The post-election violence which rocked Harare’s central business district on August 1 may have led to unfortunate loss of life and destruction of property but for Harare City Council it might be a case of “blessings in disguise”.
Having failed to rid the city of illegal vending stalls for years, council was presented with a simple task of collecting and dumping rubble of structures destroyed in the chaos.
Even council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme had to admit that there could not have been a more opportune time for council to move in and put down stalls which survived the riot.
“We are removing rubble in places that were destroyed around town. In the process, we are taking advantage of the situation and advising vendors to move to their designated vending sites,” he said a fortnight ago.
The exercise saw illegal stalls at Simon Muzenda Street bus terminus, Chinhoyi Street bus terminus, Park Lane and at the Charge Office being razed down.
Some residents have already noticed the results saying the crackdown has left Harare with a refreshing look and some breathing space.
Once touted the country’s Sunshine City due to its remarkable hygiene, Harare has over the years degenerated into a traffic and litter nightmare, a development typically blamed on vendors.
Vendors stand accused of blocking roads with their illegal structures and wares, resulting in motorists and pedestrians failing to move around freely. In extreme cases the stalls are pitched right in the middle of pavements and freeways.
“It is quiet refreshing, although it is not yet the ideal situation, we appreciate the effort from council,” said Harare resident Mildred Marimira.
“We were losing our city every day and it can be frustrating walking or driving around in this situation. We know the economy is tight and people do not have jobs but we can still do things the right way,” she added.
Harare Residents Trust director, Mr Precious Shumba, last week told The Herald that traders who wish to do their business in the CBD should formalise their operations.
“Informal traders should operate from designated points with suitable infrastructure like sanitary facilities,” he said.
“The central business district should be really open to business for those who are paying their taxes and rates to the council and bringing revenue to the council. Informal traders are not supposed to be filling our pavements and streets, thereby disrupting the free flow of traffic and human beings. Instead, they have to be accommodated where they can conduct their business without any interference on other people’s businesses.”
The operation has not gone down well with vendors. It has provoked an outcry with many saying they were not adequately warned by city council before the exercise. Some claim that they lost wares worth thousands of dollars as they allege the exercise was conducted in a violent manner.
“There is something not right about the manner in which the city council conducted its operation. We are stakeholders and whatever circumstances they should have given us proper warning because we ended up incurring losses.
“If we had been warned we would have removed the structures ourselves and sold the construction material. Now we have lost everything, we even lost wares and sales worth thousands of dollars and this leaves our households vulnerable.”
Mr Chideme defended the move saying council has always insisted that vendors should relocate to designated sites.
“The exercise is genuine, it is meant to minimise the number of vendors in the central business district. We are relocating them to designated stalls out of the CBD. We want the city to be traffick-able. Our goal is persuasion, persuasion and engagement,” he said.
While the clean-up exercise is showing positive signs, experts believe there is still a long way to go in solving the problem permanently. They believe putting down the illegal infrastructure was just the first step in the battle to remove illegal vendors.
Evicting informal traders from the CBD is likely to be a huge task as the vendors have re-grouped with some even re-erecting their illegal stalls. Streets such as Robert Mugabe Avenue are still flooded by vendors who sell just about anything at any given time of the day.
Experts also feel council and Government have not yet mounted a serious charge to free the city off the firm grasp of illegal vending. Some theories even claim there are big chefs in both the central and local Government who are benefiting from the chaos in Harare.
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