D-day for defiant vendors

HARARE - Desperate Harare vendors plan to defy a government order compelling them to leave the streets by today after their appeal to insistent authorities against their eviction from the city centre was rejected outright, setting the stage for potentially deadly clashes in the central business district in the coming days.

The government has made it clear that it will enforce its order issued by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo last month, with officials saying that they hope those  operating from undesignated vending sites will vacate these places “voluntarily”.

But articulating their concerns and challenges at a meeting of protesters in Harare yesterday, most vendors said they would defy authorities and stay put.

The administrator of the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (Navuz) — which claims a membership of more than 100 000 street traders — Lucy Makunde, said the organisation’s members would not be moving from their trading places today as demanded by authorities.

“Vendors should come to work like any other day tomorrow (today).  We do not want any noise with the authorities,” Makunde told the Daily News yesterday.

Makunde said Harare City Council was not adequately prepared to offer alternative vending stalls for the street traders, with some of the designated new trading areas located too far from the city centre where there was no business.

He said other proposed sites, such as Cleveland Building, were already allegedly occupied by a “space baron” whom he named — meaning that there was no space there for Zimbabweans who desired to look after themselves and their families through vending.

Asked about the state of preparedness to move vendors out of the streets, police spokesperson Charity Charamba referred questions to the Harare City Council.

“Who gave the deadline? Ask the responsible authority. Talk to City Council,” she said tersely.

But small and medium sized enterprises minister, Sithembiso Nyoni, said the vendors had been given enough time and policy direction to move.

“We stopped any evacuation so that this policy would be put in place. We co-ordinated with other ministries and said each vendor must belong to an organisation to make a clear distinction between criminals and vendors.

“There are 18 vendor associations and 17 said they were ready to move except for the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe. If there are vendors who are defying the directive, they will be dealt with appropriately by the responsible authorities for defying law and order,” she said.

Chombo’s mobile phone went unanswered.

But Harare town clerk Tendai Mahachi was adamant that the vendors would vacate the central business district.

“We will not concern ourselves with people who are saying that there is not enough space in the CBD. If anyone resists, we will use the enforcement agencies starting with the municipal police and we can escalate things if the situation gets out of hand,” he said.

On Wednesday, the vendors demonstrated in Harare’s CBD and later presented a petition to Parliament, with riot police frantically trying to scuttle the mass action.

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