|We’re being squeezed out!|
|Thursday, 21 June 2012 12:00|
IN the past few years, the face of Harare has changed drastically as new structures have cropped up to feed and accommodate a wave of consumerism that came with the multicurrency system. Everywhere one looks, they are met with either some clothing boutiques or some eatery of sorts, electrical appliances and furniture shops.
Harare has grown to be a city of consumers.
When one gets money it will surely be tempting to part ways on one thing or the other.
Such a temptation can be so strong, if carried to the current siege proportions.
And there you have every new outlet being frequented and patronised, for better — and worse.
The positive side is that those in business are making money — lots of it.
The negative side is that only a few monied ones are getting the space to do so.
This lucky genus is predominantly foreign, mainly Nigerian and Chinese.
Secondly, the city is becoming uglier, for those used to the spacious and well ventilated shops of old — and this presents a city planning nightmare.
In fact, city buildings are increasingly becoming responsive to the new trend, with renovations and facelifts conforming to the demands of new shop concepts.
A city woman, Jane Makope, who is into the cross-border business, complains that locals are being shut out of business.
“Ordinarily, I should be having my own shop which I supply but the rents are too high and we are told there are no vacant shops.
“I have to supply these shops and stalls without having one of my own. In fact, I do not supply much because many of these shop owners are bringing in their own stuff,” she said.
Makope runs a stall in Glen View suburb where she says business is slow.
Had she her way, like many others of her, would rather be in the big city of business.
But many others prospective and rising entrepreneurs like her have to be housed at flea markets like Avondale, Charge Office, Sam Levy’s and Mupedzanhamo as they cannot afford the high rentals.
The president of the pressure group, Upfumi Kuvadiki, Scot Sakupwanya, is breathing fire.
He says there is a law in the country, which says the retail sector should be wholly in the hands of indigenous Zimbabweans, but it is being spat at.
The group may soon take matters into its own hands.
“As the president of Upfumi Kuvadiki I am saying that the law of this country is clear on ownership of the retail sector. The Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act (2007) says the sector is a preserve of the locals.
“Licences continue to be given out to foreigners and soon we will be taking action against the mayor.
“We are saying the Nigerians, the Chinese and Indians should go into manufacturing and make clothes and shoes here. They should help develop our industry. They have done it in Angola and Mozambique, so why do they not do that here as well?” he said.
He is upset that the city has continued to renew licences when even Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere recently clarified the law.
He said foreigners were elbowing locals out as they are able to raise the so-called goodwill fees which can be anything between US$10 000 and US$25 000.
“Who can raise that kind of money when we are looking to be empowered?” he said of prospective and rising entrepreneurs.
The lobby is serious.
“As we speak, our Bulawayo branch has been planning to launch strikes to force corrective measures,” said Sakupwanya.
City planner Percy Toriro has issues with the situation obtaining in Harare.
First, he sees standards being lowered and second, the city parting ways with aesthetic beauty.
Were he to become the mayor, he would go back to basics to bring bank back sanity in the retail sector.
He told The Herald in an interview: “If you set up a shop in a commercial zone it should be self-contained and have its own amenities such as toilets. If it does not, it will put pressure where these facilities are.”
This apparently is not being conformed to.
The new structures that are mushrooming in the central business district are an eye-sore.
“Your CBD defines who you are. I do not see any effort at the moment to make the city beautiful but everything is profit-driven. Some structures are clearly not for the CBD.
“Most of these shops have no parking and this has resulted in the shop owners competing for space with customers or shoppers finding parking elsewhere which is inconvenient to the shopper,” he said.
He clarified that before any shop is set up, it must meet health and building regulations in conformity with model building by-laws and the Public Health Act.
Some of these pertain to lighting and ventilation.
Toriro noted that most of old shops seem to be compliant while the new, tiny ones appear not to be compliant.
This is an outrage.
“It would have been forgiveable were standards being lowered for the benefit of our people but the ones benefiting from it are foreigners. It is not excusable,” he averred.
He explained that there could be a deliberate policy to lower some standards for poor people so that they benefit and graduate into bigger ventures where standards are higher.
He gave an example that he would not mind the factory shells at Magaba in Harare, imply because the informal industrial area is not Workington, the major industrial hub.
Toriro also believes that there should be a deliberate effort to accommodate vendors and other informal traders who have “imposed themselves” on the city because there is no infrastructure tailor made for them.
He said instead of criminalising vending, vendors could be designated places, which was a norm even at the world’s most beautiful cities.
“In central Cape Town,” he said, “there is St George’s Mall where you find curio, vegetable and burger vendors. They are allocated space and there are standards to be maintained.”
This deliberate move could be replicated in Zimbabwe.
The City of Harare concedes there are “illegal” structures.
Contacted for comment, spokesman Leslie Gwindi curtly said the city will be “restructuring”.
He refused to be drawn into discussing concerns raised by the public pertaining to the structural and aesthetic configuration of shops and the issue of licensing of foreigners.
He could also not be drawn into the issue of the so-called “goodwill” fees, which have condemned bona fide locals out of business.
Mr Mike Moyo of Harare’s Budiriro suburb said the problem starts with foreigners who make false promises when they come to Zimbabwe and some who do so through illegal means.
“You have to remember that some foreigners come to this country wearing the cap of big investors intending to set up a massive factory of this and that but later grab the retail sector from locals. It is disheartening,” he said.
He added that most of these foreign businesspeople have a way to go around the immigration laws and marry Zimbabweans to get citizenship.
“Once they enter the marriage of convenience, these people use their ‘wives’ as fronts to run the businesses.
“Others who do not marry Zimbabweans pay some locals to become their fronts. It’s happening and the authorities know it but nothing is being done,” he complained.