Questions mount over vendors war

via Questions mount over vendors war – DailyNews Live 13 July 2015

HARARE – As the government’s much-criticised crackdown against street vendors in urban areas gathers steam, questions are mounting about who exactly is in charge of the increasingly violent campaign in Harare.

While it had been assumed all along that the Harare City Council was in charge of the operation in the capital city, Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni — the elected political head of the council — fuelled rising suspicions about the real players behind the clampdown on Friday, following the heartless burning of vendors’ wares in Speke Avenue on Thursday night.

Manyenyeni not only distanced himself from the fire and the crackdown, but also said emphatically that he had not been consulted when municipal police were dispatched onto the streets earlier in the week — going on a rampage against vendors that left a trail of destruction.

“If it was my personal business I could give you answers now. Council and government operate differently, but I heard what you said. Now it’s being said the mayor unleashed police. I never spoke to them,” he complained while addressing the media.

Adding further intrigue to the matter is the fact that some of the vendors who lost property worth tens of thousands of dollars in the Thursday inferno, claimed in interviews with the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the fire was the work of municipal police working in cahoots with national law enforcement agents.

But acting Harare Town clerk, Josephine Ncube, rubbished the claim, saying the council would never contemplate torching vendors’ wares.

“The city of Harare did not burn the goods at the footbridge. We have no reason to do that. What our officers have on record is that there are guards employed by the vendors to safeguard goods during the night.

“It is those guards who lit a fire because of the low temperatures and that fire caught onto the goods at the footbridge,” she reasoned.

But the Daily News on Sunday reported recently that fears of a revolt against the government, amid a worsening economic crisis in the country and deepening infighting within President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF, were behind his administration’s order that illegal street vendors vacate urban areas or risk arrest.

The sources told the weekly that authorities feared an uprising “similar to the Tunisian revolt” and subsequent Arab Spring, which was why the military had initially participated in the campaign to clear the vendors off urban streets in the early days.

Provincial Joint Operations Command (Joc) member, Brigadier-General Anselem Sanyatwe, was among those who warned vendors last month to comply with the government’s ultimatum to vacate the streets.

“If they don’t, as Joc … we will deal with you,” Sanyatwe said ominously — in the move that appeared to fly in the face of pronouncements by controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe at the height of Zanu PF’s deadly internal wars late last year that vendors be left alone to conduct their business as they wished.

The sources who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday said the security sector had become increasingly concerned over the past few months about the chaotic street vending in urban areas, as well as the “fertile ground for an uprising this is creating, especially in Harare” — which is why they wanted this dealt with without delay.

“The fear is that the worsening economic situation in the country, coupled with rising desperation and political tension in Zanu PF could ignite an uprising in Zimbabwe, with unregulated street vendors posing a security threat.

“You will remember that the rebellion in Tunisia was started by a vendor and all hell subsequently broke loose. So, authorities are simply trying to deal with the fertile ground for an uprising this is creating, especially in Harare,” one of the sources said.

However, despite the ongoing crackdown, many street traders said yesterday that they would stay put in the areas where they were currently operating from, as they had no other way of making a living — blaming Zanu PF’s misrule and corruption for the collapse of the economy which has resulted in vending becoming the main means of survival in the country.

From skilled professionals, to highly qualified graduates and young children — they are all making a living on the streets, selling various wares as the deepening economic crisis continues to bite, with no respite in sight.

According to the World Food Programme, 72 percent of the country’s population is currently living below the poverty datum line.

And due to the high unemployment rate — which some economists estimate to be above 90 percent — the country’s major cities, and Harare in particular, is reeling from an ever-increasing influx of vendors who have invaded virtually every available street and pavement, making it difficult for citizens to navigate their way, and creating health challenges in the process.

It is in this light that Thursday night’s fire that destroyed vendors’ wares did not appear to break the spine and resolve of the street traders to continue hawking in the city centre.

A vendor operating from the Jason Moyo Avenue parkade area even vowed to take the fight to combative new Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere because “his source of living was being destroyed”.

“Saviour Kasukuwere ngaasazviita simbi stereki achizviti ndiye anogona kucontroller nyika yese. Vachakonzeresa kuti mabuildings arimutown akanganiswe nesu taakupenga. Isu hatingafe nenzara. Zvichakonzera kuti munhu wese arikuenda kubasa timubire. Tichabira vanhu vanenge vachifamba nekuti tinenge tisisina chekuraramisa,” he said.

(Kasukuwere must not fool himself into thinking that he can control the whole country. The government’s actions will cause us to vandalise buildings in rage because we will be angry. This will also cause us to steal from pedestrians because our source of livelihood will have been taken away from us.)

Speaking soon after his appointment as Local Government minister, Kasukuwere warned ominously that if Harare city fathers did not clean up the capital, he would be compelled to clean Town House.

Meanwhile, the director of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz), Samuel Wadzai, says street traders should not be divided along political lines as they are fighting for the same cause.

He said yesterday that the ongoing crackdown on vendors showed how desperate the authorities had become about the situation in the country, adding that this also demonstrated amply that the government did not have a clue about how to resolve the challenges.