Vendors Aren’t The Problem!

The minister of local government together with some army official this last week gave an ultimatum to all vendors to vacate from the CBD into designated bays or be forcefully removed. This issue which has been a bone of contention has caused a lot of discomfort. The issue has been debated in parliament, in mainstream media and more interestingly on social media.

So what is the big deal with vending in Harare?

The reality

The streets of Harare and many other towns are in disarray, it is said, KufambamugutareHarareukagumburanemadomasi (if you walk in the city of Harare you may trip on tomatoes) Unonodonherapamabanana, woumburukirapamabutternut(you will fall on bananas, and roll on butternuts) ukaita lucky unomukiramuhembedzemubhero (if you are lucky you will land in secondhand clothing) or else unopindamuchotochekugocherachibage (or else you will end up In a fire for roasting maize).

An exaggeration, maybe, but in the sarcastic humour the author meant to show the world how bad the vending situation is in Harare.

I went to the central business district (CBD)two weeks ago; the vending was so bad on the pavement that I ended up walking on the road because they only left a pathway for one person to walk at a time.

Growing up, we all knew that if you wanted nice fresh vegetables you go to Mbare musika and buy from the farmers early in the morning. Not anymore. All the farmers’ produce has found its way to the CBD to the extent that all you have to do, is go and buy them on the pavement or from the doorway of some shop and you are good to go.

It does not end with farm produce and second hand clothing instead it extends to new shoes, clothes and household equipment. You can find everything on the streets of Harare, even bricks and books.

I was walking along Leopold Takawira Street and I noticed that in front of all the shops that sell school uniforms their were vendors selling the exact same thing but at a cheaper price, Of course it is cheaper - they don’t have any overheadss?

What’s worse is that it looked so wrong. Your competition is right in front of your door!

This is the reality of vending in Zimbabwe.

The problem with the way vendors are operating is that the CBD is uninhabitable; it is filthy, overcrowded, loud and in chaos.

So the government has given the vendors a seven day ultimate (ending on the 8th of June) to move out of the city centre and move to designated vending sites. The problem however is these designated sigtes can only accommodate 6000 people but it is estimated that there are about 6 million vendors (an exaggeration I believe). These proposed bays were published in The Herald on the 4th of June. The problem with them is that these designated points are far from the customers who do business in the CBD. The question then will be what will happen to all these other people who have been sustaining their families through vending?

The vending problem in Zimbabwe did not start today, it has been going on for a long time and for a while vendors used to play the cat and mouse games with the council police. They would be raided and their goods taken.

This was until ‘the meet the people tour’ by Amai Grace Mugabe during the run-up to the ZANU PF December Congress in 2014. During this tour she made it clear that she used to work hard running her flea market and she understood the cross boarder traders’ plight. In the same vein she also said that vendors should be allowed to sell wherever they wanted and therefore no one could be arrested. That was the end of the cat and mouse game; the mice multiplied and increased in number and infestation. The cat had been disempowered for good, oh so they thought. To this day they tell you amai said we can sell wherever we want!

Till now, Amai Mugabe has not said anything personally about this. I wonder why?

In today’s Herald the Zanu PfFspokesperson for the women’s league, Monica Mutsvangwa said that Amai Mugabe does not support illegal vending and supports efforts by the city to rid of vendors. They also alleged her words were twisted by the private media and the opposition to incite the people into lawlessness. (Cearly she didn’t have time to sit and watch those rallies, neither has she been to Cleveland House in Speke Avenue and Leopold Takawira Street , where there is a banner which says: Thank you Amai Mugabe for promoting ZimAsset where the vendors have been allotted by ZANU PF.

The story behind the story

Vending is a two edged sword I think.

On one had the city needs to be cleaned up and order restored. On the other end these people are not in the street by choice. There is something that has pushed millions of Zimbabweans to end up in the streets selling just about anything. Vending is but a symptom and a microcosm of everything wrong about our country! In the famous words of Tuku in his song Handirodambudziko ‘wongororachikonzerochaitamusorouteme’ (look for the root cause of the headache).

It is a symptom of the high levels of unemployment and poverty in our country. Who in their rightful mind would choose to sit by a street corner all day with no food, water or ablutions, selling tomatoes for a dollar with the potential of making a mere $3 a day with bills amount to so much more each month - rent $100, food $25 and $30 school fees to pay? Who would choose to spend the day with whining kids and angry pedestrians cursing about the lack of room for them to walk? Who would choose such a life?

Unless our government wakes up from its slumber and deals with the real causes of unemployment, then we will not get anywhere. They can attempt to remove vendors from the street but it will not address the problem that people are hungry in this country.

Where are the 2,2 million jobs that Mugabe and ZANU PF promised in the run-up to the 2013? Every time that question is asked I have never received a satisfactory answer. Instead our government has created 6 million vendors in the last few years, (kudos to them)!

You can give seven day, seven weeks even seven year ultimatums to vendors to leave the streets. Some army official can threaten to unleash the army on citizens to leave the streets, but this is their livelihood and as sure as the sun will rise, they will not leave. Address the underlying issues that is forcing people into vending and near slave labour in neighbouring countries and Harare will turn into a sunshine city again! This problem did not start in one day and it will not end in one day!

Caroline Kache

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