BY LORRAINE MUROMO
LOCAL authorities have been demolishing illegal structures around the country, notably in Harare and Chitungwiza.
The demolitions were carried out by local authorities in conjunction with the police, but government has blamed opposition-led councils of sanctioning the demolitions, while the opposition party blames the State.
Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) executive director Samuel Wadzai (SW) told NewsDay (ND) reporter Lorraine Muromo that the clean-up exercise had condemned thousands of informal traders to poverty as they no longer have alternative sources of livelihoods.
ND: What have been or what are the effects of demolitions on the livelihoods of informal traders?
SW: The effects of the demolitions are many. They range from loss of materials of the structures that were demolished, the wares that were lost, loss of future earnings and the psychological damage that this traumatic experience is bringing with it. Added to this is the likely surge in vices such as robberies, prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse that is likely to be experienced by society due to loss of income.
ND: How many people were affected?
SW: We estimate that about 50 000 people have been directly affected in Harare and Chitungwiza alone, with indirect effects well double that figure. It should also be noted that these people are customers in their own right who are patrons of other businesses that are even in the formal sector, who will equally be affected.
ND: As an institution, is there any assistance you are giving to the victims?
SW: Viset has a medical facility where those that may be injured during the illegal exercise can get treatment through our offices. We are also in the process of compiling the economic and material losses that our members have suffered, thus far, and to that end we will approach the courts for recourse. We have rights as people in the informal sector and unconstitutional actions by anyone, including the government must be frowned upon, and we want to say that we will challenge this madness.
ND: Have informal traders benefited from social welfare COVID-19 funds?
SW: The situation is dire. Since April last year, informal traders have been struggling on their own without support from the government except to be on the receiving end of such inhumane demolitions. The so-called cushioning allowance never reached its intended beneficiaries. We saw media reports that said it was abused by top government officials and politicians. We have long appealed for the need of a proper social policy that looks at and caters for the informal economy. We have came up with a policy brief on the matter outlining how such funds should be dibursed.
ND: In your opinion, who is responsible for these demolitions and what are the reasons behind them? Do you think there is political motivation behind the demolitions?
SW: We lay all blame on the door of Tafadzwa Muguti (Harare provincial development co-ordinator). Your guess is as good as mine as to what may be the reasoning behind this brutal, callous attack on people’s livelihoods, but rest assured, we have a response through constitutional parameters.
ND: What do you think can be done in terms of policy planning and implementation to build permanent working spaces for vendors and in the process capacitate the informal traders?
SW: Council needs to adopt zone specific trading areas in keeping with most modern cities and this can easily assist it in taming traffic congestion that has now become a permanent feature in the central business district (CBD).
For instance, fresh food produce traders can be housed in areas around Fourth Street, while the area around the National Railways of Zimbabwe can house traders of clothing materials. The Market Square area can be allocated to traders of motor spares.
Furthermore, what we need as a country is to expeditiously deal with the formalisation of the informal sector and ensure that the revenue that is being collected by municipalities is channelled towards the growth and development of the sector.
We need to deal with corruption in the allocation of reconstructed markets and ensure that everyone who deserves to occupy the new markets is able to do so without resorting to the payment of bribes.
ND: Besides seeking legal recourse, how are you going to help informal traders to recuperate?
SW: The most pressing issue is to ensure that there is no repeat of these unfortunate incidents so that traders can plan their lives accordingly and as such, we will be making sure that through legal means we get councils and Local Government ministry to build, renovate and complete their trading places they have long promised.
ND: Are these demolitions only affecting Harare or other cities as well?
SW: At the moment, the demolitions are affecting Harare and Chitungwiza, but we hear there are plans for a national blitz. It must be remembered that this is not the first demolition exercise, as another national one was undertaken in April 2020.
ND: Are there any legal interventions that vendors could resort to to stop the demolitions?
SW: Viset is an organisation that has a track record of holding authorities accountable and has in the past successfully sued for compensation of Mutare vendors who lost their wares so will continue to ensure that losses from this exercise are compensated while also pushing for reform of laws such as the recently-abused Road Services Act, along with the Town Planning Act as well as reform of the colonial era by-laws. In this, we would like to rest assure our membership and the nation that we will leave absolutely no stone unturned.