Harare, vendors’ enduring stand-off

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Municipal police early last year destroyed vendors’ stalls in Harare’s city centre.

… as city battles disease outbreaks

“I CANNOT let the fear of the municipal police destroy my only source of income. If I just sit at home, where will I get money for school fees for my children and, let alone, what will they eat? I have to remain here if I am to earn a living,” declares 37-year-old Vongai Chadoko, a street vendor operating in Harare’s central business district.

By Hazel Ndebele

Municipal police early last year destroyed vendors’ stalls in Harare’s city centre.

Municipal police early last year destroyed vendors’ stalls in Harare’s city centre.

Chadoko, a Chitungwiza resident, sells fresh mushroom, carrots and tomatoes at the corner of Julius Nyerere Avenue and Robert Mugabe Way. She is one of thousands of vendors who have refused to comply with a Harare City Council directive for illegal food vendors to cease operations as a strategy to contain a typhoid outbreak that threatens to bring the city to its knees.

The mother-of-three reveals she buys vegetables everyday at Makoni Shopping Centre before making the trip into town in the late afternoon to sell her stuff.

“I wait for my two older children to come back from school so that they can take care of my youngest daughter who is five years old when I am out here selling. I go back home after 10pm almost everyday as I have to make sure that I earn enough to take care of my family,” she says.

On a good day, Chadoko sells vegetables worth US$30.

Vending in Zimbabwe has become common as a result of the deepening economic crisis reflected in a high unemployment rate. According to the International Labour Organisation, 95% of Zimbabweans are informally employed.
Harare has been battling a typhoid outbreak since last month. Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa a fortnight ago revealed 22 cases of typhoid had been confirmed in the city while 250 cases of the disease were being investigated.

Typhoid fever is an infection caused by the bacteria salmonella typhimurium and spread by contaminated food and water. It is spread between individuals by direct contact with the faeces of an infected person. Without prompt treatment, typhoid can cause serious complications and can be fatal.

Symptoms of typhoid include lasting high fevers, weakness, stomach pains, headache, and loss of appetite. Some patients have constipation, and some have a rash. Internal bleeding and death can occur but are rare.

The Harare City Council last week issued a 48-hour ultimatum for vendors to vacate the streets, blaming them for the typhoid outbreak.

However, the vendors have stayed put, arguing the Harare municipality was responsible for the outbreak as it was failing to provide adequate water and sanitary facilities. The city fathers, vendors say, are also failing to collect rubbish from the CBD and residential areas, facilitating the spread of the disease.

Chadoko believes it is unfair for city council to blame vendors for the typhoid outbreak.

“On the day they announced that we should vacate the streets within 48hours there was a burst sewage close to Bakers Inn along Julius Nyerere Way which had not been fixed for days and yet they want to put the blame on us. They should deal with those burst sewage pipes and clean up Mbare where the outbreak began,” she said.

Another vendor who only identified himself as Gift, who has since opted to sell his fruits at night to avoid being hounded by municipal police, said it was better to do business during the night to lessen the risk of getting his wares confiscated during the day.

“To be honest we have been vending in the streets of Harare for a very long time now and we have never had any problems of any diseases because as you can also see for yourself we provide water for our customers to wash their fruits,” Gift said. “The city council is responsible for the outbreak.”

The vendors could be right in their assessment.

Harare has over the years lost its lustre as the “Sunshine City”. Most of the city’s streets are congested and strewn with litter. Huge heaps of uncollected garbage can be seen in alleys and at commuter omnibus terminuses.
The proliferation of vendors, especially in the evenings, has also resulted in serious congestion and the city becoming an eyesore.

The street vendors, who include university graduates, are the stark manifestation of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis that has lasted well over a decade.

In a futile attempt to decongest the city, the city council last year identified 14 sites for vendors to operate from, but the hawkers shunned the sites, citing low business and lack of ablution facilities.

During a night tour of the streets of Harare, the Zimbabwe Independent witnessed vendors selling cooked food, particularly maize and boiled eggs. In downtown Harare, some vendors were using gas or charcoal-powered grilling pans to cook chicken livers, gizzards and feet on the streets for sale.

Night life is so busy in the capital city with vendors selling various wares from second-hand clothes to shoes and basic commodities.

Vendors’ associations say as long as the economy is in the doldrums, people will remain on the streets.

Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) director Samuel Wadzai Mangoma in an interview this week said the ban on the sale of vegetables and fruits is unreasonable.

“We see no link between the outbreak of typhoid and vendors. Vending has been there for six years and there has never been a problem of that sort. We call upon the City of Harare to stop the blame game and provide the services they are supposed to be providing,” Mangoma said.

Harare alone has over 100 000 street vendors registered under the banner of Viset.

Mangoma said there is a need for an assessment report to establish the correlation between the sale of vegetables/fruits and the spread of typhoid and that such documents must be made public as a matter of urgency.

His organisation argues that banning vendors from the streets will result in unnecessary loss of income and livelihoods by street vendors.

“The spread of typhoid has more to do with the shortage of water, sanitation and hygiene services than the mere sale of fruits and vegetables by street vendors,” he argued.

Mangoma said Viset will approach the High Court this week to seek an urgent interdict to suspend the ban until vendors’ concerns have been addressed.

According to a survey Viset conducted between February and April in 2016, at least 2 187 graduates in the country’s two largest cities, Harare and Bulawayo, are surviving on vending.

The report, titled Unemployment and Economic Shrinkage: From University to the Street, revealed that 381 graduate vendors additionally hold post-graduate qualifications. Approximately 75% of them have never been employed.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) this week said while it is clear that typhoid which has already affected over 200 people needs to be stopped, the campaign against vendors is dishonest given the neglect by the authorities of the real causative factors. ZimRights said the real causes of typhoid include broken down water reticulation and sewer systems.

ZimRights likened the urban clean-up campaign by government to the infamous Operation Murambatsvina carried out in June 2005, which directly affected 700 000 people and was excoriated by the United Nations.
“ZimRights maintains that destroying the livelihoods of the poor people can never be a just solution to the national crisis, but rather growing the economy, upgrading service delivery and democratising the national politics in order to provide opportunities and social security for all.”

Harare city health director Dr Prosper Chonzi said long-term solutions and steps to address the causes of typhoid should be taken.

“Long-term solutions to avoid typhoid outbreak are that the key drivers to typhoid have to be addressed which include necessary infrastructure, provision of clean water and sanitation, waste management should be addressed and total control of street vending of food which is not inspected should be dealt with,” Chonzi said.

“A clean environment and good hygiene practices should be encouraged at all times, people should access clean safe running water which is not from boreholes because those are contaminated and cause diseases such as typhoid. My hands are tied as to when these things are going to be done but I am doing my best to push the departments responsible,” he said.

Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the city health department should invest more in the monitoring and enforcement of public health regulations to improve living conditions.

“The government cannot apportion blame without evaluating their own duty and responsibility to the citizenry in terms of public health laws and the Constitution,” Shumba said.

“The magnitude of poverty in the urban local authorities has made a lot of residents desperate and careless, taking a cue from the duty bearers who have abandoned their mandate.

In other instances, the citizens lack general awareness of their environment. At the same time the council has not put small bins along streets for the convenience of pedestrians.”