TWO vendors, standing on a pavement under the veranda of one of the major shops in up-town Harare, go about their business despite municipal police and the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s efforts to clamp down on them, as part of efforts to curb the spread of typhoid.
BY TONDERAYI MATONHO
The vendors jokingly warn each other that they may not be able to escape spikes, if thrown at them by the city council police.
“We don’t mind throwing anything at them when they flee, even spikes to stop vending,” one municipal police officer said.
Spikes have become a common feature in Harare, as they are thrown at commuter vehicles picking up passengers at undesignated spots in a bid to stop and arrest them.
“There is no going back because we are doing this for the good of the public. We are currently on the streets removing vendors,” Michael Chideme, the council spokesperson, warned recently.
Experts warn that the prevalence of vending sites across the country would only worsen Zimbabwe’s investment ranking, leaving it an unattractive destination.
The council started seizing defiant vendors’ wares, much to the chagrin of the street settlers, who accused the city council of misdirecting its efforts, saying typhoid was being driven by the municipality’s failure to collect garbage, provide clean water and ensure availability of functional ablution facilities.
The vendors then approached the High Court through their pressure group, Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset), to defend themselves against the blitz and were granted an interdict.
Soon after the interdict was issued, riots broke out in central Harare briefly bringing business to a standstill, as vendors fought running battles with the police, who were trying to push them off the streets.
The struggle for space in the city through vending is a new phenomenon and it is spreading to every corner of the country’s urban centres, most notably on the city’s pavements, with unconfirmed statistics putting the number of vendors in Harare at 100 000.
Experts say it is a struggle that has dethroned Harare as the Sunshine City and one of Africa’s finest, yet Zimbabwe’s capital hopes to be a world-class city by 2025.
The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) notes that with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority struggling to raise enough tax and foreign direct investment low, it is quite risky to continue allowing vending in the central business district.
“It has decimated the prospects of bona fide retailers by crowding out their potential market through setting up of stalls on their door steps.
“The spread of vending activities is a symptom of a working class populace migrating from the production-biased continuum to a consumer-facing kind of economic activity. This is growing in Zimbabwe, where citizens want to sell tomatoes, cellphones or vehicles as opposed to going to the farm or factory to produce,” ZNCC said, in one of its weekly contributions to the Zimbabwe Economic Society.
With traditional and major industries having closed down over the past two decades or so, vending has become the only way for many.
“A dominant informal economy implies stifling of room for innovation and creativity, a higher propensity for smuggling different commodities, a depressed savings ratio, as fewer citizens will be willing to be part of the formal banking system, an eyesore to the tourism products and services and a haven for ancient diseases related to hygiene,” ZNCC notes.
“Removing us from here is a death sentence, so we will die on the streets,” a defiant vendor, Titus Mashongwa, told NewsDay recently.
Another vendor, Charity Chengu, who operates close to Batanai Gardens, undaunted, said she would flee, but return to her stall place once the riots were over.
Observers note that the battle against vending has intensified under Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere.
“For now, it is a difficult war to win, because by nature, vending is more underground and shadowy than an ordinary blackmarket, which normally arises as a result of government intervention in the operations of general pricing mechanism,” Denzel Malikwa, a fourth-year law student at the Midlands State University, said.
He noted that a blackmarket induces shortages, which compel the government to act, while vending does not disrupt the product supply.