City of Harare becomes epicentre of haphazard vendor activity

The country is currently grappling with the issue of the influx of vendors into central business district, which has brought about anarchy within the city of Harare. Concerned citizens are calling for the responsible authorities to immediately restore sanity and relocate these informal traders to Council designated points to ease the flow of human traffic within the confines of the city – Pictures: Believe Nyakudjara

Catastrophic circumstances of stratospheric magnitudes,” describes the situation obtaining right at the epicentre of Zimbabwe’s political and economic district, Harare’s Central Business District.

There is really nothing lustre left in the Sunshine City anymore, save for the imposing infrastructure, which is among the best on the continent.

As disorder and anarchy take centre-stage, many are now of the view that the continued influx of the vendors into the CBD is now beyond just the socio-economic hardships being faced by ordinary citizens.

However, amid the obtaining chaos, those left with the voice of reason are of the view that the continued vendors’ presence right in the CBD cannot be justified and should not be allowed to continue.

“Imagine maize cobs being roasted for sale right on the pavements of leading commercial banks and upmarket shops,” said a disgruntled citizen, Mr Heronimo Nhariwa.

“As if that is not enough, there are makeshift roadside butcheries, where uncertified meat is openly sold to consumers!”

“A central business district of this magnitude cannot be allowed to drift into a hovel of mice peddling, roasted maize hustling and second-hand clothing trading,” he argued.

Yet these are some of the extreme and weird commodities that have been brought for wholesaling by the vendors whose numbers continue swelling by the day.

Then there is the classic case of the seemingly never-ending supply of fresh coconut fruit, right in the middle of Harare next to Town House. What makes the constant supply of coconut baffling is that besides being an uncommon fruit in our orchards, the fruit is quite heavy, and to think that one has to carry many of those to and from the vending site everyday!

As a result many are now arguing that the current wave of vending might have a third hand behind it because coconuts being coconuts, how can a vendor run away from municipal police under all that weight?

But because the vendor is assured of non-interference, he parades his coconuts along Julius Nyerere every single day with bravery. Then there are those who peddle male virility concoctions, commonly known as guchu, in First Street of all the places!

What a tragedy!

Harare, whose pay-off line is the Sunshine City, where architectural splendour meets the exuberance of nature, is slowly but surely drifting into a black hole of filth and decadence.

But what might be the cause of the recent drift of the vendors into the CBD? This has really altered the face of the once magnificent city. Whilst many might be tempted to assume that the influx of vendors is a result of high unemployment levels or people seeking economic redemption, rather, it might be a case of manipulation of standing by-laws by corrupt Harare City Council officials.

The City of Harare has autonomy powers over the governance of the city, through an Act of Parliament, as well as under Section 264 and 265 of the Constitution, with the Government retaining an oversight role over the council’s activity.

What is baffling many is the “see no evil”, “hear no evil” and “speak no evil” stance that has been taken by the City fathers, which has resulted in the CBD slowly turning into a larger version of Mbare.

“Why bother going to Mbare when you can get all you want in the CBD?” some have been sarcastically quipping.

Council regulations on vending, also known as the Harare (Hawkers) by-laws 2013, are very clear when it comes to the issue of vending in the CBD. They clearly stipulate that no person shall engage or carry out the business of hawking unless he or she is in possession of a valid hawker’s licence.

However, most of the vendors who have invaded the CBD do not have any hawker’s licence. The regulations also stipulate that the licence must specify the number of hawkers that the holder may employ or retain as an agent. Again, such language does not exist in the vendors’ vocabulary.

The regulations further stipulate that no hawker shall remain stationary while conducting his or her business for more than 15 minutes.

“Provided that after the period of 15 minutes, he or she shall not be in a position within the radius of 100 metres from the place at which he or she was at the commencement of the 15 minutes period,” reads the regulations.

Ironically, vendors in the CBD have actually made the street pavements their second homes, with some said to have permanently set up base at their adopted positions.

The by-laws also say that council may refuse to issue or renew a hawker’s licence, if in its opinion “the issue of renewal would adversely affect any existing trade or businesses carried out in the area”.

However, issues of second-hand clothes vendors setting up shop, right in front of clothes shop, are a typical example of the council’s complicity to CBD vending.

All these regulations give the council the principal powers to oversee all vending transactions taking place within the confines of the CBD but surprisingly the City fathers are turning a blind eye to all the madness. Hence the argument that the Harare City Council is liable for the chaotic vending scenario.

However, Harare City Council principal spokesperson, Mr Michael Chideme, said the council still maintains its position that the vendors must be relocated as a matter of urgency.

“It now requires all stakeholders to come up with a long-term solution and to show our commitment to find a permanent solution to this issue we have already embarked on the process of constructing three informal sector complexes which are going to accommodate some of the vendors in Mbare,” he said.

However, Mr Chideme said although council retains autonomy over the management of the city, their officers did not have arresting powers to effectively roll out a clean-up in the city, hence the need for all stakeholders to find common ground. A shop owner along Mbuya Nehanda street said it does not make economic sense anymore for shop owners to continue paying rentals and relevant taxes to council when vending is taking place right in front of their shops.

“We get elbowed out of business systematically when these unlicensed vendors come and sell their goods which are similar to ours right at our front shops. To make matters worse they (vendors) are not accountable to anyone. They don’t pay rent, they don’t pay levies, they don’t contribute anything to the national fiscus,” she argued.

She said although they (shop owners) have been told that they have the powers to expel the vendors, they could not do that since the council, which is the responsible authority, was failing to act on the situation.

Town planner, Mr Percy Toriro, said everything has its carrying capacity and certainly the city must have a limited number of vendors that it can carry at any given time, pointing out that the current situation has gotten out of hand.

“However, it must be noted that the current situation is transitional but not permanent and authorities should be able to plan for a certain number of vendors that the city can accommodate, but being mindful that the situation is temporary,” he said.

He emphasised that the city authorities, working together with the vendors, must construct vending sites that accommodate a certain number of people. However, in the event of such a development, proper planning must be done to avoid the proliferation of white elephants.

In a recent interview, Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Dr Ignatius Chombo, said Government will not back down on ridding the cities and towns of illegal vendors.

Dr Chombo urged local authorities to engage the vendors and find an amicable solution.

“So we are saying to the local authorities, in their books, in their statutes, in their by-laws, there are already laws to deal with these people. We are now asking them to engage them and find amicable ways to remove them,” said Minister Chombo.

In other African cities such as Nairobi in Kenya, a growing space for dialogue which has brought to the fore vendors in sync with government policy has emerged, although on the surface the cat-and-mouse games still persists between the authorities and the vendors.

Analysts in Kenya say although it is too early to determine the long-term effectiveness of the consummation of the dialogue between formal, informal business and government, its emergence signals a positive change in the direction of the discourse regarding CBD hustling in that country. They also point out that these dialogues indicate that the relationship between these two antagonistic sectors can go beyond economic.