The on-going demolitions of structures belonging to informal traders around Harare Metropolitan Province at a time Zimbabweans are struggling to survive the economic impacts of Covid-19 are insensitive and inhumane.
Authorities argue that they are compelled to establish law and order in urban areas such as Harare where every street corner has been turned into a vending area.
The argument, while valid, ignores the economic realities of the majority of people in Zimbabwe’s cities that are now living on the margins of society due to years of economic decline.
Most of the people that are flooding the streets to engage in all forms of informal business are not doing so out of choice.
The majority of the informal traders are barely managing to put food on the table for their families and the destruction of their only sources of income amounts to an escalation of a crisis that was already getting out of hand before Covid-19.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19, thousands of Zimbabweans lost their jobs due to prolonged national lockdowns.
In a country where opportunities are limited, venturing into the informal business becomes the only viable route for the retrenched and the thousands graduating from tertiary institutions.
The situation has become even worse with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last Sunday we published a story where the World Bank reported that the number of extremely poor Zimbabweans grew by 1.3 million last year, pushing the figure of citizens living on the fringes to 7.9 million.
World Bank surveys done last year showed that nearly 500 000 Zimbabwean households had at least one member, who lost his or her job, the report says.
Less than a quarter of the Zimbabweans classified as extremely poor received food aid in June last year and this share dropped to 3% of rural households in September 2020, the World Bank added.
Last year, the government promised to avail funds to informal businesses and vendors to help them cope with the impact of Covid-19 induced lockdowns, but only a few benefited from the fund that has also fallen victim to runaway inflation.
This means that the majority of Zimbabweans are literally on their own.
Both the government and local authorities have done little to ensure that informal traders are allocated spaces where they can conduct their business in accordance with municipal by-laws, yet the authorities are quick to resort to demolitions.
The government must be sensitive to the plight of the poor and stop the destruction of livelihoods.
These demolitions will never make sense until the authorities provide alternative spaces for the informal businesses to operate from.