HARARE – Fears of a revolt against the government, amid a worsening economic crisis in the country and deepening infighting within President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF, are apparently behind the government’s belated order that illegal street vendors vacate cities and towns or risk arrest.
The decision has torched a storm with the main opposition, the MDC and vendors themselves yesterday expressing outrage at the decision saying Zanu PF had failed to create employment hence cannot chase away vendors.
Well-placed sources told the Daily News yesterday that “fear of an uprising similar to the Tunisian revolt” and subsequent Arab Spring were the major reason why the government had finally made this necessary move, and why the military had been roped in to clear the vendors off urban streets.
Provincial Joint Operations Command (Joc) member, brigadier-general Anselem Sanyatwe, was among those who warned vendors on Monday to comply with the government’s one-week ultimatum to vacate the streets, that ends on Sunday, after which law enforcement agents will arrest those who resist the order.
“If they don’t, as Joc … we will deal with you,” Sanyatwe said ominously — in the move that appears to fly in the face of pronouncements by controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe at the height of Zanu PF’s infighting late last year that vendors be left alone to conduct their business as they wished.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told a news conference yesterday that his party was extremely disturbed by the announcement by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo to use the Zimbabwe National Army to remove vendors from the streets of the cities, towns and growth points throughout Zimbabwe.
“The Zanu PF regime must not abuse the national army to cover for its failures,” Tsvangirai said.
“The regime must take full responsibility for the suffering that the people are going through after it failed to fulfil its election promises of creating two million jobs. Against the background of a comatose economy and unfulfilled electoral promises, the Zanu PF regime must instead resign in shame rather than unleash the army on innocent citizens struggling to eke out a decent living.”
Tsvangirai said “the army must refuse to be used against their brothers, sisters and even their wives and husbands who are trying to salvage an honest living from vending under the prevailing difficult circumstances”.
“The MDC would like to strongly warn the Zanu PF regime to exercise restraint and to be wary of a restive and hungry population,” he said.
Announcing the move, Chombo said claims of undue political pressure on local authorities to leave street vendors alone were more of perception than reality as Zimbabwe was “a law-abiding country”.
“We have agreed that by next Monday, vendors should be at designated places. This applies to all cities and towns,” Chombo said while addressing mayors, town clerks, senior council officials and representatives of vendors’ associations in Harare.
“As the responsible authority in your respective councils, I expect you to restore order in this area (illegal vending) with immediate effect.”
Asked why street vending had been allowed to flourish, Chombo said that was now water under the bridge and that this now needed to stop.
But well-placed sources told the Daily News yesterday that the security sector was increasingly concerned about the chaotic street vending in urban areas and the “fertile ground for an uprising this is creating, especially in Harare” and now wanted this dealt with.
“The fear is that the worsening economic situation in the country, coupled with rising desperation and political tension in Zanu PF could ignite an uprising in Zimbabwe, with unregulated street vendors posing a security threat.
“You will remember that the rebellion in Tunisia was started by a vendor and all hell subsequently broke loose. So, authorities are simply trying to deal with the fertile ground for an uprising this is creating, especially in Harare,” one of the sources said.
However, despite the threats to forcefully remove the vendors from central business districts, many street traders yesterday said they would stay put in the areas where they were currently operating from as they had no other way of making a living.
Samuel Wadzai, director of National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz), told a news conference yesterday that vendors will not move.
“Zimbabwe is not in a State of emergency and inviting the army and the police to fight vendors is as good as declaring war on livelihoods,” he said.
“Forceful removal of millions of vendors from the CBDs of all cities in Zimbabwe will be reminiscent of the Gukurahundi of the early 1980s or even Operation Murambatsvina and we will not tolerate such manoeuvres to bring civil unrest in our beloved country.”
The union, which claims to have six million vendors under its umbrella nationwide, and more than 100 000 members in Harare alone — a figure that includes many disabled people — has said previously that it was sad that authorities were taking long to accept that Zimbabwe was now a “vendor nation” out of necessity.
“Chasing vendors away from the streets when we are already suffering an unemployment rate of at least 80 percent makes you really wonder what we are trying to do as a country.
“On one hand, one national policy is preaching that we need to create jobs and here we are as vendors on the streets creating jobs and sustaining livelihoods,” Navuz chairperson, Stan Zvorwadza, said.
“On the other hand, another section of government is busy chasing vendors away. If you look at it, it is a big contradiction.”
Many vendors who spoke to the Daily News recently blamed the misrule and corruption of Mugabe’s Zanu PF government for the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy which had resulted in vending becoming the main means of survival in the country.
And in line with what Navuz is saying, they also vowed to continue selling their assortment of wares — ranging from foodstuffs to electrical gadgets and clothes — on the streets.
“It is not our wish to be vendors, our circumstances force us to be here. Our heartless leaders should first give us alternatives to do something else before they ask us to vacate the streets,” said a vendor who only identified herself as Mai Sean.
“I am surviving from vending on the streets and that is my life. I don’t like doing this but I’ve no choice. If we are removed, we should be given an alternative project to do. They would have to take our last breath before they move us away from the streets,” said another vendor who did not wish to be identified.
Indeed, many Zimbabweans from different stations in life have been reduced to street vending to survive the harsh economic environment prevailing in the country following the closure of thousands of companies in the past four years alone that has seen hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.
From qualified professionals, to graduates and children living on the streets, all of them are finding solace in selling various wares in both urban and rural areas as the deepening economic crisis continues to bite, with no respite in sight.
Zimbabwe’s economy, which had showed some signs of revival during the era of the government of national unity, is desperately gasping for breath as a result of poor policies, a tight liquidity crunch, rampant company closures and rising unemployment.
According to the World Food Programme, 72 percent of the country’s population is currently living below the poverty datum line.
And due to the high unemployment rate — which some economists estimate to be above 90 percent — the country’s major cities in particular are reeling from an ever-rising influx of vendors who have invaded virtually every available street and pavement in urban areas, making it difficult for citizens to navigate their way and creating health challenges in the process.
Zanu PF crafted a five-year economic blueprint called ZimAsset in 2013 which includes a provision for job creation through self-reliance.
But although the blueprint promised to create more than 2,2 million jobs, economic experts say not a single job has been created by government in the last two years.
On the contrary, many factories and companies have closed shop, forcing hundreds of thousands of employees to join the ranks of the unemployed — which has in turn contributed to the mushrooming of vendors all over the country. Daily News