Harare: Restore order or perish

Source: Harare: Restore order or perish | Sunday Mail (Opinion)

Panganai R Ngorima
The MDC-controlled council and the Zanu-PF Government need to set aside political differences and find a lasting solution to this horrible menace that has reduced our former Sunshine City to a squalid backyard township shopping centre.

Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, was once a shiny, clean metropolis and symbol of modern industrialised Africa.

But over the past two decades it has been reduced to an epitome of disorder.

All forms of informal business activities have in the last decade sprouted at an amazing pace and more recently an exponential rise in these activities have been recorded.

These informal business activities range from the historical newspaper vendors, fruit and vegetable carts, clothes sold from car boots and metal rails and even grocery items sold on street pavements.

Almost every street pavement, corner or open space is now occupied by these mostly illegal vendors. This has virtually left no space for free movement of people going about their daily activities.

This is a scourge that is threatening the very existence of the city itself.

The city’s traditional revenue streams from formal businesses is under serious threat in Harare and urgent measures need to be taken to restore sanity in the capital city.

Informal vending has always existed in Harare.

However its existence was organised in a manner that did not compromise the state and general standard of the CBD.

In those days, all vendors were issued and paid for their hawkers Licence. Designated vending stalls were located across the CBD.

There were fruit stalls at charge office bus rank, text book vendors at the Rezende Street bus rank, the newspaper/magazine vendors along First Street and the famous Mupedzanamo clothing market at the periphery of the CBD.

As such, vending is not a new phenomenon, but the level of disorder is what is mind blowing.

The city fathers and indeed the responsible ministries need to step in and take charge.

This is not time for a political expediency.

This is time for serious political will and leadership to be demonstrated.

I am not advocating an action similar to Operation Murambatsvina, but a holistic and structured approach to solving the problem and bringing order back. Should all the various illegal vendors be driven out of town, will demand for their various wares disappear?

The answer is a big NO.

The demand for cheap and affordable products will remain present particularly because of the current level of household incomes in the country where the majority now fall into the low income level bracket.

A time bomb?

One key consideration that seems to be ignored by those who actively or passively support the continued stay of illegal vendors in town is the health and hygienic standards in the city.

Harare City Council has a health department manned by environmental health officers and inspectors.

These play a critical role in the licencing of any business that is to operate in the city.

For a business to be licensed, it would require ablution and waste disposal facilities inter alia.

That there is a whole department responsible for monitoring health standards is an obvious acknowledgment of the significance of health and hygienic standards wherever any enterprise operates.

It therefore is worrisome when no importance or urgency is placed on resolving the situation with illegal vendors.

The absence of adequate ablution and waste disposal facilities to cater for these illegal vendors is one area that should cause alarm bells to ring.

Harare risks a catastrophe should, say, a cholera outbreak hit the city. This is not unimaginable given recent events in Zambia.

Further, the risk factor grows even higher given the foodstuffs, fruits and vegetables that are sold from pushcarts and street pavements.

The source and handling of some of these products is questionable. How will we trace the source of a bacteria should we ever be hit by a bacterial epidemic?

These are matters that need to be addressed with speed to avert disaster.

The current state of illegal vending poses a serious threat to the continued existence in the CBD of formal operations in particular and organised business in general.

This should be of significant concern not only to the city itself, but the vendors themselves.

On the one hand, the city will continue to lose revenue as formal businesses close shop or relocate to less congested areas.

This will also rob the vendors of the very market they are seeking.

Property values even in the uptown continue to plummet and tenancy rates have equally nose-dived.

The city needs to acknowledge that the bulk of their revenue come from these formal businesses which they need to protect as they pay shop licences, rates and other levies.

The vendors also need to acknowledge that is a cost to doing business, rent-free street side businesses are not sustainable as resources are required to maintain the environment.

It is, therefore, in the city’s and indeed every citizen’s interest to preserve the image of the city.

Arguments have been put forward that jobs must be created first before illegal vendors come off the streets.

Whilst this appears to make sense, there are other critical factors to consider such as health and hygienic standards, free movement of other citizens and the viability of other law abiding businesses that are currently compromised.

Finding a solution

City authorities and indeed the Local Government Ministry has to desist from a piecemeal approach to solving problems.

Over the years, the city has come up with numerous clean-up operations that have failed to achieve any meaningful results.

All they have turned out to be is cat and mouse games between the police and vendors.

The city has to employ moral suasion and engage the vendors, ensure that there is a clear understanding of the problems vending poses and that relocation will not necessarily result in loss of markets.

The engagement process must then lead to realistic deadlines by which illegal pavement and street vending is to cease.

This has to be accompanied by provision of conveniently located vending sites that have affordable, commercially viable rentals and operating costs.

The MDC-controlled council and the Zanu-PF Government need to set aside political differences and find a lasting solution to this horrible menace that has reduced our former Sunshine City to a squalid backyard township shopping centre.

If “Zimbabwe is open for business” is to make sense in as far as the impression that we give to our international visitors and investors, then this madness has to stop forthwith.

A joint taskforce comprising the vendors, City of Harare, the Local Government Ministry and civic society has to be put in place to come up with a solution that takes into account everyone’s interests.

Common purpose for the greater good of not only the city, but the entire national is critical if we are move forward as a nation.

Panganai R Ngorima is an economist and retailer. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail