Mixed fortunes at new vendor booths

Stanely Mushava Features Correspondent
Highward Gahadza, who sold clothes from a make-do tent at the Fourth Street Flea Market since 2012, has welcomed the regularisation of the vending site but says it has not been rosy. In September last year, when the eviction of vendors from the streets was raging, Harare City Council sublet the site to Imhanya, a private infrastructure solutions company. Gahadza registered a vending table under the programme, at that time understood to be a pilot project for city plans to regularise and shelter vendors whose activities were impeding traffic in the streets.

Green and orange structures at the facelifted site, officially the first city-commissioned vendor infrastructure following the eviction of vendors of the street, signalled promise of a new chapter.

Five months on Gahadza believes that the trade is now harder to sustain under the new arrangement which obliges vendors to pay both Imhanya Solutions and the city fathers.

For him, poor service provision and the relative obscurity of the market area does not justify the new rent regime.

Curiously, there are no signs of life at sites similarly earmarked for regularised vending, particularly the Coke Corner at the corner of Seke Road and Cripps Avenue, casting doubt on the future of the city’s vendor rehabilitation project.

The Imhanya Box Park adjacent to the Fourth Street terminus was naturally the most likely site but it has turned out to be less lucrative.

In fact, it seems business as usual for street vendors who continue to stage turf wars with Harare Metropolitan Police.

Gahadza believes a solution may be far from the horizon as others are vacating the new vending space for business in the fast lane.

“We have problems keeping up with the rent and some have since gone back into the street. Those who default on their payment plans have had their wares held. In the end, some just quit and go back to the streets where business is faster,” Gahadza told The Herald.

In terms of the arrangement, vendors are paying daily rentals of $6 for containers and $2,50 for tables to Imhanya and a mandatory $1,25 to the city council.

The rent compares favourably with slots at popular sites such as Avondale Flea Market where a table costs up to $15 a day, Harare Central Police Station (Charge Office) Flea Market where tables cost $6 a day and Mupedzanhamo where vendors pay up to $150 a month to a cartel of table owners who, in turn, pay less than half the amount to municipality.

Fourth Street vendors are questioning the new rates, insisting that the place could only merit the current rentals if it was established and strategically situated.

They argue that their business thrives in populous zones and bemoan a decision by the council to reassign them to a less frequented site. However, city fathers maintain that markets cannot be congested in one place.

“We are not allowed to collect our goods from the cloakroom in the morning before paying the $2,50. In some cases, we would not have sold anything from the previous day. Not that it is our fault. This is a closed space and we rely on a few customers trickling in of their own accord,” Gahadza said.

“If I have to go into my home savings to pay for this space in the morning, it means the arrangement is not self-sustaining. The idea of upgrading this place is good but I think the authorities must have put in place prices that are sensitive to the economic situation.

“I am not surprised that others are leaving this place and going back into the streets. There may be challenges there but at least they are where the people are. Here council will be stalking us for money by 11am.

Gahadza said authorities seemed to be after revenue but have not done enough to give a good turn to the vendors who have complied with council orders to leave the streets and other irregular sites.

“Right now, we have no toilets but it is something that was promised last year. It is not surprising that some vendors have taken to ‘passing water’ behind cars in the nearby car park or anywhere they cannot be seen.

“In this slow business most people cannot afford to absent themselves from the scene for too long because sometimes the time you are absent might have been your only opportunity to sell for the day,” he said.

Mai Chimuti (45) also bemoaned failure by Imhanya to provide toilets for the vendors despite charging them for services everyday.

“This looks like a project which has already become static. I am not aware of any efforts to improve sanitation here and it does not look good for such a place. Food is now being sold here and we also bring our own food from home.

“Without proper water and sanitation for such a strategic place, the likelihood of disease cannot be overlooked. We become concerned over the lack of urgency on the part of Imhanya,” she said.

“The money must be reduced till services improve. We are buying forced to go to some confectionery shop nearby so that we can use their toilets. In the end, we are forced to buy products that are not an immediate necessity for permission to use the toilets since they are reserved for their customers.

“Yet that petty cash is usually all we have to show for profit and for the Imhanya rent. That is what we mean when we say that the rents have to correspond with service provision,” she said.

Mai Chimuti said business was even tougher for those who are doing it by themselves without back-up from the family as losses could not be ruled out.

Another vendor who identified herself as Mai Khaya said the new structures were commendable as they provided respite from cat and mouse games with the police.

“Here at last, we know that we have a home of our own. Yes, we hear of others being booted out of the containers and the booths for failure to pay but on our side we are doing our best to comply,” said.

Mai Khaya said it was the mandate of Imhanya to improve the structures as they are currently susceptible to bad weather.

“These sheds are not really effective when it comes to shielding our wares from bad weather. As you can see, nothing has changed since you came last time. Our clothes will wear off quickly because of exposure to heat,” Mai Khaya said.

“Imhanya provides us with a cloakroom to leave our wares at the end of the day. This is an advantage compared to vendors doing it on the streets who have to carry everything with them all the time, sometimes incurring luggage costs to and fro work,” she said.

The box park, which opened its gates on September 8, potentially accommodates 196 vendors.

It comprises six containers made of recycled shipping material. They are divided into vendor containers, administration offices, a convenience store and the cloakroom.

The Herald could not get through to Imhanya director Mr Ket Patel at the time of going to press.

Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said the council has completed a design for new vending structures to be erected outside the CBD, having consulted with vendors on what they needed.

“We have set aside $6 million to go into vending structures over the next two years. Now that the design is complete, we will soon begin construction. $3 million will go into the project this year,” Chideme said.

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