By Peta Thornycroft
Vendors in central Harare were shocked when they were driven from the streets on Tuesday by members of the army, police and municipal workers.
Many in Harare’s First Street, say they hoped that the end of Robert Mugabe’s rule three weeks ago, meant they would be left alone to ply their trades within the city.
Several taxi operators were also targeted in the exercise, codenamed, “Operation Restore Sanity.” Some vendors in the central part of the eastern city, Mutare, say they were also targeted.
Vendors often say they sometimes work on pavements because that is where sales are best and there are no regular jobs available and they must feed their families.
Harare’s vendors sell almost everything from computer cables to car spare parts and food in both formal and informal vending sites.
But some shopkeepers in central Harare were cheering when the vendors were forced to flee. They, the shopkeepers, are the formal sector which was badly affected by the influx of vendors over the last five years.
”They stand on the pavements, in front of our shops, and that is bad for our business,” said a worker in a supermarket in the centre of the city. “Sometimes shoppers feel they are blocked from walking inside our shops.”
But the vendors say they have no option, and hoped the new President Emmerson Mnangagwa led administration would leave them alone, or find sites for vending which would be organised and run along non political party lines and would be administered by the City of Harare.
Misheck Chizema, 48, was depressed on Tuesday during the raid: “They took away my pushcart with all my bananas and apples that I had just ordered and they were fresh.”
They have already forgotten that we marched two weeks ago, to support Ngwenya” – crocodile – the nickname for Mnangagwa, “but now he has already forgotten about us, and he is now devouring us, so why did we waste our time demonstrating for him?”
Miriam Machekanyanga, 67, also a fruit vendor said: “Mugabe in a way was better, he never sent soldiers to take away our goods.”
Mariko Dimongo, 25, from eastern Zimbabwe said she works for a woman who lives in a nearby township and collects 10 percent from sales of her goods. But she had her goods taken away. “I will have to work for the next week to pay for my loss and I’m going to starve. People were shouting last month that we were now free. But is this freedom?”
A vendor who would only give his first name, Sabba, and who sells belts, wallets and shoes said he managed to hide his stock during Tuesday’s raid.
“I warned people not to get so excited with ED (Mnangagwa)….They are Zanu PF. Zanu PF will never change, so we have to change these thieves.”
Harare council spokesperson Michael Chideme told Newsday newspaper that the vendors were not being forcibly pushed from the city centre.
“Members of the informal sector should go to designated trading sites. We are not forcibly relocating them, we believe in engagement and mutual respect. Pavements are for pedestrians and roads are for vehicles not for vendors. It’s high time everybody respects the law,” Chideme said. IOL