Harare’s street vendors given tax ultimatum

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Zimbabwe may have 5.7 million informal workers contributing US$7.4 billion to the country’s economy annually, but they have received little recognition or support from the state.

However, this August, the Zimbabwean government rolled out a new pilot programme in the capital city of Harare to collect taxes from street vendors who will be forced to operate in specially-allocated trading zones in a bid to boost the government’s dwindling revenue base.

Harare’s street vendors – which sell everything from vegetables to mobile phone recharge cards to shoes – have until 20 September to register with Harare City Council.

Vendors will not be permitted to work outside of these trading zones and will be charged a daily tax of between US$1 and US$3 for the privilege of doing so.

Anyone found in breach of the new regulations will have their wares confiscated –returned only upon payment of a US$20 fine.

Two unions representing informal workers, the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) and the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) have spoken out against the pilot programme, which is scheduled to begin at the end of September and will eventually be rolled out across the country.

They say they have no issue with their members paying taxes but accuse the government of failing to enter into a dialogue about how best to proceed.

“Harare City Council should have consulted us first before rushing to implement this new measure,” said NAVUZ National Director Samuel Wadzai.

To date, less than 10 per cent of street vendors in Harare have registered for the programme.

They complain that the stalls being offered by the Council at 11 points across the city’s central business district (CBD) are often located in far and inconvenient places, and are unaffordable.

 

"Unprepared"

As of the end of September, street hawking will be strictly prohibited in Harare but Wadzi says neither the Council nor the vendors are prepared for this.

“NAVUZ has a database of more than 8000 vendors in Harare’s CBD (Central Business District) area. So why has the City Council only created sites for only 1000 vendors?” Wadzai asks.

“Where will the remaining 7000 operate from? NAVUZ advocates for a system that will embrace every vendor,” he said.

Wadzai also said that collecting taxes on a daily basis was unfair as most vendors barely make enough money to cover their costs.

“It was our proposal that the taxing, when finally agreed, should be done on a monthly basis, to give vendors time to make enough a profit,” he said.

ZCIEA Secretary General Wisborne Malaya said it was ironic that the Council and government was now demanding taxes from the very same vendors that they had harassed daily.

“We are treated as criminals. We endure all forms of harassment. They abuse us, arrest us, confiscate of our goods. Now all of a sudden the government is talking of imposing taxes on us as if we are against the idea or do not paying tax at all,” Malaya said.

 

Disabled vendors “excluded”

Eric Tanyanyiwa, who heads the Disabled Persons Desk at NAVUZ, also criticised authorities for failing to keep their promise to reserve 20 per cent of stalls for the physically disabled and socially disadvantaged.

“Our government does not have the money to provide social benefits for disadvantaged groups.

“We also have children we need to look after, so they should have given us our 20 percent quota so that we can afford to pay school fees and feed our children,” he said.

Thirty-year old Fungai Sanyamutemba, a disabled vendor who sells recharge cards and sweets, said he does not make enough money to pay the proposed US$1 daily tax.

He insisted that if the council charged less tax, more vendors would cooperate resulting in more revenue for both the council and government.

Simplicio Marara, who sells various items from his wheelchair, said disabled vendors shouldn’t be forced to pay any taxes.

“We are a disadvantaged group and life is difficult for us. We cannot get formal employment and when vending we cannot compete with those who are able-bodied because we cannot run for customers or some who are deaf cannot hear if a customer calls out for something.”

Harare Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector, Rachel Mawoyo, said the Council was willing to engage with informal economy workers, and even possibly reconsider some of its decisions.

However, she said the reluctance of street vendors to register with the Council made planning very difficult for the authorities.

“Since we opened the registration centres on 20 August, only 700 vendors have registered – the rest are not coming forward. This will present us with allocation problems as we will only look for places to cater for those that are registered,” she said.