Urban planning, by-laws need revisiting

File pic: Vendors

IN our NewsDay edition yesterday we published two stories highlighting the issue of vending in the capital city Harare and the country’s second largest metropolitan of Bulawayo.

In Harare we heard that the local authority was being prejudiced in excess of US$90 000 every month by unscrupulous space barons who are charging vendors fees to illegally occupy the capital city’s street pavements and bus termini.

In Bulawayo the council gave illegal vendors a yesterday deadline to vacate their current sites and align their activities with council by-laws.

These developments come following years of cat and mouse chases between the country’s vendors desperate to make ends meet in a relentlessly faltering economy and urban councils hoping to maintain order and sanity in their jurisdictions. The councils have, to no avail, even gone as far as roping in the Zimbabwe Republic Police to hopefully bring law and order in urban areas. And in the chaos “enterprising” con artists have taken advantage to fleece urbanites and their councils.

This vending issue points to something amiss in the way Zimbabwe, as a nation has viewed vending and has tried to address the chaos that has been created by this vending phenomenon.

A 2020 State of By-laws and their Contributions to Urban Resilience in Zimbabwe study published by the United Nations Development Programme, in conjunction with Government of Zimbabwe and United Nations Children’s Fund sums up why vending remains a nagging major challenge in Zimbabwe’s urban settings.

“Zimbabwe’s urban regulatory philosophy has remained ‘prohibition-oriented’,” said the survey report.

“A perception exists that local legal and regulatory instruments are anti-urban poor. This is partly because most regulations were developed when urban residency was for a few and urban landscapes were racially defined. Additionally, the application and interpretation of local urban laws is one of ‘thou shall not’ leading to loss, damage and eviction more than ‘this is how to benefit from your urban residency’. 

“This philosophy or slant reinforces residents’ negative attitude towards municipal regulation and regulators. Awareness and actionable understanding of the by-laws is also low. Further, regulatory performance is weak in most urban local authorities due to staff and financial constraints, overlapping mandates with national government agencies and absence of municipal courts. Levels of intergovernmental collaboration necessary for effective development and implementation of local laws has thus been inadequate.

“Devolution implementation has the potential to address this structural impediment. The results of inadequate urban planning, development and governance include i) poor service and infrastructure performance, ii) energy ineffciency, iii) air and water pollution, iv) misuse of land and other non-renewable resources, v) social segregation, and vi) low public safety. Addressing these gaps requires municipal by-laws, which are key instruments for regulating socio-economic activities within council areas and thus useful tools for building urban resilience. To achieve this, by-laws should be relevant and up to date with current urban development trends.”

In short, the country’s urban planning and by-laws need urgent revisiting and both government and urban authorities must put their heads together on this matter for a lasting solution. Otherwise anything short of what has already been recommended and team spirit will lead the country nowhere on the issue of illegal vending and devious space barons.

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