BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA /SHARON BUWERIMWE
HARARE City Council (HCC) backed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police yesterday demolished vendors’ market stalls and tuckshops in Mbare, Harare, leaving the area resembling a battlefield.
There was heavy police presence in Mbare most of yesterday with the area having been cordoned off to vehicular traffic very early in the morning. Only pedestrians could get in or out of this populous suburb.
On Friday, the opposition MDC Alliance party had informed residents of the impending demolitions in Mbare, accusing Harare Provincial Affairs secretary Tafadzwa Muguti and Zanu PF of spearheading the demolitions.
“In Harare Metropolitan Province, Zanu has directed Harare City Council to demolish markets and tuckshops in Mbare. The process will start tomorrow Saturday, 8th of January 5am in the morning,” the MDC Alliance advised on social media.
Contacted for comment during the demolitions yesterday, Muguti refused to say anything about the operation.
“I cannot comment on that,” Muguti said curtly before cutting off the conversation.
The demolitions began around 8.00am with bulldozers and front-end loaders pulling down all structures deemed illegal. Scores of informal traders were left counting their losses with some saying they had been ruined permanently. Most of the structures that were torn down in yesterday’s operation were those built along roads around the Mupedzanhamo area.
The operation was rolled out under the watch of police officers and soldiers deployed in the area to avoid likely backlash from angry victims.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “Police were just there to maintain law and order.”
The affected vendors and tuckshop owners blasted the government and the city council for literally condemning them to poverty.
Those that spoke to The Standard said after getting wind that demolition would take place, they rushed to remove their merchandise out of the shops while some pulled down part of their structures in a bid to save building material from ruin. Some vendors were however, caught unawares and their goods were destroyed as their structures were pulled down.
The traders said they had recently sent emissaries to government seeking to have the authorities provide them with proper and legal market places to operate from.
Relating yesterday’s operation, one of the affected traders, Simbarashe Chibaya said the police were deployed in Mbare very early in the morning and they gave no chance to vendors that came trying to remove their wares.
“We had heard that they were coming, and so some traders started removing their stuff last night, but most failed to do so. These people are really heartless; they came before 8am just to demolish our vending stalls. Personally, I have been hurt beyond words. I have a son who will soon be going to university and I need to raise school fees for him. What am I going to do now?” asked Chibaya who appeared distraught and disillusioned. “Can you imagine what was going on in their heads, coming to destroy our livelihoods during the rains?”
A retired teacher, Mary Mujokoto, who had now turned into vending for survival said her market stall had become her major source of income.
“I am a retired teacher and selling wares has been providing me with income. I had 12 employees that were selling different wares for me in Mbare. The affected traders need to support their relatives in rural areas too. Some of our relatives are sick, and vending was our source of livelihood,” she said.
Another vendor who could not reveal her identity as she was sobbing bitterly kept asking rhetorical questions and accusing the government of being cruel to its own citizens.
“Covid-19 affected us yet they come and rub salt on the wound. Where do they want us to get the money to survive? The government just wants to see us suffering, yet they are living luxurious lives. Maybe they should just kill us; we are tired of these continued demolitions,” said the vendor.
Mbare resident Takudzwa Moyo said the government was now pushing people to resort to crime in order to survive.
Vendors for Social and Economic Transformation executive director Samuel Wadzai said the demolitions were illegal as there was no court order.
“It is barbaric to destroy people’s livelihoods when there are no alternative places provided,” Wadzai said.
MDC-Alliance secretary for Local Government Sesel Zvidzai said government should legalise the informal sector rather than abuse citizens that were trying to earn an honest living through vending.
“Traditionally, whenever it’s cold or raining, Zanu PF always wants to punish people in cities because they know that they rejected them long back. So they are trying to punish them,” Zvidzai said.
“Our policy is that we support the poor, we don’t punish them because they are already suffering. If there is need for regularisation of informal sectors, we believe we must regularise rather than punish the people.”
Acting Mayor Stewart Mutizwa was not answering calls yesterday.
But suspended Harare Mayor Jacob Mafume said: “Whenever there is rain, the demon of destruction awakens in Zanu PF without notice or care. They destroy households on the order of unelected officials.