Street vending has become a menace in all urban centres particularly in Harare. Not only do vendors harass citizens going about their legitimate business, but they also are responsible for the unsightly litter invading our cities.
But street vending has also become a necessary evil. With unemployment believed to be around 90%, thousands of youths and women have found an honourable way of earning money. The figures are pitiful, but the alternative is a life of crime for the young men and prostitution for the women with all the attendant problems.
For an airtime vendor to raise a commission of $1 he/she needs to sell 13 $1 recharge cards. Vegetable and fruit vendors too cannot be making that much money. In other words vendors are just making enough to survive.
Their source of livelihood should not be snatched from them just like that.
Attempts by the Harare City Council (HCC) to introduce measures to forbid vending in the city centre will be cheered by businesspeople operating in shops whose business vendors are competing with. These businesspeople pay rents and taxes and therefore should be protected from the unscrupulous hawkers.
But as stated above, a blanket ban or taxing them out of business will drive vendors underground at great social consequences.
A win-win solution is therefore required.
The truth is street vendors are an important part of Harare’s backdrop. Therefore, city by-laws should ease the financial burden placed on street vendors by clarifying city regulations on where vendors can operate from without fear of arrest.
In fact council must make it its goal to make life easier for the hardworking vendors particularly when it comes to what the vendors have to pay.
Currently, fines for even minor violations, such as vending on undesignated points are already too high while the municipal police can simply confiscate the wares without being forced to return them even when the vendors pay the fine.
Like all small business owners, vendors cannot afford to pay these exorbitant penalties. Hence, the by-laws must be amended to ensure that vendors can go about their business unhindered.
Harare as the seat of government needs to support and not criminalise the country’s hardworking street vendors who serve their local communities and make this capital city great.
Recently, MPs revealed that some unscrupulous municipal police officers demanded sex from some lady vendors.
The bottom line is that council must work with vendors to come up with strategies that will see a win-win situation. There are more than one million active vendors in this country and there is no way the government can round up and register all of them without engaging their representatives.