IN A country with an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent, Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, is faced with a huge problem of vendors, only providing enough space for just around 2 000 out of an estimated 80 000 vendors who ply their trade in the streets of the one-time Sunshine City.
This has led to unending running battles between the Harare Metropolitan Police and the thousands of vendors, who have virtually blocked every pavement in the capital, selling anything from sweets, cigarettes, tomatoes, panties, shoes, clothes and even roasted maize which is prepared on the streets.
Last Thursday, the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ), for the umpteenth time, staged a demonstration to express their dismay at the continued harassment of their members and the confiscation of their goods.
They said while the city fathers wanted them to operate from the designated points, these were just a drop in the ocean compared to the number of vendors registered under their banner.
“There are just about 1 800 designated vending sites, yet we have a membership of more than 80 000. Where will they operate from. They also need to fend for their families because there are no other jobs available for them except vending,” says Stan Zvorwadza, NAVUZ board chairperson.
Zvorwadza said the vendors were exercising their constitutional right to freedom of trade and occupation and were actually saving face for the government which had failed to create any meaningful jobs for its people.
“Section 14 of the Constitution talks about the creation of decent employment; now which employment have they created? We are now creating our own employment and they want to stop
us,” he says.
He said the politicians at the City of Harare only allowed them to operate freely when it was election time, but immediately began harassing them afterwards.
The problem is we are under an oppressive regime; they beat us for four years and just a few months before elections they allow us to trade freely. Don’t be fooled by these politicians, some want to say don’t meddle in politics, but it is the same politicians that we vote for who come back and harass us,” he adds.
NAVUZ director, Value Dick, said they were not happy with the archaic by-laws being used by the city fathers, which she said were no longer relevant to the prevailing environment.
“We petitioned council demanding that they change the by-laws and also make the by-laws available to the vendors. We cannot continue to have archaic by-laws from the 1970s which they keep
amending,” she said.
She said they had also raised several complaints of female vendors being sexually harassed by male metropolitan police officers but had not gotten any response, adding that an informal committee put in place by council to deal with their issues had proved to be useless.
“Some women end up succumbing to the sexual advances because they would want to save their goods from being taken away, which is a very sad development in this era of HIV and AIDS,” she said.
City of Harare Spokesperson, Michael Chideme, said council would look into the vendor’s complaints adding that while the council wanted people to trade their wares freely, they should do so from designated points.
He, however, could not explain the huge deficit in the number of the stalls available and also the siting of the stalls, which were located way out of the central business district, which the vendors said were not strategic.
“We have heard your grievances but let us address the biggest issue first, if we sell on designated places, no goods would be confiscated. But when you sell on pavements, that would be outside the law and council will not allow that, we want rule of law,” he said. – ANA