STREET vendors, mostly in Harare and Bulawayo, on Tuesday vowed to continue selling their wares at undesignated sites and threatened a violent showdown with the army after the country’s security chiefs on Monday gave them a seven-day ultimatum to relocate to designated selling points.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA/MOSES MATENGA/NQOBILE BHEBHE
With growing support from opposition parties and civil society groups, the vendors reacted angrily to the army’s directive and blasted government for resorting to use of military force after failing to create jobs for the majority of the population which has now turned to vending.
Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, in the company of members of the military planning wing, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), said the government would “deal with leaders of the vendor associations” if they failed to remove “their people” from the streets within seven days.
The Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation (Ziso) warned of an impending confrontation if government resorted to the use of force instead of creating jobs.
“This thinking is informed by a deep-seated paranoia within Zanu PF,” the organisation said.
“The Zanu PF government is well aware and afraid of the swelling numbers in the streets of Harare and other cities.”
National Vendors’ Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz) said there was no need to deploy the military as the country was not in a state of emergency.
“Inviting the army and the police to fight vendors is as good as declaring war on livelihoods.
“Forceful removal of vendors across the country’s towns and cities will be reminiscent of the Gukurahundi of the early 1980s or even Operation Murambatsvina and we will not tolerate such manoeuvres to bring civil unrest in our country,” the organisation’s director Samuel Wadzai said. “This call is not only a declaration of war, but a clear demonstration of ignorance.”
He said more than 100 000 Navuz members would be affected if government carried through its threat as designated selling points in Harare could only accommodate 6 000 vendors.
While Navuz said it would urge its members to resist, two other organisations aligned to Zanu PF started mobilising their members out of the central business district (CBD) yesterday.
Navuz members who spoke to NewsDay said the government needed to come up with alternatives before its knee-jerk order was implemented.
“We are also giving them seven days to open industries and create jobs, failure of which we will then meet in the streets. If it is confrontation they want, then they will get that, but we are a peace-loving people and want to engage rather than fight,” a vendor, who declined to be identified, said.
Harare Residents’ Trust director Precious Shumba said the army had no business interfering with civilian affairs.
“The mayor of Harare, by agreeing to this, is sending the people’s vote to waste, because whatever negative impact of this intervention, the councillors will be blamed for failing to deal with vendors’ issues, yet every Zimbabwean knows that to resolve the vendors’ issue, the economy has to be revived first, and job creation absorbs the majority of the people on the streets,” he said.
Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni belongs to the main opposition MDC-T.
MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the Zanu PF regime must not abuse the national army to cover up for its failures, while his party’s secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora threatened that the opposition would co-ordinate a confrontation with the military.
“We want to organise vendors to fight back,” he said. “These are citizens trying desperately to eke out an honest living in an environment with no other means of survival. Instead of turning the military against the people, (President Robert) Mugabe should create the jobs he promised.”
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights also condemned the army’s impending intervention, saying it was a direct violation of the Constitution.
“Such intervention by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces in civilian affairs directly violates the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” the lawyer grouping said.
“ZLHR is concerned that the government is using the threat of military intervention to circumvent the administrative justice and constitutional rights of vendors involved and, more disturbingly, to instil fear in both the vendor community and the wider populace.”
The Committee of the People’s Charter said: “For the government, through JOC, to want to arbitrarily remove vendors from the CBD is an exercise in not only political repression, but crass hypocrisy.”
MDC Renewal Team spokesperson Jacob Mafume said the government should not punish vendors for its failures.
But Harare town clerk Tendai Mahachi insisted informal traders should relocate to designated sites.
“All vendors should be on approved sites within the next seven days, after which period law enforcement agents will move in to ensure total compliance,” he said. “The seven-day notice lapses on Monday June 8, 2015.”
In Bulawayo, Zanu PF Bulawayo Central district chairman Joe Chiyangwa said informal traders were the only remaining sector sustaining the economy.
“Remember a few years ago the very same vendors sustained the country during times of crisis,” Chiyangwa said. “Vending is the only industry left in this country, but we are chasing them away.”
Milton Sibanda, a vendor from Cowdray Park, said. “We are making an honest living on the streets and the government wants to send the army to evict us. What is our crime?”
Another one, Sithenjisiwe Nyathi, said it was shocking that the army was being deployed on defenceless civilians.
“All we want are proper selling points,” she said. “But all designated market stalls are occupied. What is our crime in a country where there are no jobs?
“I was retrenched and my husband is self-employed. The little money we are getting cannot sustain us.”