By Yeukai Karengezeka
On Friday last week, a dark shadow was cast over Mbare after a speeding Mercedes-Benz knocked down several vendors operating near Shawasha grounds, resulting in the death of a young boy and injuries to several others.
Illegal vendors in the area have for years risked their lives by selling their wares close to the busy road, or even on the actual tarmac, just to maximise their sales.
After the accident, vendors retreated a few metres away from the road, but as the shock wore off, they returned.
When The Herald visited the accident site, it was business as usual as the vendors, mostly those who sell second-hand clothes, had spread their goods on the ground, with some encroaching onto the tarmac, oblivious of the danger they were exposing themselves to.
Some of the vendors said they have no choice but to return to their previous spaces.
“I was traumatised by what happened, and naturally, it was difficult to come back here the first few days after the accident, but this is my place of business. If I don’t sell clothes, my family will go hungry.
“You will also notice that there are a lot of us crammed on a narrow strip because Shawasha grounds was fenced off. We have no choice but to spread out onto the tarmac,” said one of the vendors.
Another vendor Mr Tobias Hareta, who sells second-hand shoes said they were now operating with caution.
“We were saddened by the accident, but that does not stop us from operating along this road.
“This a very busy road and I have grown my client base here over the past three years, so relocating is not an option,” he said.
Many other vendors echoed the same sentiments.
The issue has brought into question the sincerity of the police and the Harare City Council in dealing with the vendors, most of whom operate illegally.
Acting Harare provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Webster Dzvova said as police they were doing their best to keep the vendors off the roads.
“We are always on the ground and we do arrest those found breaking the law. We appreciate that apart from being a danger to themselves, the illegal vendors affect the smooth flow of traffic because they place their wares right on the road.
“We also encourage the traders to apply for permits at the City of Harare so that they are allocated tables at designated places,” he said.
The city said it was committed to relocating the vendors to safe places.
“That area is one of the hotspots we are targeting with police. Last week, we carried out a joint operation, but the illegal vendors have since returned.
“We are carrying out further raids in that area because the vendors are obstructing smooth flow of traffic,” said council’s acting corporate communications manager Mr Innocent Ruwende.
He added that the local authority was currently tendering for the construction of proper market facilities at Seke and Dieppe Road (Coca Cola Corner) after receiving $15 million from Government.
“Some of the illegal vendors will be relocated to that area,” he said.
The move is likely to be resisted by the vendors, who claim to be operating for free, but who in fact have to pay “space barons” who decide who can or cannot sell at a particular place.
A potential investor that had been identified by council to develop the area failed to make headway after the vendors refused to be relocated elsewhere.
The area is controlled by some space barons and the local authority has been prejudiced of millions of dollars in potential revenue.
The situation has also driven a wedge between vendors who operate at Mupedzanhamo and at Coca Cola and those operating at the grounds as the former are claiming that they were losing customers to the latter, yet they were paying rent to council.
Mrs Victoria Rezawe who runs a table at Mupedzanhamo said the council and Zimbabwe Republic Police are supposed to act on the illegal vendors.
“We thought that accident would jolt the Harare City Council and the police into action, but alas it appears we were expecting too much from the two.
“I do not know what it will take for them to act decisively because in my view, the loss of a life is one too many,” she said. The Herald