Army fingered in renewed onslaught against street vendors

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By Anna Chibamu

LESS than a week since the fatal shooting of six civilians during post-electoral protests in Harare’s CBD, Zimbabwe’s army has reportedly been unleashed to destroy vending stalls at Harare’s busy Copacabana Flea Market.

Vendors interviewed said this was a combine operation with the Harare City Council, which is keen to rid central Harare of massive street vending.

Council employees and the army are said to have descended on the busy market in the dead of night between Friday and Saturday and loaded bales of clothing and shoes onto council and army trucks.

They went on to beat up those hired to guard the place during the night.

Authorities want vendors who sell wares in the city centre to relocate to designated areas which have often been said to be far from potential clients.

“If they really want us out of town, where will we get clients at those designated places they talk about?” said Plaxedes Nyimo, a vendor at market.

“The way they are doing it is so ruthless. Really, to use the army to steal our wares.

“We are not at war with anyone. We just want to survive. Why are we being taken for trash?”

Another vendor who preferred not to be identified for fear of victimisation believes the operation was a Zanu PF government’s response to rejection by Harare voters in the just ended harmonised elections.

She said the decision to drive them out of the place was a ploy to parcel out the same vending spots to Zanu PF supporters.

“Why are they using force on us? We did not march to be treated like this,” she said, while referring to the massive street march in support of an army seizure of government from then President Robert Mugabe November last year.

“What kind of a war is this? The government sees us as garbage, as uneducated, as people who do not reason.”

Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme denied that council had roped in the army to drive out vendors from the city centre.

He however admitted council has resumed its operation to decongest the CBD.

“The exercise is genuine; it is meant to minimise the number of vendors in the central business district (CBD),” he said.

“We are relocating them to designated stalls out of the CBD. We want the city to be trafficable. Our goal is persuasion, persuasion and engagement.”

Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Colonel Overson Mugwisi denied any army deployment in operations aimed at clearing the city centre of street vendors.

“I do not know anything about that. I am hearing this from you. Those who have complaints should report to the police if there is any criminal element,” Mugwisi said. 

The onslaught on vendors had been stopped some months before the July 30 general elections with signs politicians were not keen on upsetting a potential support base among street vendors.

The operation has resumed less than a week since the elections.