Cops harass female vendors

Linda Ndlovu keeps looking nervously around her as she persuades one passer-by after another to buy her neatly packaged vegetables along Bulawayo’s Lobengula Street.

ZCIEA Bulawayo President Musawenkosi Nyoni.
ZCIEA Bulawayo President Musawenkosi Nyoni.

Suddenly three male plain clothes police officers emerge from behind and grab her shoulders hissing “You are arrested, take your wares, let’s go.” After struggling for a few minutes, she is subdued and bundled into an unmarked white pickup, leaving on lookers and other vendors pondering on her fate as well as that of her wares.

The event is a daily experience that Ndlovu and hordes of female vendors encounter on the streets of Bulawayo while trying to eke out an honest living.

The Bulawayo president of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), Musawenkosi Nyoni, said her organisation had noted an increase in the incidents of abuse of female vendors by municipal and Zimbabwe Republic Police.

“In some cases police officers are demanding sexual favours in exchange for freedom from women they arrest while selling their wares in the streets,” she said. “They also touch the women inappropriately during the so-called arrests.”

She said female officers should deal with female vendors “if ever they are breaking the law”. “why is it that these male officers waylay the innocent women while they are in plain clothes. They do not even produce their identity cards,” said Nyoni.

The ZCIEA boss also took a swipe at the Bulawayo City Council for failing to provide women with sanitation facilities at vending sites. “Despite collecting daily taxes from the vendors, the council has not even bothered to construct toilets for them. Most of the vendors are forced to use sanitary lanes to relieve themselves,” she said.

Vendor Shumirai Marongwe said most vendors in the city were operating without vending bays, sheds, bins or storage facilities, conditions which she said were putting their health at risk. “We need council to provide us with these facilities because we are paying taxes. During the rainy season it is extremely difficult to do business. Most vendors have lost their wares to thieves because we do not have storage facilities,” she said.

Another vendor, Gladys Ncube, said most women had unsuccessfully tried to obtain licences from the city’s Health Department.

“It’s not that we do not want to pay the licences. Some of us have visited the city council on numerous occasions seeking clarification over the issue. But it seems the by-laws are silent on the modus operandi of our type of business. We wish this issue could be sorted out so that we can operate properly. We have lost a lot of revenue due to bribes,” she said. The application to acquire a hawker’s licence costs $20 while the licence itself costs $120 a year.

The closure of industries in Bulawayo has forced many women into vending. Despite collecting substantial revenue from the sector, local authorities have not been willing to invest much into vending facilities.

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