WHAT happens when a man whose leg is broken takes painkillers as a remedy? How does he feel a couple of minutes after taking the sedatives? Well, for an hour or so he will feel that he is well.
Moments later, he may gulp a few more pain killers and still feel good about himself.
He may even pull a heroic stunt and kick using the broken leg. He may feel great for days, blocking the pain, but sooner than later an ugly reality will set in. A broken leg, unattended, will fester and rot and ultimately lead to certain amputation. A broken leg needs to be cast in plaster and nothing less. In the same breath, the approach used so far in dealing with vendors is akin to this proverbial man who guzzles narcotics to counter a broken leg.
The last few weeks up to the present continue to be dominated by the vendors’ saga. Evidently, the problem is not giving in; we wake up each morning to see the indomitable spirit of the vendor ready to face the button stick, the handcuffs and the capacious challenges of the day. The vendors seem determined; to them, this appears a matter of life or death.
A lot continue to happen; vendors have been arrested en masse; some have appeared in court lamenting torture at the hands of cops; injuries have been encountered on both sides; bales of clothes have been burnt; goods have been confiscated and clashes continue unbridled yet the crisis won’t budge.
Vending sites have been designated outside the central business district (CBD) yet, for obvious reasons, the CBD remains a hot favourite for the vendors. The vendors have been vilified, labelled saboteurs and colonisers yet, apparently, the crisis looks far from over. A new Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere with great resolve, has come on board yet the vendor problems remain subject of social discourse. Streets remain littered with vendors selling all sorts of wares leaving one wondering what exactly it will take to make Harare breathe freely again. Vendors have become a permanent feature of Harare in the absence of formal jobs.
Worse, these vendors are not poor and uneducated people from the country; they are former office workers, qualified tradesmen and graduates. And the same vendor has become the menace; the reprobate, at least according to authorities. But wait a moment; isn’t it ironical how the vendor has turned villain today. Some will remember how Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, lauded the emergence of what he called a new economy-one based on informal traders. Vendors, in their thousands, were considered providers of a “new economy.”
And isn’t it extremely sad for a country once flaunted as southern Africa’s economic bread-basket to be now making a virtue out of vending. We are now cheering vending as a mainstream source of employment and even moving to set up infrastructure for it yet nothing can be further from the truth, no economy ever thrived when it has to consider something as unconventional as vending as a form of economy. Reality has to be faced and this economy’s most urgent question is: how do we reindustrialise and give people formal jobs?
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) commissioner general, Gershem Pasi struck the right note in his Parliament presentation when he cited how, at one time, the government created Export Processing Zones which were a spectacular failure and a waste of scant resources. Resources were devoted towards the processing zones, which today lie as white elephants.
We opted for sedatives rather than having the leg put in plaster. And as long as we continue on this path, addressing symptoms not causes; we are setting ourselves for a fiasco. When the government expended resources on Export Processing Zones it put a lot of resources to waste.
Today, we have a repeat scenario brewing. There can be no riddle; the vendor crisis is the direct offspring of the 15-year-old economic meltdown, which has placed formal employment in the realm of impossibility for millions of Zimbabweans. It’s the economic crunch, which has to be dealt with. Finding a formal job for Zimbabweans has become something akin to searching for ice in hell. It is common sense that no adult wants to be selling vegetables in a city centre.
There is absolutely no doubt that, given an alternative, all the ‘vendor menace’ would disappear in a flash. If energy could be exhausted towards fixing the economy we would not need anyone to drive out vendors for, there won’t be vendors to talk about. The continual collapse of hundreds of companies has had a multi-faceted negative impact and indeed the economic crisis is creating a generation, which may never know what a pay slip looks like.
The whole lot of resources going into establishing vending sites will, just like the Export Processing Zones, be unnecessary white elephants.
The focus should be on having the leg cast in plaster, otherwise vending is a natural response to the smouldering economic environment Zimbabweans find themselves in. In the absence of a permanent remedy, vendors will remain a feature of Harare’s CBD and clashes will reign supreme.
Employment opportunities and a focus on reindustrialisation not vending sites is the permanent solution to the vendors’ saga.
Learnmore Zuze is an author, legal researcher and social analyst. E-mail