By Blessings Mashaya
Government is moving to banish vendors from the streets of Harare, in a move likely to spark outrage among hordes of hawkers who have poured into Harare’s streets to eke out an honest living.
This comes as economic experts have said the hardships afflicting Zimbabwe have reduced the country to one of vendors, with everyone trying to sell something to survive.
In most streets in the urban areas, scores of young men and women roam around selling an assortment of products including cell phone recharge cards, vegetables, clothes, traditional herbs and skin lightening creams.
This has seen virtually all streets in Harare’s central business district (CBD) being littered with card-board boxes, and making them dirty and difficult to navigate during peak hours — a huge contrast from their squeaky clean image of two decades ago.
Addressing members of the Zanu PF youth league in Harare yesterday, President Robert Mugabe said the vendor menace which is driving formal business outside the CBD will soon be a thing of the past under an edict aimed at bringing order to the bustling city of some two million people.
He said food stalls would be moved off the pavements and some could be relocated to new sites, adding that he will not allow street vending to be a common feature of Harare “Nigerian style.”
The Zanu PF leader said vendors should move out as government will not accept the chaos they bring, adding that they must accept to be relocated to designated vending stalls and trade openly where the authorities would have assigned them.
This comes as Mugabe’s administration is facing criticism for failing to create jobs for the burgeoning, young population.
“When I arrived from South Africa, I heard that Harare is now dirty with vendors now everywhere, even streets which were given names such as (Julius) Nyerere and Robert Mugabe are now covered with dirt,” Mugabe told the meeting of his Zanu PF youth wing yesterday.
“Some vendors are selling their wares during the night so that they cannot be arrested.”
Ever since the City of Harare launched a crackdown on vendors, they have taken to selling their wares well into the night to evade municipal police and also make a better killing through quick sales to a homeward-bound workforce.
Mugabe said he was told that some senior Zanu PF leaders were protecting the vendors because they fear losing the forthcoming 2018 elections.
“I was talking to (Home Affairs minister Ignatius) Chombo yesterday saying why do we allow our roads to be grocery shops? I said we must give them designated areas so that they will sell their wares outside the roads and leave the roads free.
“He told me that the vendors are saying they want to sell their products everywhere.
“I said that we don’t want that indiscipline, down with that indiscipline, they must go to designated areas.
“We don’t want the Nigerian style. Harare must be the smartest city because it is our capital city,” Mugabe said.
His sentiments come as there are fears the country could sink to the economic depths of 2007/2008 when shops were empty and inflation hit world-record levels, resulting in untold pain and suffering for the majority of citizens
Many people turned to vending after losing their jobs, with at least over 85 percent of Zimbabweans seeking employment, since Mugabe won the 2013 elections.
The increase of vendors on the streets of Harare was also worsened recently by a sharp hike in price for basic commodities as manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers took advantage of a lull in the monitoring of price controls, blamed on a shortage of cash, to raise their prices to what they said were viable levels.
The problem is not limited to Harare alone but has spread to other cities and towns around the country.
The unemployment strain has been taken up by the so-called informal economy which is dominated by street vendors.
Typically, these workers pay no tax and do not come under regulation, but they do add to a country’s wealth.
Vendors have said they were doing what they were doing out of necessity. Daily News