The government in Zimbabwe is moving to ban market vendors in Harare at a time when more than 90 percent of the workforce labors in the informal economy and 85 percent or more Zimbabweans are seeking decent work.
Zimbabweans are struggling for their fundamental right to earn a living. Credit: Thando Khoza
“People who are into street vending are not into it for their liking, but are being forced due to the collapsed economy,” the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says in a statement.
“Instead of harassing vendors, the government must first of all restore economic growth and create the promised 2.2 million jobs. By doing so, all vendors will vanish overnight,” says ZCTU.
The Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), which represents some 200,000 members, has been seeking to address challenges identified by government and business in negotiations with the Harare central business district since January, and urges that “Operation Restore Order” ordered by the Harare City Council acting town clerk not be implemented.
“The laws and regulations which govern the informal economy are very much outdated and informal economy traders are always criminalized or termed illegal,” ZCIEA says in a statement. ZCIEA says the government’s designated vending sites are not accessible to customers because of their distance, and urges continued discussion among vendors and central business district representatives.
Since 2011, more than 6,000 companies have closed, leaving hundreds of thousands without employment. Even those with formal economy jobs are not paid on time, according to the Solidarity Center report, “Working Without Pay: Wage Theft in Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe street vendors also were targeted with eviction in 2016 and protested the move in Harare. Credit: Solidarity Center
Many people have turned to street vending after losing their jobs, and the 2.2 million market vendors now generate an average $3.96 billion in annual revenue. The number of market vendors also has increased because people are struggling to get by following a recent sharp hike in prices for basic goods.
The government waged a similar crackdown on market vendors in 2015, tearing down market stands and forcing vendors to pay high fees to set up stalls at government-approved sites.
Street vendors in Harare delivering their petition. Credit: Patience Maria, Musaringo
Street vendors in several Zimbabwean towns were evicted today, following a June 26 deadline to remove their stalls in the city centers and set up in government-approved areas. Government officials warned that force could be used if they refuse.
Although Harare street vendors have so far resisted eviction, the future is uncertain, says Wisborn Malaya, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA).
“So, it is not good news,” he said.
Local authorities evicted street vendors in the towns of Chivhu, Chinhoyi, Gwanda and Marondera, after vendors refused to relocate because there are not enough places for all of them, Malaya says.
Vendors are joining together to oppose the evictions and build strength to achieve fundamental labor rights through the association, whose membership has risen from 177,000 to more than 190,000 since the eviction campaign began.
Hundreds of street vendors took to the streets of Harare earlier this week to deliver a petition to Parliament against eviction orders. Street vendors in Harare today spilled out across the sidewalks and streets in defiance of the order.
“We hope the government will concede not to be brutal to the people so there is not punishment of the people who are trying to earn an honest living,” says Malaya. “(But) vendors are vowing to stay on the streets and take what must come.”
Vendors also face other challenges, he said. “Some of these places, especially in the major cities have been taken over by ‘barons’ who occupy the space and charge the vendors rent. They want to make money out of the people.”
ZCIEA represents informal traders, including street vendors, cross-border traders, tailors, home welders and carpenters in 30 territories across Zimbabwe.
With few formal sector jobs available in Zimbabwe—as in much of the world—the vast majority of the country’s nearly 15 million people are employed in the informal economy, and the number of street vendors is increasing exponentially.