BY PRAISEMORE SITHOLE
Informal traders in Bulawayo are complaining of police brutality amid claims that some law enforcement agents are demanding bribes to allow them to operate in the city during the lockdown.
Some vendors have been defying lockdown measures put in place by government to curb the spread of COVID-19 by returning to the streets to sell their wares.
They vowed to continue violating lockdown restrictions as long as government does not given them cushioning allowances.
In an interview, one of the Bulawayo vendors told Southern Eye that police were demanding bribes on a daily basis resulting in them incurring losses.
“Many vendors, who are selling along the roads are not safe because of the police; they are always running away from the police who are always coming every now and then demanding bribes. Sometimes they come wearing casual clothes,” she said.
“Most of the time, we are always running, especially those selling wares close to Western Commonage Police Station. The police raid vendors and ask for bribes so that they can be released. We also noticed that some of the police officers are raiding so that they can give their families and relatives our wares,” she said.
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) director Michael Ndiweni confirmed the allegations, and expressed concern over the behaviour of the police.
“It is impossible for people to stay at home without meaningful government support, as it stands now, there is nothing being provided by the government, which just wants them to sit at home and do nothing,” said Ndiweni. “Government should make sure that when it intervenes to save lives, there should be a package given to vulnerable groups because it is not fair for people to just sit at home and eat, for us I think it’s not well thought.”
Ndiweni said a combination of hunger and COVID-19 would result in loss of lives for many Zimbabweans.
Bulawayo police provincial spokesperson Inspector Abednigo Ncube said vendors should stay at home because they were being arrested for violating the lockdown measures.
“Vendors should stay at home, let it be clear that we are arresting vendors and anyone else who is defying the lockdown regulations. I have been to West Commonage recently, I have seen vendors being arrested; most of these people just want us to watch them as they violate the lockdown regulations. We will continue to arrest violators,” Ncube said.
Recently, informal traders in Bulawayo, Chinhoyi and other towns have also been defying the lockdown; resulting in cat-and-mouse games with the police enforcing the lockdown. During last year’s lockdown, the government announced a cash transfer programme targeting the vulnerable in society, among them vendors and informal traders, whose means of earning a living were disrupted by the lockdown. Only a few, however, reportedly benefited from the government programme.