By Leopold Munhende
FOR the umpteenth time, a joint operation to rid the capital’s streets of illegal vendors between the police and Harare City Council failed Thursday as the defiant traders were back on the streets within minutes of running battles with the security forces.
Shops along First Street such as OK supermarket were forced to close earlier than usual because of the clashes with anti-riot police also deploying in the city centre after the evening rush hour.
Two water cannon and three truck-loads of police officers could be seen along First Street around 1900 hours.
Street vending has been cited as one of the key factors contributing to the spread of cholera in the city which has left dozens of people dead with suspected cases now over 5,500 countrywide.
Harare vendors who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com after clashes at Fourth Street Rank said they should not be blamed for council and government’s failure to provide basic services.
“We have no jobs, we cannot stay at home and we cannot go to the rural areas because we will either starve to death or resort to crime; government should stop this,” said one Tinashe Nyagomo whose wares were taken by riot cops.
“Those at Town House and in government should not blame us for cholera because they know that this outbreak came from dirty council water; that’s the reasons why we will not leave town, they should forget about it.
Council has tried innumerate times to force vendors out of central Harare but failed with the latest attempt coming last Monday.
Harare Mayor Herbert Gomba said the violence witnessed in the city centre was perpetrated by vendors, not the police.
“We remain committed to engaging them; it was violence from the other side (vendors) not this side (authorities).
“We remain committed to engaging them, but we understand the emotions involved in this issue,” said Gomba.
Thursday’s operation, which was not pre-announced saw police being involved in running battles with vendors on First Street.
The anti-riot cops later moving onto Fourth Street and down town where they went on smashing the vendors’ stalls and beating up people on the streets.
MDC national vice chairperson Tendai Biti quickly took to Twitter to express his displeasure at the police’s heavy handedness in managing the situation.
“The brutality and heavy handedness with which the police and junta are currently meting out on vendors in Harare’s CBD is completely unlawful and unacceptable.
“This country has quickly descended into a fascist banana republic run on fear and coercion; we reject barbarism #RiggingDoesNotPay,” said Biti who represents Harare East in the house of assembly.
The crackdown comes a day after president Emmerson Mnangagwa set up a commission of inquiry into the August 1 post-election violence which left some seven civilians dead.
Health minister Obadiah Moyo and his local government counterpart July Moyo have been adamant that vendors are worsening the cholera situation which has claimed some 35 lives so far.
They have demanded that Harare City Council forces the traders off the streets.
Government has also banned vending in Budiriro and Glenview suburbs, which are the epicentre of this year’s outbreak.