Space barons have emerged in Harare and are quietly demanding protection fees from thousands of vendors who face eviction from the CBD.
By Phyllis Mbanje
These faceless but very real forces have been dismissed by Zanu PF as mere opportunists not in any way linked to the ruling party, but recent events actually suggest they have links with politicians.
Vendors and their unions confirmed that indeed some runners of politicians were making a killing by demanding protection fees which the desperate vendors have been paying faithfully on a daily basis just so they can stay and continue vending.
These space barons, who charge anything from a dollar up to US$8, can make up to US$1 000 per day from the hapless vendors who have a pending eviction order hanging over their heads.
Some go around selling cards which they claim will secure the vendors space when the government starts allocating vending spaces, claiming those without the cards would lose out.
This was confirmed by some vendors who mistook The Standard reporter for a representative of one of such groups and spilled the beans. The Standard wanted to find out about the protection fees and cards.
“I already got my receipt from your colleagues yesterday, it’s only that I left it at home this morning, I left in a rush,” explained one of them.
Director of the Zimbabwe informal Sector’s Organisation (Ziso), Promise Mkwananzi said it was true that some politically connected people have turned themselves into middle men.
He described this breed as criminals who were a front of politicians pocketing huge sums of money from the collection of the “protection fees”.
“These people are outright criminals siphoning vendors out of their hard earned money under the guise of offering them political protection.The most prominent figure is [name supplied] a known Zanu PF activist,” Mkwananzi said.
The ruling party has tried to trivialise the existence of shadowy groups such as the Queen of Grace Zim Asset Trust, Graceroots Empowerment Projects saying they were bogus, but sources have maintained that the groups have political back up.
“This is not a new phenomenon, Zanu PF has been threatening and patronising vendors through bogus outfits such as Chipangano and Vapfumi Kuvadiki,” said Mkwananzi.
National Vendors’ Union of Zimbabwe director Samuel Wadzai said hawkers would not be intimidated by threats from government to remove them from the central business district (CBD).
He said the new vending sites were oversubscribed and space barons were waiting to capitalise on the situation.
“Government has to deal with those critical issues first,” he said.
Analyst Takura Zhangazha said politicians have always had a proclivity to abuse their tenure in office even at party level.
“The cash for space scams are a reflection of their corrupt tendencies in taking advantage of vendors who are already vulnerable and poor,” he said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said the government had deliberately created confusion in the case of vendors because it has failed to provide jobs for its people.
“There is a lot of politicking in the vending issues but what is evident is that the government is full of misguided priorities and the environment is not conducive at all,” said Rusero.
Harare City Council was still registering the vendors last week in an attempt to relocate them to designated areas set aside by the local authority.
“We are registering the vendors and so far it has been a peaceful process,” said the town clerk Tendai Mahachi.