Socio-economic hardships in the country have tightened over the last two years, driving thousands of Zimbabweans into the streets where they scrap for a living through vending a variety of wares.
But as more people lost their jobs and were left with no other means of fending for their families, they poured out into the already overcrowded vending lane to try their luck.
The current political and economic logjam has brought many industries to a halt, forcing thousands of breadwinners into the streets where there are no alternative job opportunities.
It is a dog-eat-dog situation, said Benson Muchirahondo (27), adding that he was barely holding on selling an assortment of pesticides that kill rats, ants and cockroaches.
He said many other people have also joined the bandwagon and competition was stiff, calling for innovative “marketing” strategies.
At his street corner, he used a small loudspeaker connected to a recorder where he recorded himself advertising his merchandise, and called to potential customers, drawing their attention to his goods.
“This is a skill for the job,” he said. “If I don’t do this when there are so many of us selling the same things, then I will lose business.”
He sat close to his pesticides, which littered the pavement where they did not only easily attract the attention of passers by, but also forced them to walk a narrow path as nearly half the pavement had been taken over by vendors trying to outdo each other.
Noisy vendors a nuisance
People who spoke to NewsDay at the weekend said apart from being an eyesore due to piling rubbish and waste which appeared to overwhelm municipal cleaners, noise pollution had been on the rise in Harare’s central business district (cbd).
Clara Matema of Greendale said Harare has now been reduced to a jungle dominated by noisy vendors, some of whom were now using loud speakers to sell their goods.
“This is no longer Harare as we used to know it,” said the 54-year-old woman who still yearns for the glory days when the capital was still a Sunshine City.
But it appears that the sun no longer shines in Harare as Matema said vendors had become a nuisance. Apart from the fact that she had to delicately pick her way like someone walking on egg shells to avoid stepping on vendors items, she also had to contend with the noise.
“The city is now a mess,” she said. “Of course, some of us were now used to walking carefully to avoid stepping on someone’s items on the pavement, now we have to deal with the noise as well. It’s a terrible situation.”
Vendors now a law unto themselves
With the rate at which vendors have invaded every inch of available space in Harare’s central business district, many have been wondering why the vendors had become so boldness that they defied a whole municipal police force.
The answer is simple, however. There is political might behind their unruly behaviour. In July last year, First Lady Grace Mugabe poured vitriol on the police, accusing them of harassing struggling vendors who were trying to fend for their families.
She accused the police of organising raids in order to grab freebies when they ran out of tomatoes at home and ordered them to pay like everybody else.
She said she had received complaints from female vendors who poured out their grievances to her, particularly how they were being chased away from the streets where they sold their goods.
Since that time, there had been a gradual increase in the number of vendors operating in the CBD and that has also spawned an increase in improperly disposed waste and noise as a significant number of the vendors having recording themselves calling out to clients and now simply play the recorders while they sit at street corners.
“We are grateful that the First Lady has given us the green light to sell our goods without harassment so that we can take care of our families,” said a vendor, Tendai Guyo (33).
“Everyone knows that there are no jobs so we must be allowed to sell our items without harassment. We are not criminals.”
She justified using loudspeakers to attract clients saying it was a business tactic meant to lure customers because competition was stiff.
“This is a matter of survival so you try to beat the competition by doing everything possible to get many clients,” she said.
The low fees that the vendors pay appear to have contributed to their increase in the city as they often do not feel the pinch.
The city’s principal communications officer Michael Chideme said: “Our vending fees are very affordable. They range from $1 to $3 a day for vendors.”
Most of vendors now have a free rein and do whatever they want in the city as long as they paid their daily charges.
Chideme admits that vendors have significantly contributed to the increase of garbage in the city.
“We are working with them to give sustainability to our clean up campaigns and collection schedules,” he said.
Use of relevant by-laws
In December last year 2014, the Harare City Council said it was going to replace its 1973 noise bylaws in line with international trends.
Corporate Services and Housing Director Josephine Ncube was quoted saying they had drawn lessons from South Africa and Canada, both of which have updated their bylaws.
“It was agreed that although major parts of the bylaws 1195 of 1973 were still relevant, it was more proper to come up with a new set of By-laws (2014) comprising the relevant provision from the old bylaws and new provision to cover any gaps to ensure it is in line with current global trends,” she said.
Ncube said the 1973 bylaws had a raft of fault lines that needed to be rectified.
She said other countries set conditions for permit holders by granting them reasonable exceptions for specific community activities making it easier for local authorities to enforce the bylaws.
“The new bylaws will provide for an appeal process. In the event that the Director’s decision has aggrieved someone, one can appeal to the Administrative Court against the decision,” she said.
According to communications expert Norman Muchirahondo, noise is defined as unwanted sound. He says environmental noise consists of all the unwanted sounds in communities except that which originates in the workplace.
“This kind of noise is more severe and widespread than ever before, and it will continue to increase in magnitude and severity because of population growth, urbanisation, and the associated growth in the use of increasingly powerful, varied, and highly mobile sources of noise,” he said.
The enforcement of by-laws that safeguard residents from unwarranted noise could be the answer to the crisis, Muchirahondo said.
Harare’s noise by-laws are under the Urban Councils Act, Section 180, Harare (Noise) By-laws; 90/95.
“It is unfortunate that not much is being done to enforce these laws and it would appear that there are no fine schedules or arrests for violation of the regulations,” he said.
“That is the reason why we see all these people using loudspeakers and other electronic gadgets that amplify their voices in selling their goods.”
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has been working on a Statutory Instrument (SI) that allows the agency to enforce section 79 to 81 of the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27).
The sections provide for fines ranging from level 1 which is $20 to 14 which forces one to pay $5 000 and/or up to 1 year in prison for exceeding noise standards set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at both residential and rural areas.
WHO stipulates that noise should not exceed 55 decibels during the day and should be less than 35dB (a radio played at moderate volume) at night in residentialsuburbs.
The chaos brought about vending – both legal and illegal – has turned Harare’s CBD into an eyesore and, of late, “ear-sore” and undermining its Sunshine City status that peaked in the 1980s and early 1990s, during which time the CBD was a marvel to behold.
But now meat, fish, fruit, vegetable, rat poison, airtime, cell phone and clothing items are now being sold on street pavements.
Vendors have been a common sight on Harare’s streets for many years now and the socio–economic meltdown has literally reduced city streets into anurban jungle.