Tread carefully on vendors

HARARE - Revolutions are explosions of frustration and rage that build over time, sometimes over decades.

Although their political roots are deep, it is often a single spark that ignites them — an assassination, perhaps, or one selfless act of defiance — warned the United States’ Washington Post newspaper in the aftermath of a revolt in Tunisia.

This was after a Tunisian vendor — Mohamed Bouazizi — set himself on fire in protest over his fruits that had been forcibly taken away by a policewoman.

Bouazizi’s death sparked a wave of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria in what became known as the Arab Spring.

He has been described as the “the drop that tipped over the vase”; while others insist that his death “lit the touchpaper” for the Arab Spring revolts.

As President Robert Mugabe’s government crackdown against vendors gathers pace, it is important to remind both municipalities and newly-installed Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, that knee-jerk tactics are not an answer to cleaning cities of unorganised vending.

What we witnessed in Harare last week, where vendors were brutally driven from the pavements of the city centre, two days after Kasukuwere had declared vendors would be dealt with if they remained defiant, is reckless campaign that could have consequences.

Kasukuwere is right to accelerate the clean-up campaign of the city but must use tactics that allow normalcy to return to cities without risking ‘the drop that tipped over the vase’ as what happened in Tunisia.

It must be pointed out that vendors have become a menace and surely need to be driven out of the cities but brute force and violent crackdowns expose government.

The number of vendors who have swamped the cities is indicative of the desperation that has hit millions of impoverished Zimbabweans.

Mugabe’s government is the author of their economic troubles and that’s why it makes knee-jerk reaction to their defiance a very serious discomfort for those who have a conscience in Zanu PF.

Municipalities and Kasukuwere, as opposed to fast-track the eviction of hawkers in military style like what we witnessed last week, need to take stock and measure the success of their plan to resettle vendors in new sites.

There are concerns that the new sites have been hijacked by police offices, council officials, foreigners and those with links to Zanu PF at the expense of the ordinary vendors.

Crucially, there are no ablution facilities at the new sites.

These concerns need to be addressed to make government’s plan a success.

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