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Government clueless on how to tackle vending

Editorial Comment

The informal sector has always existed, the ‘Siyasos’ of this country and so forth but it was orderly and well regulated. Likewise, vending has always existed with prominent companies such as Dairiboard, Delta Corporation and telecoms companies relying on this model to sell their goods and services.

However in the last few months, vending has spiralled out of control and debate has started around what should be done about the vendors. Civic organisations and opposition political parties have stood together with the vendors arguing that government’s failure to create jobs has forced citizens into this trade.

The government through Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, Igantiaus Chombo, shop owners and other citizens have taken the stance that vendors are a nuisance that needs to be dealt with. The city has become a lawless jungle as these vendors carry out their trade in every open space.

Government has framed the issue as a problem that requires heavy handed responses through the roping in of the security apparatus. The announcement by the joint operation command ordering vendors to leave the streets or face unspecified action confirmed this stance. This sums up the attitude of the government towards vending.

Other citizens and shop owners have accused vendors of creating anarchy in the city centre. People cannot walk safely on pavements anymore while shop owners have complained that vendors are subjecting them to unfair competition. Shop owners have complained that they have to pay for operating licenses, taxes and other overheads.

The issue of vending has spiralled out of control mainly due to the loss of formal jobs by many people living in the urban areas. Government promised to create 2, 2 million jobs but this has not materialised. Instead many companies continue to close down.

Vending has been described as structural by some economic commentators. It represents a changing political economy where workers have now been replaced by vendors and other informal traders. It has become an issue of livelihoods and politicians from all political divides are fighting to control this space for votes.

The arrest of ruling party activists who extort money from vendors in exchange for trading space represents the politicisation of this matter. Vendors are forced to belong to a certain political party and pay fees that are said to be transmitted to some party heavey weights.

In Mutare, incoming Member of Parliament recently took over Meikles Park and is now charging vendors and flea market operators $1 a day as rent for using the space. There seems to be a deliberate attempt by politicians linked to the ruling party to take over all vending spaces in the central business district in urban areas.

Esau Mupfumi’s takeover of the vending spaces in the city has coincided with his election as the legislator of the Dangamvura-Chikanga constituency. It is ironic that the majority of vendors live in these high density suburbs of Dangamvura and Chikanga.

The Mutare City Council claims the open space was sold to Mupfumi who intended to construct a commercial property there but up to date, no construction work has started. Instead the politician continues to lease the space to vendors but now pockets the revenue. A quick search at the deeds office showed that the open space was not registered in Mupfumi’s name.

Politicians see the new social base that comprises of vendors and unemployed youths as a fertile ground for garnering votes. These people desperate to make a living see voting for the ruling party candidates as a small price to pay as opposed to being denied access to economic opportunities.
Those operating in Mbare tell of tales where they often have to attend political meetings in order to continue operating in the area. Mupedzanhamo is routinely closed as political meetings are convened by ruling party activists.

The real beneficiaries of this scourge therefore are not the poor citizens who realise very little from this trade but those who are collecting rent and coaxing political votes from this vending issue. Government has lost control and the show is being run by political activists and other party bigwigs behind the scenes.

Vending has also become a conduit for the sale of smuggled and illegal goods. It is common to see pirated music and other goods that are prohibited such as alcohol being sold by the vendors. Even goods such as contraceptive pills for women are available on the streets. The situation has spiralled out of control such that if a lasting solution is not found vendors may pose a health risk to unsuspecting members of the public.

Some of the vendors are law enforcement agents who are making a killing out for selling different wares in the city. Some municipal police officers have been named as the ‘space barons’ collecting rent from the vendors in the streets. What this means is government may face internal resistance from its own institutions if a poorly considered approach to chase vendors out of the streets is implemented.

The involvement of law enforcement agents was long confirmed by Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri when he ordered his officers to desist from owning mini buses and cars that ferry passengers around the city.

Government attitude towards vending must therefore take into consideration all these issues. Apart from vending being a source of livelihoods for the poor urban dwellers who cannot secure formal employment, it has also become a hide out of organised criminals who have the blessings of some the party’s political leaders and law enforcement agents.

Already there is so much discord within the government with some giving ultimatums while others are singing from a different hymn book. This lack of clarity on how to tackle the issue represents a paralysis in government with the matter being referred all the way up to President Mugabe’s office.

Vending represents the failure of government’s economic policies but what has become more worrying is whether this government still has the capacity to bring order in the cities. It is clear that elements within the party and government are at the centre of the chaos in the streets but the government is powerless to act.


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Chief Editor: Earnest Mudzengi Content Editor: Willie Gwatimba