It is very easy to dismiss the actions of vendors in Mbare as mere hooliganism, but it is clear there are powerful underlying factors influencing their fight against investment in the suburb.
They have fought against a big investment coming from the United Arab Emirates that would have seen the construction of a shopping mall that would have changed the face of the area.
Let’s begin from the beginning.
Where did these people come from? It is clear there was politics behind their gaining access to that ground.
It should be remembered that since the turn of the millennium and the emergence of strong opposition politics, Mbare became a bedrock of opposition support. Since 2000, the ruling Zanu PF party has failed dismally to reclaim control of the suburb, but this is not because of lack of trying.
They tried by bringing into the suburb and its environs people sympathetic to it. It was hoped these would eventually outnumber opposition supporters. It must also be remembered Zanu PF tried to disperse the “totemless” Mbare population in an attempt to neutralise it. This is what informed Operation Murambatsvina of 2005.
But to bring in more and more party sympathisers into Mbare, there must have been an incentive. This came in the form of business opportunities centred on vending. It is clear almost 100% of the vendors in Mbare are card-carrying members of the ruling party.
Over the years, they have served Zanu PF very well; they have paid “taxes” to bigwigs who own stalls and have also financed the activities of party militias such as the mafia-style Chipangano which is said to have made a fortune extorting money from the same vendors being chucked out today.
The vendors were used in another way by the ruling party. It has been proved that most of the crowds that populate State occasions such as the burials of heroes or the welcoming parties for President Robert Mugabe at Harare International Airport as he returns from his innumerable foreign trips are drawn from these vendors from Mbare and other suburbs.
These vendors now feel betrayed that after being used this way for years, they now face the fate of being driven out without a viable alternative venue to do their business.
This is no different from situations where people were resettled on farms at the height of the land reform programme to speed it up and to show the world that it was a people-driven project rather than a political statement.
Now some of these resettled farmers are being forced out of the farms on which they have lived for up to 15 years. Most of them are being told to go back where they came from; which means they have not, in fact, been given alternative land. Obviously they feel used and betrayed
Zanu PF has been in the habit of using people to push its political ends and abandoning them when such ends have been achieved. That way, it has violated people’s rights willy-nilly.
It is sensible that vendors should not stand in the way of investment and development and the vendors of Mbare have to move. But they should be given an alternative, not to just be told to go back where they came from. They now have rights that have to be protected by the Constitution of Zimbabwe.