AUDIUS Chawatama (28) is a disabled vendor who sells cellphone chargers and accessories in the central business district (CBD).
He is one of the vendors who have been affected by the recent clampdown on vendors by municipal police who want to remove them from the CBD so that they do their activities from designated points.
Chawatama says although he is disabled and is on a wheelchair he has experienced a lot of harassment and even arrests by municipal police who he said demanded daily bribes of up to $5 to allow a vendor to sell without distractions on the streets of Harare.
“I stay in Chitungwiza (Zengeza) and have to take care of one sibling, and that is why I work as a vendor selling cellphone accessories on the streets,” said Chawatama.
“However, I am experiencing serious problems whereby municipal police often harass me and they demand bribes of between $5 and $10 to allow me to sell my wares.
“Due to fear I end up paying the bribes and yet I make about $10 per day and $15 on a good day. I have been arrested several times, but most of the time the amounts that the municipal police demand from me are not receipted, raising suspicion that they pocket the money for personal gains,” he said.
Maseline Mbano (35), a widow from Tafara, said she sold her wares at Copacabana in Harare in order to take care of her two school-going children.
“I sell towels and socks and can make up to $10 per day, but I am often harassed and arrested by municipal police. They are very rough and I can confess that I have been beaten and kicked and my wares taken.
“One day they dragged me in the streets from Copacabana to the commuter omnibus rank at Mbuya Nehanda Street.
“I sustained bruises and was bleeding, but they did not even care to ensure I got medical attention. To make matters worse my wares were all confiscated even after I had paid a fine. I reported the issue to the Zimbabwe Republic Police, but they did not take the issue seriously and did not even open a docket for the case. I was locked up from morning till five o’clock in the evening and was ordered to pay a $5 fine to municipal police,” she said.
The vendors said the municipal police who were notorious for taking $5 bribes from vendors were known as Magaya, Mercy, Zebhe and JJ.
Female vendors victims of police brutality
A pregnant vendor said she had no choice, but to run at full throttle each time council police pounced on vendors in the streets to avoid arrests and payment of bribes to be allowed to sell.
Female vendors said they experienced hell more than their male counterparts as some of them brought their babies with them to sell wares.
Silent Ndawana (22) said she had no choice, but to bring her nine-month-old baby with her to do her vending activities.
“I sell nail cutters and wallets. I am a single mother and have to take care of my baby. Whenever the municipal police come after us I have to run and my baby suffers in the process. Sometimes I leave my baby sitting on the pavement as I run away and then come for him later when the municipal police are gone. At times my baby falls while I am running away and they do not even care,” Ndawana said.
Other female vendors who were interviewed by NewsDay claimed sexual harassment.
Violet Mandere, a female vendor, claimed municipal police were taking care of their own families using fines they demanded from vendors and vegetables they confiscated from them.
“These municipal police have their vending stands and whenever they confiscate our wares they take them to their own stalls where they have people working for them. They even touch our breasts saying if we do not allow them to do so they will not allow us to sell our products,” she said.
Another female airtime vendor who preferred anonymity claimed municipal police touched their breasts and backside while searching for airtime vouchers which they would have hidden to avoid their being confiscated.
Although the clampdown on illegal vending activities is intense in Harare, in Masvingo there was also havoc this week following an incident where a female vendor’s baby was crashed by a council vehicle while her mother was running away from municipal police.
The melee in Masvingo has resulted in three Masvingo Residents’ Trust members (Tamutswa Chikonyora, Solomon Muvheyi and Patrick Mutema) appearing before the Masvingo Regional Magistrates’ Court facing charges of inciting public violence on July 27 following the incident where angry vendors and residents assaulted a council driver, burnt a council vehicle and a commuter omnibus and chased a fire brigade team that intended to put out the fire.
“The State dropped charges of inciting public violence and preferred malicious damage of property. The city fathers have failed to give an apology to the infant’s family for the loss of their one year old baby, or an apology to Masvingo residents. Cat and mouse games have become the norm as the cash-strapped city fathers try to harness tax from vendors who resist formalising their activities because of exorbitant charges by the city council,” a statement by Masvingo Residents’ Trust read.
Vending an unavoidable reality
Board chairman of the National Vendors’ Union of Zimbabwe (NVUZ) Sten Zvorwadza said there were more than one million vendors in the country — some who had capacity to make $2 000 monthly income.
