Home » Business » Sanity Must Prevail in Harare [column]

THE rate at which vendors have besieged Harare’s Central Business District has ceased to be funny. At some point we all thought it was a frenzy that would soon die down but the situation on the ground is to the contrary.Anything and everything from meat to love portions are being sold in central Harare in broad daylight with increasing intensity just after working hours.

Right from Kaguvi Street to 5th Street and from Samora Machel Avenue to Kenneth Kaunda Avenue there is hardly any space that is not occupied by a vendor both on pavements and right in the middle of some roads which have literally been rendered impassable. Indeed this part of Harare has become so busy and chaotic it’s unbelievable.

What was initially dismissed as “a wild search” for the dollar one month end has become a menace that requires the powers that be to move in and act decisively before the situation gets uglier.

Not that I am against vending. No! not at all. I have lots of respect for people who try their best to make a living out of such decent and presumably sober means.

Braving the heat, the cold and the cat and mouse games with the police as they fend for their families. Many chief executives, doctors, lawyers have gone through school and colleges with funds raised from such vendors so I never underestimate what these small and seemingly trite businesses can achieve.

This is obviously way better than pick-pocketing, robbery, corruption in all its forms and other strange and even obscene methods through which some people search for money.

However, while we acknowledge the desire by vendors to make a living and their “aggressive” marketing drive of taking their products and services right to the people, the manner in which this has been done over the past few months creates more chaos than solutions in the economy.

Harare’s CBD has been turned into a jungle of sorts in a few weeks. I would not be surprised if someone started selling live goats and road-runners (chickens) along First Street. Imagine donkeys crossing Julius Nyerere Way towards First Street with a bag of maize destined to a grinding mill in Third Street!

Indeed while some things are good, it is how they are done and when they are done that determines their positive or negative impact.

Selling clothes, shoes, vegetables, groceries etc is well dandy but this should be done at designated places. Zimbabwe has all along been viewed as one of the tidiest countries on the continent.

I remember a few years ago when I visited one country within the Sadc region, I was startled to see vendors selling all types of meats right in the city centre, next to a five-star hotel. I thought this was a serious level of madness not knowing a similar situation would haunt our country a decade or so later.

Vending needs to be confined to designated areas as what the Minister of Small to Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development Sithembiso Nyoni has been aocating for over the past few months. Vendors and those that police them need to heed these calls.

Designated areas with market stalls and factory shells also provide ablution and other facilities critical for healthy trading instead of allowing a health time-bomb to detonate on our watch.

Already we are told there are vending stalls which remain unoccupied while others are under construction in some parts.

Besides the eye can tell that there is adequate space in the city to build more stalls depending on demand. But the resistance remains because vendors fear customers will not come to them.

It is not a proven fact because we have seen people driving from Greendale or Borrowdale to buy vegetables in Mbare with no problem at all. This means people will still visit the stalls if they need vegetables and other wares, once the vendors leave the CBD.

We are made to understand that some of the vendors have twisted First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe’s call a few months ago for vendors to be allowed to operate free from dehumanising harassment to mean that she meant that people must be allowed to operate on any pavement or road with disregard to flow of both vehicular and human traffic.

I am not qualified to speak on her behalf but I would want to believe she would be the last one to call for such chaos to prevail as we have witnessed in Harare in recent months.

I want to believe she meant that municipal police should stop harassing men and women seeking to eke an honest living but should soberly direct them to designated facilities from which they can operate.

I am convinced she never directed that fish, pork or chicken be sold on pavements, attracting millions of flies in the city centre while others roast maize cobs right at the heart of the CBD.

I know some sections of the media have sought to put the blame squarely on the statements by the First Lady but that would be mischievous of them to even suggest Dr Mugabe was calling for chaos.

But indeed the vendors have decided to ride on this to declare themselves untouchable by city authorities.

But we insist that the zones that have been in place in Harare which determine which business should be done in certain areas need to be observed and respected for the sake of order.

Before the vendor crisis Harare had already begun to lose its glamour as the Sunshine City and the latest mayhem has compounded the situation. Zimbabwe is seeking to lure investment but not much could come Harare’s way if the current state of affairs is allowed to continue unchecked.

Indeed the informal sector has become critical to the economy, accounting for at least $7 billion believed to be in the hands of informal traders but doing things the way they are being done now will only worsen the situation.

Other schools of thought have said that the situation prevailing in Harare is reflecting the challenges besetting the economy, given that thousands of people are losing jobs. This is true to a certain extent but not having a formal job should not turn someone into a lawless citizen.

Informal business can still be conducted in a decent manner that contributes to the GDP without necessarily violating laws and regulations.

The value of buildings in Harare’s CBD has even gone down given the extent to which they have been defaced all in the name of survival.

There is enough land in Harare I am sure to build more market stalls and more factory stalls so that vendors can begin to operate in a sober manner.

Some even have the temerity to sell groceries on the pavements of a supermarket or clothes outside a clothing shop.

Although competition has always been the name of the game, it becomes unfair for the shop owners to compete with those with no overheads or rentals to worry about.

Furthermore, the City of Harare should be earning some dollars from small levies charged on vendors, which funds can be used to build more vending facilities or to clean the city and restore its sunshine stratus.

Something needs to be done and done soon to put a stop to the chaos and riotous behaviour by some vendors and touts. Sanity needs to prevail.

Source : The Herald