Informal Traders, Residents Seeking Court Order to Block Demolition of Zimbabwe Vendors’ Stalls

Destroyed ... The City of Harare said it was implementing a government directive when it took down informal market stalls

Some informal traders and residents have filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court seeking an order to stop local and central government from demolishing their vending stalls and tuckshops in Zimbabwe.

In an application filed on Sunday by Dr. Tarisai Mutangi and Moses Nkomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the informal traders and residents together with some residents associations, are protesting that the current widespread demolition of tuckshops, vending stalls and other property belonging to or used by small and medium enterprises and informal traders by local and central government personnel was unlawful and should be stopped immediately.

Workers demolishing some of the vendors' stalls. (Photo: Taurai Shava)
Workers demolishing some of the vendors’ stalls. (Photo: Taurai Shava)

The informal traders, residents and residential associations represented by Chitungwiza Residents Trust and Kushinga Epworth Residents Association, which have some members who are individual owners and users of tuckshops and vending stalls, want the High Court to interdict local authorities and central government from demolishing any tuckshops and vending stalls.

According to the ZLHR, local and central government authorities have been demolishing informal traders’ market stalls and tuckshops across the country after Minister July Moyo issued a circular addressed to leaders of local authorities advising them of a recent Cabinet resolution and instructing them to “take advantage of the national lockdown to clean up and renovate small and medium enterprises and informal traders’ workspaces” and implored them “to make every effort to comply with the resolution.”

The ZLHR says in purported compliance with Moyo’s circular, local authorities and their associations by way of random verbal announcement, supposedly notified owners and users of tuckshops and vending stalls to pull down their tuckshops and vending stalls or face demolition and immediately commenced destruction of properties.

The informal traders and residents argue that Moyo’s circular is unlawful as it was not issued in terms of any provision of the law and that there is no law which requires local authorities to execute Cabinet resolutions outside the provisions of the applicable laws.

Demolished stalls in Gweru.
Demolished stalls in Gweru.
The unlawful instruction, the residents and informal traders charged, appears to have been taken seriously by some local authorities which commenced demolitions in an apparent compliance with Moyo’s circular.

Informal traders and residents argue that the demolition of tuckshops and vending stalls by local authorities amounts to compulsory deprivation of property in violation of the fundamental right to property enshrined in Section 71 of the Constitution to the extent that the affected owners and users of tuckshops and vending stalls pay fees and levies to local authorities and had not consented to the pulling down of their properties.

They further claim that local authorities have been indiscriminately demolishing tuckshops and vending stalls without any consultation with the affected citizens including those who have been paying fees and levies to councils.

“By demanding such fees and rates, local authorities do acknowledge the legal existence of the affected vending stalls and tuckshops and cannot suddenly deem them illegal structures, the informal traders charged.”

Demolished stalls in Bulawayo.
Demolished stalls in Bulawayo.

The informal traders and residents say local councils have not complied with Section 199(3) of the Urban Councils Act, which requires proper notice of any proposed demolition of illegal structure to be given to the owner of such a structure, a provision which provides for an appeal against the notice to be filed with the Administrative Court within 28 days, during which period no action may be taken on the basis of the notice until the appeal is either determined or abandoned.

The residents and informal traders argue that Moyo’s circular is a blatant violation of the lockdown measures announced by government through Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 as it necessitates the congregation of people among them vendors and local authorities’ personnel at the vending stalls and tuckshop sites to carry out the instructions issued by local councils thus exposing citizens to infection by the deadly coronavirus.

The informal traders claim that the state, with all its might and resources, can always clear up and renovate workspaces without violating the fundamental rights of its citizens and moreover, Moyo’s circular did not mandate local authorities to demolish any structures, but simply requires them to clear and renovate and hence it is possible for them to rearrange small to medium enterprises’ workspaces without demolitions.