police not to interfere with the operations of vendors and informal traders.