HARARE - Reports that the Bulawayo City Council has abandoned its violent crackdown on vendors must have come as good news to informal traders in Zimbabwe’s second biggest city and elsewhere.
Urban local authorities — particularly in Harare and Bulawayo — and vendors last year turned city streets into war zones as the councils tried to forcibly move vendors to designated sites.
However, it is the news that Bulawayo has halted the crackdown that sounds positive. Reports also suggested Bulawayo was looking to work with the vendors and their representatives on a comprehensive plan that would allow them to work while addressing the city’s concerns.
In yesterday’s edition of the Daily News, Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo is quoted saying; “We are trying to avoid battles, let’s be diplomatic, let’s negotiate, let’s agree so that people move on their own rather than being removed forcefully.”
This is the kind of sense we hope will filter through to other local authorities. The majority of people have turned to vending in order to eke out a living. While councils claim there has to be order, there is also need to look at the vendors’ plight. These are people with families to feed and children to send to school. It appears they are being made to pay for problems they did not create in the first place.
Most of the designated sites lack basic infrastructure like toilets and admittedly, the Bulawayo council claims there were “administrative and logistical glitches mostly infrastructure-wise because our desire is to make sure that they go to places where they will be sheltered so that they don’t have to jump and throw their things all over when the rains come”.
It remains important for local authorities to put their houses in order first before they drive vendors off the streets. As long as the designated sites are made habitable, with proper infrastructure, vendors will obviously find moving a practical option.
This only shows that dialogue and adequate consultations are necessary before councils adopt the confrontational approach.
Perhaps what is more refreshing about the move by Bulawayo is that they have allowed the vendors to continue while a plausible permanent solution is being sought.
Councils are, however, encouraged to educate vendors not to litter the areas they operate in and also that their operations must not hinder the smooth movement of people and traffic in the cities.
As long as the vendors’ operations do not threaten the normal operations of the towns, then they should be allowed to continue until councils provide proper shelters and other facilities at the designated sites.
It would not make sense to drive them away given the ballooning unemployment figures Zimbabwe has continued to record.