Towards a speedy, inclusive formalisation in Zim

The commitment and level of participation during the consultative stages of the process brings hope to a sector that has suffered a lot as a result of lack of recognition and support from government and local authorities.

THIS opinion piece seeks to contribute to the speedy actualisation of the formalisation strategy for Zimbabwe. From the onset, it is vital to acknowledge the work done thus far by players in the informal economy ecosystem to ensure that there is a draft formalisation strategy document awaiting Cabinet approval.

The commitment and level of participation during the consultative stages of the process brings hope to a sector that has suffered a lot as a result of lack of recognition and support from government and local authorities.

Formalising the informal economy can take various forms which include registration, taxation, organisation and representation, legal and social protection, business incentives and support.


Formalisation  contributes to the establishment of better (decent) jobs, creates a broader tax base which may result in lower rates, possibly increase investment and strengthen the social contract and as well as rule of law and democratisation of informal economy governance.

Formalisation also leads to access to finance and market information, thereby enabling improvements in the productivity of informal units. Increased productivity means better incomes.

 What needs to be done by informal economy workers to prevent being wrongly labelled as informal sector actor?


While monitoring by external authorities is important, it is extremely vital for the informal economy workers and vendors to practise self-regulation, especially with respect to the following:

  1. a) Hygiene and quality control: It is most important with respect to food vending especially in sensitive areas like near schools, parks and other areas with substantial human traffic and where there is considerable exposure to children. The informal economy workers must assume responsibility to keep the environs clean — by properly disposing of the waste all the time.

In this regard, the Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) has an ongoing campaign dubbed Clean Cities Campaign dedicated to encouraging the organisation’s members to work in clean environs. It is proposed that every city or town should have trained self-regulation ambassadors who monitor and educate other vendors in the area they operate from to practise self-hygiene and cleanliness; and

  1. b) De-congestion of central business districts. Informal economy has become the biggest employer and refuge occupation for many Zimbabweans employing over 95% of the economically active population and 60% being in vending. Of great concern is that, the demand for vending sites far exceeds the available spaces leading to congestion of pavements and sidewalks.

Given the imbalance between available space and the number vendors willing to occupy these spaces, an alternative model which enables the livelihood-congestion trade-off must be adopted. The demand for vending spaces in a particular area can be matched with the supply without over-congestion if zoning plans provide adequate vending spaces both with respect to location and time.

A system of registration of vendors and non-discretionary regulation of access in public spaces in accordance with planning standards and nature of trade or service should be adopted.

Other interventions include the following:

Scale of operation

 Every land use has a ceiling and it is true for informal trading also. Overuse can cause complications, which can be avoided if specifications are adhered to.

Therefore, the quantitative norms should be respected by informal economy workers as a measure of self-regulation in terms of players in a particular trade to be allowed in a place. Registration system in collaboration with informal economy unions and associations may be used to regulate the scale of operation so that the ceiling is not breached.

In such cases where the ceiling has been breached, measures must be put in place to incentivise informal workers to go to areas that would have been deemed to be not natural markets.

Such measures include supporting economic activities in these areas, for example, Coca-Cola open space (along Seke Road), Coventry Holding Bay in Harare to promote the flow of human traffic which would translate to markets.

Relocation and rehabilitation

Vendors are most vulnerable to forced eviction and denial of right to livelihood. This causes severe long-term hardships, impoverishment and other disadvantages including loss of dignity.

This opinion piece, therefore, posits that no informal economy worker should be forcibly evicted. They should be relocated with adequate rehabilitation only if the land they were using is needed for an urgent public purpose.

Therefore, eviction should be avoided wherever feasible unless there is clear and urgent public need in the land in question.

Where relocation is absolutely necessary, a notice of a minimum of 90 days should be served to the concerned informal workers. Affected informal workers or representatives must be involved in planning and implementation of the rehabilitation project.

Affected informal workers should be assisted in their efforts to improve their livelihoods or at least to restore them, in real terms to pre-eviction levels.

Loss of assets should be avoided and if inevitable be compensated. 

State machinery must take comprehensive measures to control the practice of forced evictions.

Demarcation of trading zones

The demarcation of vending sites should be city or town specific. To make the plans conducive and adequate for the informal traders of the respective city or town, the following should be adhered to:

It should take into account the natural propensity of informal economy workers to locate in certain places at certain times in response to patterns of demand for their goods and services.

City authorities should provide sufficient spaces, designated as informal economy workers’ markets in planned locations. If demand exceeds the number of spaces available, excess may be regulated by fees or lottery and not discretionary licences.

In any case, market forces relating to price, quality and demand will automatically curtail the number of traders to sustainable levels.

Mobile urban vending should be permitted in all areas even outside the designated informal economy markets, unless designated as “no trading zone” through a participatory process.  The “no trading zones” may be notified both in terms of location and time.

Residential areas should not be designated as “no trading zones” for frivolous reasons; the public benefits of declaration of a no trading zone should clearly outweigh the potential loss of livelihood and non-availability of goods and services involved.

With the growth of a city/town every new area should have adequate space for informal economy workers.

Designation of informal economy markets or no trading zones should not be left to the discretion of local authorities, but must be accomplished by a participatory process involving a town informal economy committee.

Samuel Wadzai is an informal economy analyst and VISET executive director. He writes here in his personal capacity. 

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