Police, vendors clash in typhoid crackdown

HARARE - Vendor Tapiwa Gumande quickly gathers her tomatoes and onions from the pavement and throws them in a box as she takes to her heels, fleeing from a joint taskforce of State and municipal police.

In the process, about five of her tomatoes spill to the ground, but she does not look back with the cops in hot pursuit.

Her neighbour was not so lucky as State and municipal police pounced on her green mealies and threw them into their lorry.

All perishables confiscated from food vendors are being destroyed to avoid cross contamination, according to the Harare City Council(HCC). The goods are being destroyed in the presence of the owners.

This has become the everyday interaction between the authorities and vendors over the past week, after the decision by the inter-ministerial committee to ban vending after 150 cases of typhoid and two deaths were recorded in Harare alone.

Deadly clashes have erupted in the MDC-run capital city since authorities tried to remove illegal street stalls and vendors from the CBD. Police have used batons to disperse the vendors. Some vendors have fought back, surrounding police, pelting them with rubbish, bricks and bottles and wrestling them.

The move to clear illegal vendors who sell local delicacies, trinkets and household goods from makeshift streetside stalls and carts has so far faced fierce resistance.

This comes as Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara has filed an urgent chamber application in the High Court challenging the ban on vending in the city centre.

The hawkers, a common sight on Harare’s bustling streets, have vowed to stay put.

“The only way they will remove us from the streets is if government implements policies that will create employment, kumhanyisana nekanzuru (engaging in running battles with council officials) has become part of the job,” Gumande told the Daily News on Sunday.

“If I get off the streets and stop vending, what do I do? My husband is not working, is there any industry that you can direct him to where he can find employment?”

“... we do not enjoy being here on the streets the whole day, right now it’s raining, we are here, when the sun is blazing we will be here, when it’s cold we are here, this is not the life we want.”

She said vending was their only source of income, and removing them from the streets was as good as taking away their livelihoods.

“We are living from hand to mouth; with vending I can buy a little food for my family.

“It’s not even enough for school fees for my two children, and the other one is in Grade Seven, what  must I do?”

Leading  experts are warning that Harare is on the brink of a “public health catastrophe” — because of typhoid outbreaks, severe diarrhoea and other diseases —  that is so severe it could pose a threat to the  rest of the country.

A “perfect storm” of conditions for the spread of diseases had developed, with vast numbers of vendors amid a collapse in the country’s healthcare and sanitation systems.

Health minister David Parirenyatwa and the HCC have blamed vendors for the outbreak of typhoid, and said they had agreed to prohibit and stop the vending of food - processed or unprocessed, fruit and vegetables — at undesignated places.

“Even if they blame us for spreading typhoid, what can we do? True, vamwe vedu vane hutsvina, tinobvuma, but todii (some vendors are filthy, but what can we do?),” Gumande asked rhetorically.

“Those markets they want us to move to, ndiyani anouyako (who goes there), can someone get a kombi (minibus) for 50 cents to go to Coca-Cola to buy tomatoes or bananas? We come to town because that is where the people are.”

Viset lawyer Bhatasara said: “They are forcing vendors to go to designated sites which do not have water and toilet facilities yet they are claiming to be fighting the spread of typhoid.

“Instead of fixing the water, sanitation and sewer infrastructure, they are wasting resources on this exercise.”

HCC health director Prosper Chonzi said the decision to remove vendors from the city centre must be understood as a measure of curbing typhoid and not punishment on vendors.

“Typhoid is orally transmitted, which means you have to eat or drink something that is contaminated with salmonella typhi.

“If you don’t drink or eat, it means you don’t get it,” Chonzi told the Daily News on Sunday.

“The ultimatum to vendors has been misconstrued to be a confrontational thing. I would rather people appreciate why we are making certain pronouncements and why we are taking certain measures because we want to break the typhoid transmission cycle. “

He said people must see the perceived benefits of not buying food from an illegal vendor.

“Those people who sell meat from the floor, they buy fish from Darwendale that we know is bred in liquid sewer and you braai. If people see the benefits of our message, then they are likely to comply.

“As it is, people think we are just banning vending just for the sake of banning or for the sake of punishing people. That is not the intention.

“We want to be able to stop the spread of typhoid because we know the mode of transmission and the mode of transmission informs the measures we are taking.”

Chonzi said although the cases seem to be going down, it was not yet time to celebrate.

“We are also getting cases from Budiriro and Glen View, about seven so far, the cases are much less than those coming from Mbare, but we are talking of a disease that has a long incubation period, about three weeks.”

The disease’s epicentre is a sprawling slum in downtown Harare, Mbare, where many have been sickened by contaminated water and food.

“Although the cases are coming down, it’s too early to celebrate because some people are still incubating and some could still relapse,” Chonzi said.

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