‘Allo, ‘allo, ‘allo, what do we have here then?

imageIllegal street vending from a police vehicle – registration ZRP 3256M clear for all to see. Not a policeman in sight and the pick-up looks like it might have been sold off as old stock. If so, the number plates should have been changed for chunky fees to the roads authority and the taxman. The civilian veggie sellers appear to move around in the police  ‘bakkie’ unchallenged.

There are various other possibilities here. The Zimbabwe Republic Police have turned a blind eye at roadblocks, the vendors have borrowed the pick-up and the rightful driver gets a percentage of the take or the vendors are off-duty officers themselves or officers’ family members.

A blitz to clear away vendors by soldiers and police was to have started nationwide at the beginning of this month, the army withdrew saying it was a civilian matter and the deadline for hawkers to leave the streets was then extended to this weekend.

The population of greater Harare and the dormitory towns of Chitungwiza and Epworth  stands at 2.1 million, with an estimated 80 percent of them relying in ‘informal sector’ activities – vending, carpentry, makeshift market stalls, you name it – for daily survival. That can be extrapolated across the country where unemployment is rated at about 80 percent but our propagandists say that is nonsense because 90 percent of the whole population live on informal trading, albeit in near slum-like conditions.

How on earth will such a massive operation to move tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of vendors – their clutter in the streets and open vleis being their lifeblood – be handled? The sweeping Arab Spring of revolt and unrest began with a blitz against street sellers in Tunisia.

The mayor of Bulawayo has told a meeting of vendors there they will have to clear out of the main streets and move to designated areas within  coming days. Record unemployment in formal sector jobs, factory closures in the second city, a shadow of its former self as the home of heavy industry, and overall economic hardships that drove the vendors onto the streets in the first place are not the city council’s concern, he said. And anyway the economy is the responsibility of the central government, he added.

New vending sites need potential customers close at hand and proper hygienic facilities that cost money that simply isn’t there.

imageFor now, the vendors in Julius Nyerere Way don’t appear worried. Every inch of the street, a central boulevard in Harare, is taken up by vegetables and foodstuffs, pyramids of tomatoes, cheap Chinese shoes and clothing, phone chargers, old books, pirated CDs – the list is endless. In all the bustle, there is ‘crisis fatigue.’ Some say they will hold their ground. Or a typically  Zimbabwe-style stand-off will drag on between the police, enforcement officials and their own family members who survive on the streets every day. Who will blink first? The politicians have painted themselves into a corner; they can’t be seen to climb down and lose face. The vendors have never before been in such large numbers, by far in excess of the manpower, if not the firepower, the authorities have at their disposal.


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