THE conduct of the police in executing Operation Murambatsvina in Bulawayo has been declared unlawful by the High Court which ruled that the confiscation and seizure of goods from vendors interf
ered with individual’s property rights.
Bulawayo judge Justice Maphios Cheda ruled on August 2 that in destroying shacks and seizing and confiscating goods, the police had acted outside the confines of the law.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy on habitat, Anna Tibaijuka, came to the same conclusion in her hard-hitting report on the operation last month.
Justice Cheda made the ruling in the urgent chamber application filed by Bulawayo Upcoming Traders Association (Buta), a grouping of hawkers and vendors who challenged the police’s confiscating of their goods during the clean-up.
Buta cited as first, second and third respondents respectively the officer commanding Bulawayo Province, the Commissioner of Police and the Bulawayo City Council.
Said Justice Cheda on the conduct of the police in destroying shacks and seizing goods: “This conduct on the part of the police was unlawful. Police are empowered to enforce the law but can only do so within the confines of the law and not outside it. The indiscriminate and wanton destruction as described by applicant and not denied by first and second respondents cannot be allowed.”
He said the seizure of goods was unlawful.
“The seizure and confiscating of traders’ merchandise in the absence of a court order is unlawful as this interferes with individual’s property rights,” the judge said.
The judge also took a swipe at the Bulawayo City Council for allowing the vendors to sell their wares in the open. The court papers say the council was collecting rentals from the traders but had failed to provide appropriate shelter for them to conduct their business. The judge said the shelters that the vendors were using, made of metal roads and covered with canvas, were not proper.
“In my view that is not the type of shelters any local authority properly applying its mind would allow,” said Justice Cheda. “In fact by allowing this type of conduct on the part of the applicants, the third respondent (council) was perpetrating an illegality.”
The court called on the Bulawayo city council to “re-visit its allocation programmes of these vending bays bearing in mind the need to adhere to their own by-laws and regulations in the city”.
Robert Ndlovu of James, Moyo, Majwabu & Associates who was representing Buta, this week said the city council had agreed that the vendors could return to their vending bays.