Lovemore Meya Features Writer
It depends on how you look at it — whether it is a climb-down by city authorities, another sign of plummeting standards in Harare or an economic reality check — but things have changed in Harare with the liberalisation of vending by authorities.
Over the past fortnight or so, Harare City Council has allowed vendors to operate in open spaces, some of them formerly used as commuter bus ranks, in a move that has changed the face of the city.
Of course, the city is set to make a killing given the fact that buying and selling has become a riposte for many households in the country.
This week, Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi announced that the city had designated 13 vending sites in the CBD.
He said the move was in response to the growing needs of the informal sector.
Some of the places where this informal trade is taking place are located at Fourth Street (flea market, fruits and vegetables and dried foods), Charge Office ZRP Flea Market, Charge Office Vegetable Market (dried foods, fruits and vegetables), Julius Nyerere/Kenneth Kaunda (flea market), Market Square (flea market and dried foods), Speke/Cameroon (flea market), George Silundika (flea market Sundays only), Park Street/Cameroon (vegetable market), Ok Cameroon (fruit and vegetables) and Chinhoyi/ Samora Machel.
The Speke/Cameroon market, the most prominent of the new developments, which came to life two days after the Heroes and Defence Force celebrations, has attracted more than 100 vendors selling different wares ranging from second hand clothes as well new ones for both men and women. Vegetable and ice-cream vendors have joined in the survival of the fittest fight to eke out a living.
The flea market is among the leading venues for business, especially in these trying times with the country reeling from a liquidity crunch. In separate interviews by The Herald, it has been noted that the reason for the mushrooming of these informal traders are socio-economic factors, among them alarming rates of unemployment.
John Moyo, a vendor who plies his trade at the same ‘hot spot’ and specialises in hats and assorted belts for men and women, said the place is a catchy area.
“I started selling my wares here two weeks ago on a Thursday and this is where big things are happening in Harare. It involves a lot of customers, where on a good day I can realise about $50 or $30 on a bad day,” he said.
Moyo said he used to ply his trade at corner Cameroon and Charter Road, however, the opening of this new market meant a new lease of life. He said they are paying $3 to council on a daily basis, which is favourable to those who could not afford to have tables in places where rates are higher. A security guard who could not reveal his name but is identifiable by an orange bib inscribed “Grassroots Empowerment Flea Market”, said they are there to restore order.
“I am one of the guys employed by the owner of the flea market (only identified as Mr Mudzengerere) as a security officer. Our job is to restore order and issue out tables. People pay $3 to council and $7 from Monday to Thursday to Mr Mudzengerere while on weekends the charges are US$10 per day,” he said.
He said they get paid on a daily basis, though he could not divulge the amount they get for their services.
“We are paid very little every day, as you know that someone’s salary is private and confidential, I cannot tell you how much,” he said.
Memory Muendamberi who came to try her luck on the same spot said: “I have been operating in a flea market situated along Chinhoyi Street for the past eight months. Business has not been brisk inside, so I came here today to see how others are faring and things here seem to be in place,” she said.
Efforts to get a comment from the owner of the flea market proved futile after one of his securities gave this writer his number for further questioning, but the number was said not to be available.
At the Fourth Street bus terminus, it is the same story of hustle and bustle plays out.
Munyaradzi Kembo, a cellphone accessory vendor, said it was a good to have a place to operate from.
“I am relieved to have my table here since during the days I was conducting my business in the pavements life was unbearable. It was like a cat and mouse game where we could be chased away by municipal police. When we got arrested we would pay $5 fine unlike here, I pay $3 to municipality,” he said.
Yet concern has been raised on the issue of cleanliness, health and the aesthetic beauty of Harare — the Sunshine City.
The council says it is alive to the various concerns.
But first, it has to deal with the money.
Town Clerk Dr Mahachi said: “This initiative will increase revenue to council and Government, bring sanity and orderliness in the city. Additional revenue will help council build more vending sites and attend to the growing needs of the informal sector.”
Then, other things.
“We want to balance the requirements for more vending sites with the provision of adequate and appropriate facilities that safeguard against disease outbreak. We want also to ensure that what we do does not distort the aesthetic beauty and cleanliness of our city,” said Dr Mahachi.
He added: “Harare City will take an active role in promoting and working together with the various associations that represent the interests of the vendors, flea marketers and kombi operators. We will also listen to the voices that represent the interests of residents. We need to strike a working and harmonious balance.”
Dr Mahachi said he expected all vendors to be members of registered associations.