Harare business operators count their losses

Source: Harare business operators count their losses | The Standard

By Vanessa Gonye

The place is a hive of activity as salesmen jostle, often violently, for prospective customers.

This is the famous Glen View Area 8 Complex in Harare, the high-flying business hub for carpenters, who for years have plied their trade on these premises.

Several devastating fire calamities have befallen this place, but that has not taken the steam out of the enterprising men, women and even children that were born and bred here.

Last month caterpillars drove into the sprawling complex and demolished the scores of stalls and working areas, literally razing the entire place down — just as the many fires before them have done.

The government deemed them illegal settlers  and that is why bulldozers and caterpillars descended on the complex and razed it down.

Today mounds of debris from the demolitions still cover the area even when local communities have helped themselves with broken pieces of wood for cooking.

A few stalls that escaped the steel teeth of the bulldozer still remain, serving as a painful reminder of the once thriving business that was the livelihood of hundreds of people.

The demolitions left scores of carpenters, breadwinners, with no other means of income.

“Life has been difficult since the day my business was demolished by council, I have been struggling to put food on the table for my 16 dependants,” says Clever Makatare.

Makatare has had to endure the pain of losing not only his business, but also material and finished products for which payment may have already been made in part. It meant having to repay clients.

Nearly 500 businesspeople had their dreams shattered at the complex, translating to several thousands of dependants.

Makatare had just built a permanent structure for his business venture when the demolishers arrived.

“I had just built a 14m by 13m structure worth US$3 250, which was nicely built with cement floors and everything,” he said.

“It was done with metal walls to prevent effects of fire, which usually destroys the complex.

“We are suffering, I am struggling to make a single sale per day, I lost business and made huge losses. My family is suffering.”

He expressed concern over the way the demolitions were done. He, however, pins his hopes on the government.

But this all appears vain hope as, according to Makatare, “no one has come to address our concerns since the demolitions, I’m sure they are ashamed of what they did.”

On a good day, prior to the destruction, Makatare would make between US$450 and over
US$1 000. Now that is all gone.

Sydney Mandewe, another carpenter, is still counting his losses as he had paid-for orders destroyed on the fateful day.

Mandewe  bemoaned the fact that their warehouses were destroyed during month-end, a time rentals and salaries were due.

He employs 10 people in his business venture and the demolitions made it impossible for him to raise salaries for them.

“We encountered losses as our products are not safe in the sun,” Mandewe. “The demolitions destroyed our products too.

“When demolitions were done, the notice was for a very short period, most of our stuff was destroyed as we hurriedly packed up.

“It seems the council has a hidden agenda to derail efforts we have made in our work and on the empowerment drive being spearheaded by the country.”

Mandewe also expressed worry as the demolitions were done at a time the country was battling to contain the Covid-19 third wave, making it impossible for them to get back on their feet.

Mandewe pleaded with responsible authorities to avail an alternative and legitimate place for them to work from.

Another carpenter at the same complex, Paul Damani, said life away from his workshop hasn’t been easy.

Damani relies solely on the carpentry business, otherwise it becomes a hand-to-mouth affair.

“We lost customers as we had to change posts, to squat on some of the places that were not destroyed,” he said.

“Our goods are getting destroyed as we try to find ways to get back on our feet.”

“The demolitions were done during month-end and most of us being lodgers, we failed to pay rentals, and we also have employees whom we failed to pay.

“Some have been affected so badly they have had no choice, but to relocate to their rural areas.

“It is unfortunate that all this is happening when there is over 90% unemployment in the country and many thousands of youths are sitting at home doing nothing after completing their education.

“Many youths, who had found employment in this industry are going to go back to the streets where they take up drugs and other vices.

“It is our plea to responsible authorities to allow us to work freely so as to avoid social ills like drug abuse and robbery.”

The carpenters strongly believe they are victims of politics and the impending elections of 2023 could be the source of their misfortunes.

On June 29, council, backed by police, embarked on demolitions in residential areas.

In Glen View, the demolitions were mainly focused on the densely populated Glen View 8 complex and Tichagarika shopping centre while Highfield was demolished days later.

Harare’s oldest suburb of Mbare was the first to be visited by the steel monsters.