The Zimbabwean government may have unwittingly set itself on a potential explosive path with the growing informal sector, with a newly appointed vice president suggesting vendors should be taken off the streets and search for real jobs.
On separate occasions this week, Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko and Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo declared that vendors should be removed from the streets in all urban centres with immediate effect, arguing they were compromising health standards.
We cannot accept a man who is fit, sitting down and selling tomatoes
“I have got my own views regarding vending where you find an able bodied man seated selling tomatoes,” Mphoko said.
“There are better things to do for someone who is fit except for those who are indisposed and physically challenged.
“You should wake up and see what you can do for a living.
“We cannot accept a man who is fit, sitting down and selling tomatoes. No, let’s do something better.”
This has angered informal trades in a country where literally half the population has been reduced to vending, as an economic downward spiral continues unabated.
About 5,7 million people are said to be eking a living from the informal sector.
Independent analysts claim Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is above 95%, but a recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) report says only 5,42% of the country’s population is unemployed.
However, the ILO report indicates that subsistence farming and vending are forms of employment.
The National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) has not taken the vice presidents statements lightly.
Sten Zvorwadza, NAVUZ chairman, told a news conference that both Chombo and Mphoko’s statements against vendors were in bad taste.
“NAVUZ would like to unreservedly dismiss minister Chombo and his erstwhile transgression partner Vice President Mphoko for making reckless and immature pronouncements about the vending enterprise in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“The two have finally confirmed our long-held fears that we have a selfish group of men and women running the affairs of this country.
“We urge the Vice President and the minister to cool down and apply their minds away from the influences of whisky and other mind altering liquids.”
Zvorwadza said vendors would resist attempts to push them out of the streets.
Vending in Zimbabwe has now become a prime source of survival, not only in the CBD, but also at almost every shopping centre in the capital, Harare’s suburbs.
In the affluent suburbs, cars with boots full of different wares fill car parks, while vendors practically harass motorists that park at the shopping centres.
Social commentator Stanley Tinarwo said the economic crisis that has seen a growth in the informal sector is indicative of the transformation of the state from being benign to being completely negligent over the livelihoods of the populace through inorganic planning.
“The overall impact of such an approach by the state has literally led to a revolutionary change in how Zimbabweans survive on a regular basis, as well as negatively affecting our social value systems,” he said.