HARARE, June 2 (The Source) – A vendor representative union on Tuesday vowed informal traders would not vacate street pavements across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities until municipalities offer them alternative vending sites, defying a 7-day government ultimatum and setting up potential clashes with law enforcement agents.
The government’s directive has raised the spectre of another crackdown similar to its controversial 2005 slum clearance drive, which left at least 700,000 people without a source of livelihood, according to an official United Nations report.
Local government minister Ignatius Chombo issued the directive Monday for vendors, who have mushroomed across Zimbabwe’s urban centres and are estimated to be around 6 million – virtually the country’s entire adult population – to leave the streets for designated sites.
Zimbabwe’s high levels of unemployment, estimated at above 80 percent, and poor enforcement of municipal by-laws has seen the explosion of unregulated informal commerce in its towns and cities.
Chombo issued the ultimatum in Harare after an inter-agency government meeting, which included high-ranking military and security officers as well as local authorities and vendor representatives.
However, National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) director Samuel Wadzai told a press conference in Harare on Tuesday that the government’s impending action was “cruel, inhuman and barbaric.”
“As NAVUZ, our position remains clear and we will communicate the same to our members that they will never be removed from their current vending sites unless alternative and equally profitable vending sites are provided for them,” he said.
The union accused government of militarising the issue by inviting a senior army official, brigadier general Anselem Senyatwe, a member of the Joint Operations Command, state security co-ordination organ.
“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,” Wadzai said.
Vendor groups say over 5,7 million vendors, close to half the country’s population, operate countrywide mainly in front of shops, prompting recent protests by retailers who were complaining of loss of business yet they were paying licence fees and taxes.
Last October, the government gazetted new laws governing operations of vendors in Harare to boost council revenue, prevent disease outbreaks and restore order in the capital where vendors have mushroomed as formal employment dwindles.
Apart from threats, the city council is yet to deal decisively with the issue of vendors who continue to operate from undesignated places while refusing to pay fees ranging between $1 and $3 to council.
Space barons were reportedly charging between $8 and $13 per vendor per day while remitting very little to council and pocketing the rest.