Vendors yearn for city centre return

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“ON the first day we were relocated to this site I only managed to sell goods worth fifty cents and at the end of the day I wept as the thought of making so little every day greatly disturbed me such that it was hard to hold back tears,” says dejected vendor Gladys Munemo.

Hazel Ndebele

It has been almost a month since 32-year-old Munemo, who used to sell her wares on the then crowded street pavements of Harare’s central business district (CBD), was relocated to a new vending site — an open ground just outside the City Sports Centre along Rekayi Tangwena Avenue in Belvedere.

When the Zimbabwe Independent visited the site last Friday afternoon, a City of Harare water bowser truck was busy sprinkling water on the vending site to control the thick dust that was dampening the already low vendor morale.
Sanitary facilities are yet to be constructed at the site, but there are mobile toilets which the city council charges two rands for use.

There is a grave silence at the vending site in stark contrast to other such sites like Mbare Musika where vendors and middlemen noisily tussle for customers.

Hardly surprising for Munemo says at most the open ground has not had more than 10 vendors at any given time, as traders continue to shun the site which has enough space for more than 200 vendors.

There were only three vendors when the Independent toured the site, of which one was sleeping on a piece of cloth in the scorching sun as the trading place does not have shelter, or tables to lay their wares, for that matter.
The vendor, who only identified himself as Martin, sells second-hand clothes. He bemoaned the lack of business at the site saying he sometimes goes the whole day without selling anything.

The vendors are registered and have identification cards which they use to pay a daily vending fee of US$1,20.
“The only time I have sold goods worth talking about so far was when I took home US$14 on a Sunday, largely because of the large number of people who attend church at the City Sports Centre that day,” says Munemo who sells various products including chewing gums, freezits, water and popcorn.

“One of our biggest concerns is that we have to pay R2 each time we use the toilets, but I cannot afford to pay that amount for myself and my two children who help me with the vending, hence we end up using the bush.”
Although business is slow, the vendors said they have chosen to abide by the law as they had gotten tired of playing cat-and-mouse with municipal police in the CBD, where scores of other street vendors continue to trade especially after working hours.

The number of vendors in the CBD has fallen due to municipal police who are confiscating their wares and allegedly demanding bribes from those who want to be spared. However, defiant vendors are still operating in their hordes downtown, especially around the Copacabana bus terminus.

The city council has so far identified 14 sites for vendors as it goes ahead with plans to clean up the city where the teeming ranks of vendors had virtually taken over.

Identified areas include Fourth Street, corner Cripps and Seke Roads, Luna Park, the holding bay under construction in Mbare along Simon Mazorodze Road and another to be established in the eastern part of Harare.
However, vendors are shunning these new sites complaining of non-profitability as they are away from their target customers. The vending site at corner Cripps and Seke Road, commonly known as Coke Corner, has about 100 wooden selling tables, but only about 20 are currently occupied.

The site, which has an air of expectancy due to the many unoccupied vending stalls, has tents to protect sellers against the weather, unlike the City Sports Centre site. Vendors mostly sell second-hand clothes whose prices range from US$1 to US$6.

A vendor at the site said although business was slow, they were happy with their new trading base as they were no longer bothered by “corrupt” municipal police.

“It is a relief to trade freely, moreover we are required to pay a vending fee of US$1,20 per day, but council officers are lenient and you can pay when you get the money,” said John Mutariko who added that ablution facilities were free.

Only a fortnight ago Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa torched a storm when in his mid-term fiscal review he banned the importation of second-hand clothes which most Zimbabweans have come to depend on as they cannot afford new clothes due to severe economic hardships.

But the furore the decision has raised, including in parliament, has given second-hand clothes vendors hope the decision would be reversed as used clothes are their source of livelihood in a country in which the struggle for survival keeps getting tougher.

Widespread vending in Zimbabwe is an outcome of — and perhaps the most obvious sign of — the deteriorating economic situation in the country which has resulted in company closures and massive job losses.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency 2014 Labour Survey Report, 94% of the currently employed aged 15 years and above are informally employed.

But the vending sites so far made available by the city fathers will only cater for 6 000 vendors in Harare which has more than 100 000 street vendors, says the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz).
Samuel Mangoma, Navuz director, said the designated vending sites must charge affordable rates that are in sync with income levels.

“It is not surprising that most vendors are shunning the new vending sites at Coke Corner and Coventry Road because it is not fair that they have to pay to use ablution facilities on top of the daily vending fees they are supposed to pay to the city council,” he said.

“We expect the vending fees to cover all expenses because these vendors are no longer earning as much as they used to when they were in the CBD.”

It is the lack of customers that could attract such vendors back into the city centre where business is brisk, but where there are now more municipal police officers to contend with, as the city fights to clear the CBD of vendors.

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