IN yesterday’s NewsDay, we published macabre pictures of vendors armed with catapults, stones and all manner of weapons, as they stood to fight municipal police in a very unprecedented manner.
Scores of vendors felt they were unfairly treated when council officials raided them, confiscated their goods and arrested some of them and they resorted to fighting back, triggering nasty scenes and running battles in Harare’s central business district.
The vendors will be accused of resorting to violence and no doubt police will be deployed to quell the fighting, but that is the easy thing to do, treating the symptoms and leaving the disease untouched.
Importantly, however, the vendors standing up to the municipal police is the clearest sign that Zimbabweans have reached the end of their tether and have no other option but to fight back.
While we do not condone violence, the fighting back is an indicator that the vendors are frustrated and feel the only avenue they have of making an honest living is being blocked by people who are not empathetic to their situation.
Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs in recent months and with the general joblessness, their chances of finding employment are asphyxiated and vending is now their last hope.
It has been reported that between 200 and 500 people are expected to lose their jobs at Kwekwe’s Sable Chemicals fertiliser plant and most of them have no choice but to join the already teeming ranks of vendors.
While we appreciate councils have a duty to maintain order in towns, it is imperative that they do so as humanely as possible, rather than pretend that they live in a vacuum and are unaware of the economic malaise the country finds itself in.
Most vendors are not there by choice, but because that is their only hope for survival and council’s actions in chasing them down are likely to trigger a nasty reaction.
It is patently evident that the vending situation is a microcosm of the entirety of the country, where hopelessness, frustration and a feeling that the government does not care about ordinary citizens are the most overriding emotions.
For long, ordinary Zimbabweans have had their backs pinned firmly against the wall and fighting back now seems to be the only option.
It is apparent that the government has run out of ideas to resuscitate the economy, but it is also not prudent for them to break the spirits of people trying to earn an honest living.
The reason we have so many vendors on the streets is symptomatic of government’s failures, hence we urge authorities to be cautious in the manner they handle the situation, as it may soon prove to be a powder keg, triggering an explosive situation.
What councils and government should be doing is engaging vendors in an inclusive manner in how to deal with the situation and the heavy-handedness is uncalled for.
People can only take so much abuse from authorities and if the situation is allowed to continue, we fear vendors and ordinary Zimbabweans’ threshold for maltreatment is about to snap.
In this regard, we urge authorities not to treat vendors as the problem, but rather find ways to accommodate them, while seeking permanent solutions to unemployment, which is the issue that needs to be resolved.