First Lady Grace Mugabe’s name was drawn into the potentially explosive battle to rid Harare’s central business district of illegal vendors after some representatives of the informal traders argued she gave them the right to operate.
BY MOSES MATENGA
A few days after the government and security forces gave vendors a seven-day ultimatum to retreat to legal trading areas, the hawkers have split into distinct camps.
At a meeting organised by Harare City Council yesterday, the vendors were divided into pro-MDC-T and Zanu PF camps.
The rival organisations’ representatives almost came to blows at a meeting attended by Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni to chart the way forward as the Monday deadline to leave the streets draws near.
Some of the groups said they would not move out of the CBD because they had the blessing of the First Lady who during her “Meet The People” rallies last year urged authorities to leave vendors alone.
Grace berated the police for allegedly harassing vendors at the series of rallies that she held ahead of the Zanu PF congress last year.
Some of the groups yesterday said they were waiting for direction from “our mother” claiming the First Lady was their protector.
Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy’s Tendai Kokera said Grace said vendors should be protected from municipal police who were in the habit of confiscating their wares.
“Amai [Grace] said police should not take people’s goods. She said people should trade because companies had closed down. It is because she has the heart of a mother,” Kokera said.
However, Christine Taruwona, a Zanu PF central committee member and national secretary for business liaison and development in the youth league, claimed Grace was misquoted.
She said vendors should move out of the city centre to protect the image of the city and African Union chairman President Robert Mugabe who was hosting several international visitors.
“People are asking when Amai will come to help us because she is the one who allowed us in,” she said.
“That is not it. That actually is meant to tarnish the image of the First Lady, she never said that. She said people should go to designated sites and not everywhere. Let us be organised.”
One of the vendors, Memory Mbondiah, touched off a storm at the meeting when she said the Zanu PF government should provide at least a quarter of the jobs it promised ahead of the 2013 elections to avoid the chaos prevailing in the city.
Vendors’ leaders aligned to Zanu PF, including Taruwona, objected to the statement ordering her to sit down as she was delving into politics, threatening to beat her up.
Manyenyeni was at pains to restore order as verbal insults were thrown from one camp to another.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation (Ziso) has written to Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, through its lawyers, Atherstone and Cook, urging him to withdraw the ultimatum to vendors, which it said was unconstitutional.
According to a legal analysis by Veritas, the order was questionable on several grounds.
Veritas said the function of the defence forces was to protect Zimbabwe, its people, national security and interests and its territorial integrity and to uphold the Constitution.
“According to section 213 (2): With the authority of the President, the defence forces may be deployed in Zimbabwe in defence of Zimbabwe, in support of the Police Service in the maintenance of public order; or in support of the Police Service and other civilian authorities in the event of an emergency or disaster,” Veritas said.
“There is a very good reason for limiting the grounds on which the defence forces can be deployed within Zimbabwe.
“The defence forces are the coercive arm of the State, to be deployed when the government is compelled to use violent force to defend itself.
“Their personnel are not trained as police officers; ultimately they are trained to kill people. They do not even have the legal power to arrest civilians.”
Police yesterday deployed truckloads of armed officers at several flea markets fearing potential chaos as the ultimatum draws closer.
MDC-T secretary for security Giles Mutsekwa said the army should be professional and stop being used by “misguided politicians like Chombo” to fight unarmed civilians.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) also criticised the directive, saying it was evil.
“The directive given by Chombo was diabolic as well as insensitive to the plight of vendors and is meant to destroy their livelihoods,” NCA said.