“Vending is now an unavoidable reality as we cannot divorce ourselves from the problem of unemployment. We should be appreciated by the State as we contribute to the economy. Policymakers should enact friendly regulations for vending activities because there is an 80% rate of unemployment in the country,” Zvorwadza said.
He said the country had no alternative to vending, adding it was high time vendors were regarded as employees and formalised.
“The move by the government or Zimra to tax vendors is good, but government should first of all remove prohibitions and ensure vendors are given a platform to do their work freely — and then government can find ways to tax them. We have databases of vendors that can help the government to collect taxes, but they have to put up the requisite infrastructure first.
In countries like India they have tried to put up structures to make sure there was organised vending. The only way that the government can put up those structures is through collecting fees from vendors, but these fees must not be exorbitant. A fee of $5 per month is reasonable for more than one million vendors.
“We encourage the government and Local Authorities to work with vendors’ unions in order to come up with strategies to assist vendors. This country has been turned into a country of vendors and their income is $50 to $500 per month. There are some who can make $1 000 to
$2 000 per month depending on the wares they are selling.”
Some vendors public nuisance
NVUZ director Samuel Wadzai admitted that some vendors were a nuisance, embarking on littering and harassing ladies in miniskirts as well as selling illegal things like pirated CDs and marijuana.
However, he said it was a few bad apples that needed to be dealt with, adding it was imperative for Local Authorities to engage vendors’ organisations in order to bring normalcy.
“Local Authorities have complained of uncouth behaviour by some vendors who shout in the streets advertising their wares; harass ladies in miniskirts and litter in the streets, or sell prohibited products like marijuana.
“However, as an organisation we have capacity to educate our members to stop littering and to engage in good behaviour to ensure the aesthetic value of the CBD is maintained.
“We are saying Local Authorities should come on board and talk to us and come up with strategies to improve the operations of vendors to ensure there is organised vending. To expect municipal police to wipe away vendors is expecting manna from heaven. We have started the process of engaging MPs to ensure vending activities are regularised.”
Vendors to lobby Parly
NVUZ director Samuel Wadzai said vendors would lobby Parliament as they had come up with a draft Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihoods) Bill which they wanted to sell the idea to Parliament.
Currently, a motion calling for stoppage of harassment of female vendors was moved in the National Assembly by Goromonzi West MP Biata Nyamupinga (Zanu PF) and MDC-T Kuwadzana legislator Lucia Matibenga, and is being debated.
Nyamupinga accused council police of brutality against female vendors whom she said during interviews some confessed they were beaten up with children at their backs, sexually harassed while they were being chased by police who touched their backsides and breasts, while their wares was taken after making them pay a fine.
Matibenga said there was need to do away with colonial laws which outlawed vending activities and ensure they were amended to address female vendors’ plight.
Southerton MDC-T legislator Gift Chimanikire called for the crafting of rules and regulations that accommodate the poor who got their livelihoods from vending.
“As the legislature we should influence the Ministry of Local
Government, Urban and Rural Development to ensure rules and regulations are user friendly, and that municipal police should not harass and embarrass women vendors and their children. After all some of the children that the female vendors are taking care of are ours due to irresponsible behaviour of denying paternity.
“In developed countries – even in London they open up markets during the weekend and vending is nothing new. We do not want to create more street children and prostitutes and should put proper systems in place to ensure people live,” Chimanikire said.
NVUZ deputy board chairperson Douglas Shumbayaonda said they were trying to come up with vending methods that would be beneficial to the City Council and vendors.
This week Harare City Council issued a statement that flea market operators will pay $2 daily for trading space while fruit and vegetable vendors and those selling dried foods, airtime and newspapers will pay $1.
The City Council also said vendors should now sell at properly designated points at Fourth Street Market, Charge Office, Speke/Cameron, Park Street, Market Square, and Rezende Street/Kenneth Kaunda.
“Registration of vendors is on-going at vending sites. Each vendor would have a personal registration number.Traders would only be allowed to do business on sites/points they are registered to operate from. There will be no multiple stall holders or subletting. To date, six of the sites have been approved while the other three are at various stages of confirmation.”
They said Council revenue officers would be stationed at all designated vending sites to collect vending fees every day.
“This initiative is a realisation of the critical role played by the informal sector in the national economy. Designating and approving convenient vending sites is expected to not only increase revenue collection by council, but also bring sanity and orderliness in the city,” the City Council said.
Vendors who spoke to NewsDay said the new sites were not user friendly as there was overcrowding.
They also claimed the registration process was tedious and they spent the whole day in queues trying to pay the fees to get permission to sell and as a result lost business time.