IT must be stated from the onset that illegal vending in Harare and other urban centres is a complex issue that has many facets. It is an economic issue. It’s also a sociological, political and administrative issue. In fact, it is all of these and more. Now, there has been renewed debate about dealing decisively with the issue of illegal vendors who are clogging pavements and thoroughfares in Harare.
At the weekend, President Mugabe waded into the debate and expressed dismay at the phenomenon that has clearly outgrown Harare City Council, which reposes with the administrative functions. The same Council has failed miserably to deal with pirate taxis, known as mushikashika, and illegal acts by commuter omnibuses. The CBD — mostly the main streets leading to bus termini — has become a jungle. Mushikashika, kombis and illegal vending make for perfect disaster and everyday citizens, driving or pedestrian, endure the nightmare of negotiating the city’s streets.
It is a good thing that authorities are now planning a blitz on illegal vendors. The council, we are told, with support of the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, all law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders in Harare, will soon roll out an operation code-named “Restore Order” to clean the city of illegal street vending.
According to the city, this will be done through the re-organisation of the informal sector and development of a new transport system in efforts to lay the foundation for sustainable vending and commuter omnibus operations. This will be a process and it is to be hoped that the authorities will sustain momentum going forward and not lose interest too quickly, as is often the case.
“Restoring order” will not be smooth and it may also go so awfully wrong if authorities do not act smart. Some people may consider this as an attack on their livelihoods, which is rather strange because selling at undesignated points and preventing the smooth flow of traffic is indefensible. Vending itself is not illegal.
People just have to accept that there is need for order in the city and this implies that rules have to be made and followed. Vending is not a unique phenomenon. Every city in the world, many of them huge metropolis with big populations, have vendors, but they are not exactly the kind of lawless eyesore ours have become. A large part of the problem lies in and with Harare’s administrative failures and neglect.
Lack of discipline by vendors is also to blame. The claim that “there are no jobs” hence the rise in illegal vending is weak and must be dismissed with contempt. Going informal is not a licence to do illegal things, including, in this discussion, breaking city by-laws and shunning designated selling points. As the authorities embark on restoring order and bringing back the sunshine to the city, they have all our blessings.