The deadline for illegal street vendors to leave urban CBDs and relocate to designated selling points came and passed almost unnoticed. In Harare in particular, the reason the vendors did not move was attributed to Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T dominated council.
As we reported in this paper yesterday, Tsvangirai had urged the illegal vendors to stay put and ignore a Government ultimatum. He told his councilors to leave the illegal vendors alone. Tsvangirai repeated his now staid mantra about Zanu- PF promising to create 2,2 million jobs in the run-up to the July 31 2013 harmonised elections where he met his Waterloo.
He argued that the illegal vendors were on the streets because they did not have formal jobs and that they wanted to feed their families.
All this might appear logical, but it is the logic of a desperate mad man. How does one who postures as a future president of this country justify illegality in the name of unemployment? What stops him tomorrow from justifying rape if the culprit pleads that he did it either because his proposal had been turned down or because he didn’t have a wife?
Harare council has identified 15 points from which vendors can conduct their business. People will follow goods. We have always gone to Mbare Musika and Siya So to buy what we want.
It is evident that Tsvangirai has a very sinister agenda. One is obviously to set himself on a collision course with the authorities. When the law takes its course he can then plead victimisation and lack of democracy. Government should ignore his bluff.
Tsvangirai has also been in the cold for a long time since he left the inclusive Government and his party’s disastrous performance in the 2013 harmonised elections. He is not sure of his power anymore. That is why he wants to seize every small opportunity to gauge if he still has followers or, as in this case, whether his voice still matters.
Vendors will listen to him because it is in their interest for the time being.
What is in inexplicable is why Tsvangirai would appear to be interested in gauging his support base when he betrays those supporters at a time when it matters most: he is not interested in elections but wants to posture as the most popular leader. He likes to see crowds of people cheering him at stadiums but without delivering on his promises. He has all the signs of a mad man suffering from delusions of grandeur.
But there is also a disturbing streak here where councillors elected to run the city pay more attention to the instructions of a mad man who is out of Government and ignoring council by-laws just to spite a party which won the popular mandate to run the country. There is clear dereliction of duty when councillors neglect to enforce the law.
It is one thing to be empathetic to the plight of the unemployed, and quite another to allow, even encourage, wilful violation of the law. That is not what ratepayers voted for. That is not what shop-owners in the CBD are paying for. Everyone wants order regardless of which political party is in power.
But, more importantly, there is a real danger that the Harare City Council is undermining its own authority in the eyes of the vendors. At first the council looked keen to enforce the deadline, before backing down.
It was evident on Monday morning that most vendors had heeded the deadline to relocate to designated sites. However, when they realised that council was not enforcing the deadline, they began flocking back on to the streets. It might be more difficult next time to expect them to take council orders seriously. That would be the time when they will need Government support.
In short, it is dangerous for council to blow hot and cold and expect to be taken seriously when it’s sending conflicting signals and showing street vendors that it is at war with central Government.