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By JOHN KACHEMBERE AND MARGARET CHINOWAITA • 4 MAY 2015 • Daily News (Zimbabwe)
HARARE – Despite threats by urban local authorities to remove vendors from central business districts as a way of decongesting and cleaning up the country’s increasingly dingy towns — especially the capital city Harare — street traders say they will stay put in the areas where they are currently operating from.
National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz) chairperson, Stan Zvorwadza, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that his members had “resolved” that they would not move and that they in fact needed to be protected by the law.
The union, which claims to have six million vendors under its umbrella nationwide, and more than 100 000 members in Harare alone — a figure that includes many disabled people — said it was sad that authorities were taking long to accept that Zimbabwe was now a “vendor nation” out of necessity.
“Chasing vendors away from the streets when we are already suffering an unemployment rate of at least 80 percent makes you really wonder what we are trying to do as a country.
“On one hand, one national policy is preaching that we need to create jobs and here we are as vendors on the streets creating jobs and sustaining livelihoods. On the other hand, another section of government is busy chasing vendors away. If you look at it, it is a big contradiction,” Zvorwadza said.
Many vendors who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday blamed the misrule and corruption of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government for the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy which had resulted in vending becoming the only means of survival in the country.
And in line with what Navuz is saying, they also vowed to continue selling their assortment of wares — ranging from foodstuffs to electrical gadgets and clothes — on the streets.
“It is not our wish to be vendors, our circumstances force us to be here. Our heartless leaders should first give us alternatives to do something else before they ask us to vacate the streets,” said a vendor who only identified herself as Mai Sean.
“I am surviving from vending on the streets and that is my life. I don’t like doing this but I’ve no choice. If we are removed, we should be given an alternative project to do. They would have to take our last breath before they move us away from the streets,” said another vendor who did not wish to be identified.
Indeed, many Zimbabweans from different stations in life have been reduced to street vending to survive the harsh economic environment prevailing in the country following the closure of thousands of companies in the past four years alone that has seen hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.
From qualified professionals, to graduates and children living on the streets, all of them are finding solace in selling various wares in both urban and rural areas as the deepening economic crisis continues to bite, with no respite in sight.
Zimbabwe’s economy, which had showed some signs of revival during the era of the government of national unity, is desperately gasping for breath as a result of fraught politics, poor policies, a tight liquidity crunch, the ensuing company closures and rising unemployment.
According to the World Food Programme, 72 percent of the country’s population is currently living below the poverty datum line.
And due to the high unemployment rate — which some economists estimate to be above 90 percent — the country’s major cities in particular are reeling from an ever-rising influx of vendors who have invaded virtually every available street and pavement in urban areas, making it difficult for citizens to navigate their way and creating health challenges in the process.
Zanu PF crafted a five-year economic blueprint called ZimAsset in 2013 which includes a provision for job creation through self-reliance. But although the blueprint promised to create more than 2,2 million jobs, economic experts say not a single job has been created by government in the last two years.
On the contrary, many factories and companies have closed shop, forcing hundreds of thousands of employees to join the ranks of the unemployed — which has in turn contributed to the mushrooming of vendors all over the country.
In the high density suburb of Mbare in Harare, two lines consisting of hundreds of vendors selling wares meander for more than a kilometre from the iconic Rufaro Stadium.
Thousands more vendors are tightly packed in a flea market, the size of a football field, on the border of the same suburb and the central business district.
The close-by flea market, popularly known as Mupedzanhamo, is now said to be the country’s most vibrant and densely populated open market — and possibly one of the dirtiest and most chaotic.
Outside the market’s damaged precast wall, thousands more daily set up shop to eke out a living in a trade where competition is tough among merchandisers of both imported and locally produced goods.
In Bulawayo, along Lobengula Street, recent university graduates compete with old women to sell soaps, bread, fish, chicken pieces, cabbages, tomatoes, plates and dishes among other things.
Health experts say vendors are not only posing a physical danger to both pedestrians and motorists, they also apparently provide fertile ground for the rapid spread of communicable diseases such as cholera due to the lack of adequate ablution facilities in the areas that they operate from.
Harare City health director, Prosper Chonzi, recently warned consumers to be careful about the quality of food that they buy from vendors, as this could have serious implications for their health.
“People should know what they eat. It is important for the people to make good choices and to ensure that the food they consume is safe.
“We want people to be aware of the hygienic standards of the food they eat and that is why we are trying to come up with different initiatives to improve food safety,” he said.
However, Chonzi conceded that it was difficult for the council to monitor and control hygienic standards of food sold by vendors who had flooded the city’s streets.