Spare a thought for the vendors

If the economy was performing well, we would not be seeing so many vendors in the streets of our cities and towns. Granted, they have become an eyesore and a nuisance and something must be done. BUT the government must avoid heavy-handed tactics in seeking a lasting solution to the problems caused by the overwhelming number of vendors in urban areas.

Paul Bogaert
Paul Bogaert

The Harare municipality has decided to rope in the police in order to force the vendors to comply with a government ultimatum that expired last Friday, which seeks their eviction from the city centre. The desperate vendors, who, after all, are only trying to make an honest living and to feed their children, have vowed to stay put.

That must not be read as stubbornness on their part. It is clear that vending is a source of income for food, shelter and school fees for the many breadwinners who have decided to set up shop on the streets.

If they are ruthlessly removed (as happened during Operation Murambatsvina in 2005), the consequences could be ghastly. Thousands would be left with no source of income and plunged into utter desperation. Children would be forced to drop out of school, there would be widespread hunger and starvation and diseases such as malnourishment would increase. Parents would have no money to pay hospital bills. Worse still there will be social unrest as people cry out to be fed, clothed and sheltered.

With all these possible scenarios in mind, it is incumbent on the government to ensure that the removal of the vendors is done in a way that cushions them against further poverty. There is urgent need for municipalities and central government to move the vendors to alternative places where they can continue with their efforts to earn a living in a meaningful way.

It must be ensured that the traders are assured of continued markets. The tendency, more often than not, is just to drive them to places that are not viable, but this must be discouraged. In any case, doing so for purposes of convenience on the part of government is merely postponing a crisis as the vendors would still return to the urban streets to carry on with their activities.

A humane approach to the vending crisis is essential. The vendors are out in the streets not out of choice. The state of the economy has driven them there and government has a constitutional obligation to ensure that their socio-economic rights are respected and promoted.

Those in authority would be wise to remember that a desperate man is a dangerous man.

Post published in: Analysis

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