Mayor distances himself from evictions

Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni has distanced himself from the ongoing vendor eviction saga.

Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni
Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni

A government ultimatum for the eviction of thousands of vendors who have descended on central Harare in an effort to make ends meet as unemployment skyrockets expired on Friday. But the vendors have stayed put, arguing that they have nowhere to go.

Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said the municipality had roped in the services of the police to flush them out. But non-executive mayor Manyenyeni told The Zimbabwean that he had nothing to do with the ongoing eviction attempts.

He said government had assumed unilateral command of the campaign to remove the vendors. “This vendor matter is being driven by government directly or indirectly. You may get a better response from the ministry (of local government),” he said.

The mayor has in the past urged a solution that is sensitive to the plight of the vendors, while acknowledging that vending in the central business district was overwhelming the municipality.

“I concluded that they (vendors) are not wild as some would want to believe. I admit the city centre has been overwhelmed because they have taken their wares to the streets and in some instances leave a distance of only 30 or so centimetres and making it difficult for the movement of traffic and people,” he said.

“But let’s negotiate with them. Those are short-term arrangements until a vending place is realised. Vending booths should also be put in strategic areas,” said the mayor after his tour of the streets in late May.

Manyenyeni blamed government for the steep rise in the number of vendors. “The city has been overwhelmed, the economy has pushed vendors to these levels, but the minister is working on an arrangement. They have been forced into such circumstances. There is little business and those people are competing with each other.”

Manyenyeni’s position to distance himself from the vendor saga comes amid reports that Town House has turned into a battleground for wars between Zanu (PF) and MDC-T councillors who hold conflicting views on how the issue must be treated.

MDC-T, which dominates council, has reportedly ordered its councillors to resist the eviction of the vendors while management is taking orders from Zanu (PF) and local government minister, Ignatius Chombo, to move the vendors to alternative sites.

MDC-T has over the years accused Chombo of meddling in council affairs to counter the opposition party’s influence in the running of the municipality.

While the Zanu (PF) government is pushing for the removal of the vendors from the city centre, the ruling party is leading a process of registering the informal traders which it claims will be given stands elsewhere.

Ruling party members have been allocating vending sites to informal traders and collecting money from them while forcing them to vote Zanu (PF).

Unemployment worsened in Zimbabwe after the contested 2013 general elections that Zanu (PF) and President Robert Mugabe won with landslide victories.

There are about 100,000 vendors in Harare alone, according to the Vendors’ Union of Zimbabwe (VUZ) while, nationwide, about six million individuals are engaged in unregistered vending activities. At one time, government threatened to rope in the army to deal with the vendors but backtracked after widespread outcries. Zanu (PF) is being accused of letting the vending problem get out of hand during election time to curry favour with potential voters.

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