HARARE – Police are maintaining a heavy presence in most of the country’s cities as authorities fear the worst amid a clampdown on desperate vendors who are now fighting back.
In Harare, law enforcers have peppered the central business district with riot police officers, armed with batons while water canon vehicles routinely comb the streets.
At night, the vendors who are now piling up stones to fight back if and when cornered, which is quite often, descend on the empty streets to conduct their business.
On Tuesday night, the Daily News crew witnessed vendors engaging in running battles with police who had swooped on their wares, fruits and vegetables.
The capital city is now on a knife-edge as tensions continue to rise due to the clampdown meant to contain the twin scourge of cholera and typhoid, which has so far killed 45 people. The country’s main opposition, the MDC led by Nelson Chamisa, has described the latest clampdown as unwarranted.
“The Zanu PF government’s obsession and decision to evict vendors from the city centre is barbaric contemptuous and disrespectful,” MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said.
Mafume accused government of using cholera as an excuse to victimise people in an attempt to achieve ill-conceived goals.
He said the MDC is against the idea of blaming the victims for every calamity that befalls the motherland.
“To make matters worse the apparatus deployed to enforce the Zanu PF decision are confiscating clothes and electronic gadgets from vendors, merchandise that cannot in any scientific way transmit cholera. These are clear acts of theft,” said Mafume.
Leader of the Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation Makomborero Haruzivishe said they were mulling calling for a day of action to protest both the police clampdown and confiscation of wares.
“We have lost so much including our stalls worth $32 000, people have been assaulted especially during night raids, we have accounted at least 73 people who have been assaulted, those who are going to hospital are being asked to bring police reports which is not possible.
“As a way forward, we want a day of action so that we take the authorities to account. How can Zimbabwe be open for business when they are not allowing people to do business? If it was cholera alone, why take people’s clothes? Next week we are calling for a day of action where we are going to say enough is enough,” said Haruzivishe.
Anti-government pressure group Tajamuka spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi yesterday said the “police should first disarm and come to the negotiating table otherwise they will be chaos”.
“We have stated our position, the police have to put down their arms and come to the negotiating table, any force will be met with resistance of equal measure,” said Mkwananzi.
Government has indicated that police will not be withdrawn anytime soon as commuters are having a torrid time travelling back home as the law enforcement agents often engage in running battles with kombi drivers who break the law with impunity.
Deputy minister of Information, Broadcasting and Publicity Energy Mutodi said the war against vendors would continue until sanity and cleanliness are restored in Harare.
“Because of the cholera outbreak there is no compromise because of the issues of cleanliness, while we appreciate the economic realities, all vending in Harare must stop until such a time the fears have been allayed. Police are working with councils to make sure we make Harare clean again.
“There are designated areas where people can do their vending instead of the CBD where people have been openly defecating raising the risks of diseases like cholera,” said Mutodi.
Maxwell Saungweme, a Kenya-based political analyst, said the deployment of police officers, who have taken the duties of the lesser feared metropolitan police, shows a government in panic mode.
He said there is no evidence linking vending in streets in the city to cholera in Mbare, Glen View and Budiriro that is being caused by broken down water and sewer systems.
“They have to do first things first; open industry, resuscitate the commercial farming sector, create jobs then vendors will disappear,” he said.
Saungweme said trying to cure the issue of streets vendors by tankers was like cutting off a swollen finger using an axe instead of taking an antibiotic course.
“Cutting it off creates more problems and more infections,” he said.
“This will backfire and breeds violent extremism as people will feel hopeless after the only means of livelihoods they have is taken away by state violence. Once violent extremism begins all little gains Mnangagwa administration has registered will be reversed,” said Saungweme.
Professor of World Politics at the London School of Oriental and African Studies Stephen Chan said government will not solve the problem posed by vendors by chasing them away.
“The cholera outbreak is a very real threat to public health and safety. However, clearing vendors from the streets does nothing — unless they come from affected areas or have washed their vegetables in contaminated water from such areas.
“The compound difficulty is that, in the absence of formal sector employment, vendors constitute a huge proportion of household informal income — so the economic crisis will worsen for ordinary people. I’m not sure the government has thought this through in any sustained way. ” said Chan.