Don’t believe propaganda about informal traders

via Don’t believe propaganda about informal traders – The Zimbabwean 16 July 2015

Any attempt to attribute the proliferation of vending in our cities and towns to foreign barons who are offloading their wares on the streets to avoid tax is mischievous. I saw this on the front page of the Sunday Mail, which is taking spinning for government to a new level altogether.

The story gives the impression that foreign dealers acting in cahoots with local middlemen are responsible for the congestion of our streets with vendor goods – trying to blame the steep increase in vending not on the state of the economy, but greedy and criminal agents. Poppycock!

According to the story, which quotes vendors’ representatives, gutter analysts and self-proclaimed indigenisation cadres, there is an increase in the volumes of bales containing second-hand clothes coming through our borders. This is because, it goes on, the so-called barons have discovered a way of beating tax by trading on the informal market instead of formal shops. Ultimately, it seems, the propaganda is aimed at developing an argument for the vendors to be taxed using commercial models. Clearly, there is a lame attempt in that narrative to give the impression that vending, in fact, is not a mass crisis, but a conflict generated by a rich cliché.

Greedy barons

To start with, I will not try to entirely dismiss the reality of greedy barons taking advantage of the chaos that has been caused by our increasingly diseased economy. It is a fact that, whenever there is a crisis, there will always be people who will capitalise on it to enrich themselves. These people, quite tellingly, involve agents who the Zanu (PF) government has over the years claimed are the panacea to our woes—the trinket traders from the east. The government opened the floodgates for Chinese and other eastern dealers under its Look East policy and underhand trade is what it got as a result. But this does not explain the vending disease.

The spin, in its hurried and rabid attempt to twist our attention away from the real crisis, forgets fundamental realities about the informal market in Zimbabwe. To start with, street vendors are not exclusively selling bales of second-hand clothes. There is a whole range of items being sold. Surely, even a squirrel would not believe that the tomatoes, onions and cigarettes and airtime vouchers being sold on the streets are being imported from outside by the barons.

The truth, of course, is that the vegetables are being sourced from Mbare Musika and other places and the airtime vouchers are coming from local service providers. The same goes for the cigarettes, which are all local products. This has nothing to do with the flooding of the informal market with imported goods. A cursory glance will tell you that most of the vendors are trading in these low-value local products.

Troubled economy

Zimbabweans have for decades been going to Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, among other markets, to get bales of used clothes on their own. Who doesn’t know that fact? They have not been doing so on behalf of the Chinese. The fact that more are doing so now doesn’t suddenly make them fronts for foreigners.

The problem has been growing over the years and it will worsen for as long as Zanu (PF) is not focusing on mending the economy. The bigger point that the spin doctors must always bear in mind is that high volume street vending is a direct result of the troubled economy. Zanu (PF) promised two million jobs ahead of the 2013 general elections. Instead, thousands more have been lost and hardly any added since then.

That means unemployment has been rising sharply. In order to make ends meet, the thousands then had to find means and ways of surviving and vending happens to be one of them, if not the most viable one. The people that you see touting to have their items bought in cut-throat street competition are, in essence, not “employees” of a few rich barons but family heads, university graduates and retrenched people who have desperately resorted to the informal sector.

In any case, is it not the very Zanu (PF) government, corrupt local authority officials and other high heeled people who have laboured so much to ensure that poor Zimbabweans are excluded from the formal economy? They have been selling shops and trading space to foreigners and barring the locals from owning formal businesses through corruption and exorbitant fees.

On the other hand, the foreigners have found it easy to get trading space because they have the money to grease the palms of the officials. Furthermore, Zanu (PF) has crowded out bona fide local informal traders by barring those suspected to belong to the opposition from such places like Mupedzanhamo and Mbare Musika. We must stop vending arrogant, lying propaganda about vendors. – To comment on this article, please contact