FIVE days before the deadline given by government for informal traders to move out of Harare’s Central Business District, authorities are far from convincing sceptics that they are ready for the mammoth task.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
If anything, it looks more likely that a showdown could be looming between the authorities and weary Zimbabweans forced into selling things on the streets by a government clueless about how to solve a deepening economic crisis.
Once the Sunshine City of Africa owing to its cleanliness, Harare now resembles one huge open market with hawkers, touts and informal traders selling anything from fruits, second-hand underwear to roasted mealie-cobs right in the heart of the capital.
Embarrassed by the growing numbers of vendors who continue to pour into the city’s environs on a daily basis, authorities early this month, in a knee-jerk reaction ordered the traders out, initially giving them a week’s notice but on the realisation they had bitten more than they could chew, gave them more time to vacate the streets.
While mayor Bernard Manyenyeni admitted he had not been part of the planning process, he said the city does not have the necessary capacity to cater for all vendors.
“The designed sites are not going to be enough, but I have not been party to any of the meetings planning the relocation. The Town Clerk would know better as regards what has been going on, or better still, the public relations office,” Manyenyeni told The Standard in an interview.
His sentiments seemed to dovetail with the thinking of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz), with director Samuel Wadzai declaring that the group’s members would not move in the absence of a clear alternative.
“They do not have the capacity at this juncture. They identified only 12 vending sites and these can only cater for 6 000 vendors but we have more than 100 000 vendors, operating within the central business district of Harare alone,” Wadzai said.
“We feel Government is rushing; there must be full consultations because we cannot treat the issue of vending as an event. It is a process and due process must be followed because without a clear alternative, vendors are not going anywhere.”
However, Harare spokesperson Michael Chideme said the city was doing everything possible to accommodate all vendors and seemed to question the figures being bandied around by unions.
“We are very ready; we are prepared for the movement of all informal traders. We are setting up mobile ablution facilities that are connected to our system,” Chideme said in response to reports that the designated sites would pose a danger to vendors given the absence of sanitary facilities.
“It is important to note that some of the vendors that are in town have market stalls in Mbare and Highfield. These will go back to their areas. Another thing is that given the invasion of vendors in shop-fronts, shop-owners have resorted to pulling their goods out of shops onto pavements and they also have staff outside selling these goods. So the numbers we see in the streets are not all going to be relocated.”
Both the Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) and Harare Residents Trust (HRT) trashed Harare’s claims that it would deal with the issue of the vendors.
“Council has the capacity, but lacks the political will to deal with the vendors. A lot of the vendors came because of the political parties,” HRT director Precious Shumba said.
Chra chairperson Simbarashe Moyo was more scathing in his analysis of the situation.
“The truth of the matter is that the city of Harare will never be prepared to carry out such an exercise considering the fact that they are currently financially crippled as evidenced by their failure to pay their workers on time,” said Moyo.
“Nothing has been done so far to show that the process of relocating vendors to these sites will be done smoothly.”
A tour of the various sites earmarked for the relocation, including the Coventry holding bay, City Sports Centre open space, Tsiga open grounds in Mbare and the Seke Road open space near Graniteside showed that council had made little or no effort to prepare the new designated sites for the arrival of the vendors.
At the Coventry holding bay, there were a number of vendors already operating where council intends to move more than
2 000 hawkers next week.
According to city health officials, the designated sites did not have the capacity to accommodate the over 100 000 vendors in Harare alone.
More than 2 100 people were expected to take over the open space at the City Sports Centre with their only target for business being the thousands of congregants who follow charismatic televangelist Emmanuel Makandiwa of the United Family International Church (UFIC) who converge there every Tuesday and Sunday.
Chideme said the apostolic sects occupying some of the spaces earmarked for vendors would also be accommodated in the new plan.
“Remember, these apostolic sects had already been asked to set up sanitary facilities; we will not push them away but incorporate them into the programme. There is not going to be any loser in all this,” he said.
Vendors and business operators at the Tsiga grounds in Mbare said council wanted to create more chaos in the populous area which was already a health time bomb, given the number of people there.Other designated areas in different suburbs, according to a survey by The Standard, were already occupied by vendors.