Recently I took a leisurely stroll through the streets of Harare.
The walk evoked scenes that were reminiscent to Jesus’ encounter with iniquitous traders at the holy temple who were selling animals to be used for sacrifice.
To put it bluntly in modern lingo, Jesus lost his cool on seeing that “vendors” had occupied the temple for the purveyance of animals and other wares.
Matthew 21:12 partly reads: “And Jesus went to the temple of God, and cast out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice.”
Mentioning Jesus’ reaction to the scenes in the temple in the same breath as strolling along Angwa Street might be controversial or even sacrilegious. Apologies for any blasphemy caused.
The verse has been used for its poignancy in relation to what has become of streets in most towns; vendors here, vendors there and vendors everywhere!
Zimbabweans have discovered solace in street vending as it offers a form of reprieve from the extreme economic situation.
The extent and magnitude of street vending is a sure sign that Zimbabwe’s economy has changed considerably since economic emancipation catapulted all Zimbabweans into entrepreneurship. The revolution has made everyone to be a boss of their own.
No-one works for any other as there is little or no formal employment.
Enterprising Zimbabweans are expanding their business horizons by opening informal trading stalls along towns’ pavements.
The exponential increase of street vendors is due to the economic force-fields reacting to its haphazard indigenisation.
As a result, formal and regularised economic activities shrunk leading to resourceful Zimbabweans openly embracing street vending with humility and patriotism.
The people sought to maintain a semblance of economic activities hence the birth of street vending.
Bravo to the people of Harare and other towns for eking out some form of living through street vending.
The streets that for a while had been longing for traffic now rejoice as there is human traffic everywhere.
Street vendors of all sizes and shapes can be heard shouting on top of their voices advertising their wares.
Here and there men and women can be seen haggling over some items with others busying themselves by gambling. Life on the streets is at its most vibrant.
Street vending is like shopping in a massive open air market.
There are wares for sale at every corner and on every available space
People sell all sorts of things on pavements; dried food stuffs, hair products, natural and artificial aphrodisiacs, homeopathic medication with the purported efficacy to cure incurable diseases, pirated products, used and new clothes, motor vehicle spare parts and all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable items.
Street vending has come to epitomise the economic liberation Zimbabweans yearned for and voted for. Indeed every nation would like to achieve economic emancipation; but at what cost?
Zimbabwe’s issue of street vending has now spiralled out of control.
Town councils are finding it difficult to enforce order on the pavements as people are setting up stalls wherever they want with total disregard to local government regulations.
The flow of human and vehicular traffic in big towns is being impeded by the rise of street vendors who are setting up trading stalls everywhere.
Of course, there is nothing much for the people to do besides street vending.
The formal economy cannot provide for the needs of the majority and central government has no immediate solution to unemployment.
Most people acknowledge that street vending has killed off pavements and street corners.
The majority agree that there is a need to put some order in the way members of this sector conduct themselves.
There is also general consensus that this sector has to be taxed as it has become the largest source of employment.
The problem is that it is not going to be easy for the government to tax unregistered operations.
Government is loath to squeeze taxes from the street vending sector in its current state of disorganisation as this might be registration of chaos by default.
Now the government is beating the drums on the need to rid the streets of the menace.
The government has started sending threatening overtures and promises to forcibly clear the streets of vendors.
The government is advised to tread carefully on this thorny path. Wanton eviction has the potential to disrupt the livelihoods of almost 50% of the country’s population.
As the government is broke, it is obvious that there will be no restitution, respite or alternative.
Battle lines are being drawn and a messy fight is in the offing. Some are quoting the Bible as justification for a forcible removal of street vendors.
Part of Matthew 21:12 reads: “He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.”
All in all, Zanu PF is treading very gingerly as it has no answer to this quandary. Most in the hierarchy know the collective resistance that could be ignited by forcible clearances.