HARARE - A showdown looms between defiant vendors and trigger-happy authorities after street traders openly disregarded government’s directive that they stop operating from pavements across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities with effect from yesterday.
And emboldened by the lack of response by law enforcement agents yesterday to their defiance, the vendors said it would “continue to be business as usual” going forward as vending was their sole source of income.
With the number of street traders operating in the country estimated to be as high as six million, as a result of rising unemployment — itself the result of the country’s ever-worsening economic crisis — Zimbabwe is now derisively referred to in the region as “a nation of educated vendors”, as young university graduates have no choice but to join street trading to make a living.
The Daily News was reliably informed yesterday that there was a lack of consensus among the authorities about how to proceed regarding their controversial directive on vendors, with many of them apparently reluctant to use heavy-handed methods, at least for now, fearful of triggering a political backlash.
This is what had seen them delaying their threatened action and cleaning up of the streets, in the mould of the much-criticised Murambatsvina project (Operation Throw Out the Trash) of 2005.
Efforts to get comments from Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, as well as police drew blanks yesterday.
But vendors as usual flooded Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) yesterday, going about their normal business as if the government directive for them to clear the streets did not exist.
The Daily News witnessed a puny number of traders, most of whom now demand to be referred to as informal traders or small-to-medium-size business owners, at the registration points at the new designated vending sites in Harare — meaning that the majority of vendors were not bothering to even find out about the new operating places.
Many of the new relocation points situated at the City Sports Centre, at the Coventry Road holding bay, and at the Tsiga open space in Mbare, were lying vacant.
A number of vendors who spoke to the Daily News complained that the designated sites were inaccessible to their clientele, making them unattractive for business.
Ahead of the deadline on Thursday, members of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz) made a clarion call for their members to disregard their planned removal from the city centre.
Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi said vendors who were operating from the corner of Chinhoyi Street and Samora Machel Avenue were supposed to vacate the spot and make way for containers booths that they would use.
Mahachi said the complex of container booths would be able to accommodate about 1 000 traders.
“Traders have to realise that not everyone will be in the CBD as it can only accommodate 6 000 people. The rest will be placed at strategic points such as the Coventry Road holding bay,” he said.
Meanwhile, there was chaos at this corner yesterday, where the city council was registering vendors, as the vendors who converged there were very upset when alleged “space barons” were allegedly being considered for registration first — which did not go down well with them.
The vendors started singing and toy-toying, questioning the motive of city council officials.
A Navuz administrator, Lucy Makunde, said vendors were being asked to pay $3 for the council registration, $2 for a card and $1 for that day’s operation.
Tracy Mhunga, a clothes vendor along Julius Nyerere Way, said she and many others had paid $5 to an unidentified man, “a space baron” to spread their wares and sell them freely there.
Meanwhile, Queen of Grace Zimasset Trust (QGZT) organisation was registering all its card-carrying members in a move that Harare City Council’s Informal Sector committee chairperson Wilton Janjazi labelled dubious.
Tucked away in a dingy alley in the downtown areas of the city, members of QGZT were clandestinely registering people while a barricade had been erected to restrict others.
The chief executive officer of QGZT, Ephraim Chizola, claimed that the association was affiliated to Zanu PF even though the party’s information secretary Simon Khaya Moyo has disowned it.