Harare courts protect street vendors from army eviction


Following a series of dramatic threats issued by the Zimbabwean government, the country’s High Court has put a temporary stop on the army being used to drive out street vendors in Harare.

Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo, the Minister of Defence Sydney Sekeramayi and the Mayor of Harare Bernard Mayenyeni had threatened to evict all street vendors from Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) by Monday 8 June 2015 into designated vending sites.

But following the intervention of the Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation (ZISO), an injunction was issued to stop the evictions, due to be carried out by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the supreme state security organ, the Joint Operation Command.

As a result, there is a momentary sense of relief amongst Harare’s 20,000 street vendors.

They had initially been given a seven-day ultimatum to clear the streets but this has since been extended to 26 June.

“They must give us an alternative, or they should kill us,” 33-year-old Philemon Mashava tells Equal Times.

“Vending is what I depend on for my livelihood. It is where I get school fees for my children. It is how I pay my rent.”

Despite promising to create 2.2 million jobs in the run-up to the disputed 2013 elections, the ruling Zanu-PF party has so far failed to come up with a solution for the long-term high unemployment, which has forced tens of thousands of Zimbabwean workers into the informal economy.

Douglas Shumbayawonda, vice chairperson of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) – which has approximately 8,000 registered members – said that by directing vendors off the streets, the government was actually excaberbating the problem rather than dealing with its root causes.

The local council has created space for 6,000 vendors in downtown Harare but street vendor activists say this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the number of units actually required.

In addition, the high cost of these units, of between US$1 and US$8 a day, is too much for most vendors.

This is in addition to the protection money demanded by ’space barons’.

“All the designated sites are already taken by ’space barons’ who are using their political clout to fleece vendors who have to pay these cartels, as well as the council.

We earn a pittance and we can’t afford to pay these fees twice,” Shumbayawonda said.

He called for a major shift at a policy level away from the government’s “confrontational” approach towards the process of formalising the informal economy.

However, he fears the opposite is happening.

“It seems that the government is trying to do away with the informal sector at a time when our economy is doing so badly. Although we may come up with a lot of strategies at the vendors’ union level, as long as the policy makers keep their current mindset, the problems will continue.

“Most of us are not vendors by choice but by need,” he continued.

“None of us here would not want to go into formal employment if we were given the opportunity. We are hardworking and resourceful people. We must be given the opportunity to make a life for ourselves.”

He added that the influx of vendors in the streets was a sign that there was something wrong with the country’s economy and unleashing the army was not a solution.

“We know that soldiers are trained for combat. If they unleash the army then there is no more dialogue, no consultation, only violence,” Shumbayawonda said.

Wisborn Malaya, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Chamber of the Informal Economy (ZCIEA), said it is time for a holistic approach on the issue.

“The government needs to sit down with the relevant stakeholders and discuss these issues so that we can come up with a winning formula which benefits everyone. The people in the informal economy, not just vendors but others who are running small businesses, need capital support to transform their business into mini-industries,” he said.

Malaya said this would make regularisation of the sector easy, as well as benefiting the government through the collection of taxes.