The Sunday Mail
While people jostle to head out of the Central Business District after work, others anxiously gather under a tree at the corner of Speke Avenue and Cameron Street where a preacher clad in a glittering red suit gives a sermon.
As the preacher continues with his evening oration, a rather senseless chase between policemen and pirate taxi drivers breaks out along Leopold Takawira Street — a few metres away from the preacher and his congregation.
Senseless in the logic that the policemen and the pirate taxi crews appear to know each other so well that the pursuit looks more like a hide-and-seek game rather than a law-and-order exercise.
Between the site where the crowd gathers for the ‘‘public lecture’’ and where pirate taxi crews fuss with the police, there are informal traders selling all sorts of products such as vegetables, mobile phone sim cards, beauty enhancement products and pirated CDs, among others.
The maverick vendors produce a deafening clamour as they compete to market their merchandise, not giving much attention to a truck full of municipal police officers and arrested fellow vendors, which unhurriedly manoeuvres through Cameron Street.
As the day fades away, more people gather at this open space to ‘‘bring divine intervention’’, sell and buy various goods at incredibly cheaper prices than what is offered in most shops in town.
A survey by The Sunday Mail In-Depth showed that at night, the place is a hive of activity, actually the activities are double what is experienced during the day.
More preachers and informal traders come in as the sun sets. Peddlers of pornographic discs openly ply their trade.
One informal trader said people take advantage of the place after 5pm when most council officers would have gone home.
Even some of the most renowned artistes have also taken advantage of the crowd to market their music and films.
Prophets and thieves rub shoulders at this place. While the self-styled prophets prophesy and interpret dreams to their various followers, the thieves steal from the unsuspecting followers.
In this square, agitated and suspicious individuals engage in various entrepreneurial activities.
The area is flanked by council’s Cleveland House, the Department of Works’ headquarters, a popular supermarket, and a food outlet while boutiques on the lower ground level of Reliance House stand on the other side.
One commuter, Tatenda Pachawo (19) of Epworth, says people at this square, either divine or iniquity, are brought together by a common goal of “kutsvaga mari”.
Pedestrians, whose movements are being stifled by the activities prevailing in the busy square, say it is baffling to see such activities happening adjacent the Harare’s Town House.
A visit to the place revealed that some people will be watching movies that are played on portable DVD players, which is meant to trigger sales of the pirated CDs.
“I think the people who provide ready crowds do not have anything better to do than staring and listening all day,” said one lady who only identified herself as Mirirai.
Harare Residents Trust committee’s officer Pretty Chabuda said the high level of unemployment was driving people to spend time in such places.
“Some people hope the problems in their lives can be solved during some of these public sermons,” she said.
“At the same time the gospel preachers are benefiting from freewill offering, as such you will see the same preacher everyday, meaning to say the area is now a church place.”
Chabuda also said that some corrupt municipal police officers who are reportedly demanding bribes from hawkers were also contributing to the chaos.
She said the city council could ease the situation if it legalised areas for vending after working hours.
In a bid to understand the goings-on at this open space, The Sunday Mail In-Depth managed to spend a day with Tonderai Dzoto Mujati, who sells cellphone accessories.
“We are all here by luck and chance and we are all here to survive,” Mujati said.
“The reason why this place is more popular is that it is a main route to the rank (Copacabana) so it is like a corridor which links downtown and uptown thus many people pass through this place.
“From as early as six in the morning to 10 in the evening, there is always someone selling something here.
“If it is not the vendors then it is the preachers or those guys who do magic, so everyone is doing something here.”
Mujati said vendors are always engaged in battles with municipal police officers whom he said “are in the habit of demanding bribes.”
According to residents, vending and dodgy dealings are happening everywhere in town. They say economic hardships as well as council’s inability to deal with the vendors have allowed the situation to get out of hand.
Fruit and vegetable trash is littered everywhere and the stench has taken away the glamour that Harare once had.
Environmental Management Agency spokesperson Mr Steady Kangata said the agency was working closely with the local authority to restore sanity in the city.
“Waste management has always been a challenge, we are working closely with the local authority and we also urge the city fathers to place bins at strategic points and timeously collect the refuse,” he said.
“Once litter is left uncollected, it is swept away by the rains into our rivers and not only does this cause water pollution but water-borne diseases as well.”
According to the city council, there are laws that regulate the activities of vendors and hawkers in town.
Under the Harare (Hawkers) by-laws 2013, no person is allowed to engage another to carry the business of hawking unless he or she is in possession of a valid hawker employer’s licence.
The licence must specify the number of hawkers that the holder may employ or retain as an agent.
Apart from the general restrictions, a hawker would need to fork out a US$20 application fee. If the application is approved, the one-year licence will cost US$120, an amount which is beyond most of the vendors, who are leading a hand-to-mouth existence.
The new regulations say that no informal trader shall remain stationary while conducting his or her business for more than 15 minutes.
In a statement, Harare City Council spokesperson Leslie Gwindi said regulating informal traders has always been one of council’s priorities.
“The issue of vendors being banned from selling their wares is not a new provision. It has always been council’s position that the vendors should be at their designated areas,” he said.
Mr Gwindi said council was short of manpower to enforce the operation of informal traders in specified areas.
“We are overwhelmed such that it becomes difficult to control the vendors, but our aim is to maintain order.”
The square has become both a source of livelihood for others and a nuisance for pedestrians, and it seems the responsible authorities are clueless as to how to restore sanity in the area.