THERE was drama in Bulawayo on Thursday when municipal police and vendors fought running battles along Basch Street as the law enforcement agents attempted to get rid of illegal hawkers.
Infuriated vendors trying to make a living amid the prevailing harsh economic environment, pelted municipal police with missiles, much to the chagrin of the law enforcement agents who had to call in details from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
Eyewitnesses told Southern Eye that the municipal police, referred to as omakokoba, drove into the area and started to aggressively “loot” vendor’s goods, throwing them into a city council truck. Thandolwenkosi Nkomo, one of the eyewitnesses said the municipal police tried to arrest the vendors, but the informal traders retaliated by throwing stones at them.
“The municipal police went to the stands and looted some of the vendor’s goods. In the process, they were pushing vendors and threatening to beat them up and this did not go down well with the vendors and they started throwing stones at the municipal police.
“The municipal police managed to grab one of the vendors and they threw him into the car and started beating him thoroughly,” Nkomo said.
Ivy Moyo, a vendor, said municipal police confiscated her goods. When she tried challenging them she was pushed to the ground, raising her temper.
“They just took my stuff away and when I tried talking to them they pushed me to the ground and I reacted by pushing away the municipal police who kept pinning me on the ground,” a furious Moyo said.
ZRP are said to have intervened to cool tempers.
For a long time, there have been running battles between vendors and municipal police who have been confiscating the vendors’ wares.
An increasing number of people have turned to vending in the country’s second largest city in order to make ends meet as the economy continues to melt down, with companies scaling down operations or shutting down altogether.
However, vendors said it was time the council started accepting that they would not stop vending because the economy has nothing in store for them.
“We have been in this business for years now and what seems to amaze me is that the council is failing to come to terms with us being vendors.
“It is not a secret that the economy is very unfriendly and we wonder where they expect us to get the money to send our kids to school,” Daniel Dube another vendor said.
Gugu Dewa, also a vendor, said council should stop harassing hawkers, saying the local authority was fighting a losing battle. Dewa said council should instead make it easy for vendors to acquire vending licences.
“We will not stop being vendors because it is the only way we are making ends meet.
“We are prepared to face the municipal police whenever they decide to ambush us. All they need to do is provide us with licences,” she said.
Ambrose Sibindi, organising secretary for the Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association said the council should realise that the country at large is going through hard times.
He said the only way that the council could resolve the issue of illegal vending is by creating more vending bays.
“The reason why the vendors are now aggressive is because they have been pushed too far. Council should come up with measures to accommodate the vendors because companies in the city are closing everyday leaving many jobless,” Sibindi said.
“The city fathers should be sensitive to the resident’s plight because as it is people are doing anything to earn a living.”
Council officials were not immediately available for comment on the latest blitz on vendors.