Govt must avoid war with vendors

HARARE - While the ultimatum given by government and local authorities for vendors to move off town and city streets expires today, we urge extra caution in order to minimise confrontation and the potential damage to property as well as danger to human lives their forced removal may pose.

Regardless of today’s deadline, vendors’ associations are adamant they will stay put, arguing that the City Fathers have failed to avail enough selling points in busy areas. The vendors also argue that the so-called alternative points are already occupied.

The vendors’ resistance will also be a wake-up call to government as it will be forced to pull resources to finance indigenisation and economic empowerment projects which are core to the ruling Zanu PF’s ZimAsset blue print.

While we totally agree that the present vending situation in our cities has reached breaking point and something must be done to clear the city, such a move must be guided by long-term solutions based on practical city and physical planning methodology.

The vending problem started to manifest around 2009, immediately after the hyperinflation period which wiped out all life savings for most Zimbabweans — a period that also saw the acceleration of company closures which threw thousands of workers onto the streets.

Over the six-year period, government and local authorities have turned a blind eye to the ballooning street vending in cities and today Harare alone has more than 100 000 registered vendors.

We believe the vending problem is a complex issue that requires all-inclusive and permanent solutions, tied to good urban planning and regeneration policies alongside sustainable poverty reduction strategies.

Government and local authorities are best advised that they should approach this problem cautiously as it is not as a simple as they might think.

With unemployment hovering over 80 percent, government is sitting on a time bomb whose first test will be tomorrow as local authorities try to chase the vendors from their “work places”.

Besides, it was the ruling party that sold the electorate a dummy when they promised to avail 2,2 million jobs in its 2013 election manifesto.

The promise has remained a pie in the sky as more and more companies close, forcing thousands more to join the unemployed list.

As government and local authorities work out to solve this problem, we would like to remind them that the street vending is a product of industrial failure and a generally depressed economic environment.

In the absence of a clear policy response to company closures, retrenchments and lack of economic opportunities, the vending problem will never go away.

Even if the authorities manage to drive the vendors away from the city today, this could just be temporarily as these people will always find their way back.

So, government and local authorities must realise that it is important that they approach the issue with great care.

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