Chombo’s brutal war on vendors

Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo is up to his usual anti-people shenanigans.

‘The upsurge of indiscriminate vending in urban areas has acutely affected the ambience of our environs while compromising the health of residents. All local authorities are therefore required to immediately take necessary measures to remove the vendors from undesignated sites to alternative planned vending points,’ said Chombo.

This speech would certainly make sense in 1985 when unemployment was virtually zero and all the designated vending stations could accommodate the population of hawkers. However, given the current circumstances – 90% unemployment – the population of street vendors has swelled in the last 15years. According to the Zanu (PF) aligned ZBC, Harare has

10,000 vendors (a gross understatement)all competing for only 6,000 designated vending stations.

Pre-2000, school and college graduates joined the labour force in factories and offices. It is pointless for municipal police to spend valuable time chasing hawkers because practically all youths are on the streets vending. As long as the millions of unemployed youths are selling airtime and bananas, we can at least tell ourselves that they are ‘self  employed’ (euphemism for ‘jobless under Mugabe’). But once barred from carrying out the one available enterprise, Zimbabwe would certainly face civil unrest. Minister Chombo and his comrades in Zanu (PF) will do well to remember the old adage; an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. There is a second proverb; a hungry man is an angry man.

The minister of finance has acknowledged the importance of the informal sector. A vending tax has recently been introduced.

There are about 500,000 people left in formal jobs, from whom government collects tax (Pay As You Earn). This small group cannot bankroll  government projects. As it is, government struggles to meet its  obligations. Civil service wages are being paid from loans – a situation which is not sustainable. It is February and government is STILL paying out, in drips and drabs, civil servants’ bonuses (normally disbursed October-November). Interfering with vendors would be like deep-frying the goose  that lays the golden egg. Rather than undertaking a senseless campaign against a group of people who only want to feed their families, Minister Chombo should be encouraging urban councils to do their damndest to assist in formalising this vast sector. Chombo should begin by providing more public ablution facilities – where do vendors go when nature calls? – and erecting more sheltered vending spots.

And if Minister Chombo is genuinely bothered about ”the ambience” of our towns, he and his colleagues in the ruling party would fill up all the potholes that make driving a nightmare on Zimbabwe’s roads. The country has millions of unemployed youths milling about shopping centres. For a few bond coins, Chombo could easily have youths slash the jungles of grass, where muggers lie in wait in our towns.

The war against vendors is a cruel and senseless one. Senior government officials need to look CRITICALLY at themselves and ask why we as a nation have, as Chombo so eloquently put it, an ‘upsurge of indiscriminate vending.’ Every MP must ask the burning question; why are varsity graduates selling airtime, why are qualified accountants selling tennis shoes from the boots of their cars? The answer to this is simple; create jobs and vendors will leave the pavements.

Rather than regarding hawkers as eyesores, we should all see them as an important reminder of all that is wrong with our country.

Quite frankly, we should let vendors sell their wares even from the top of a Church spire. As long as people are selling airtime cards, we can all  rest easily at night. Chasing cars takes some doing – something which a well-fed, corpulent man like Chombo has never had to do. No man who spends  the day chasing customers has the energy left for leaping over Durawalls at night. Denied of their honest livelihood, these men and women will most likely resort to crime.

CHOMBO’S HYPOCRISY

After threatening to take away the livelihood of millions of street vendors, in the same breath,Minister Chombo fired off a salvo at illegal land dealers: ‘Uncontrollable urban sprawl has worsened through sprouting of illegal settlements. At the centre of these illicit developments are resurgent land barons who have been indiscriminately parcelling out land for personal benefit. Some of these people have resorted to using political rhetoric to promote and protect their interests.’

One would think Chombo was engaging in some demented soliloquy because he certainly sounds like he is talking to (and about) himself. Word on the streets – and the streets is where we all spend our days, thanks to Zanu (PF) – is that Chombo owns swathes of real estate in every town.

Minister Chombo further said culprits will ‘face the full wrath of the law.’ Ignatius Chombo must have been counting on a countrywide outbreak of amnesia when he made these utterances, but we have not forgotten. In November 2013 Chombo ordered a pointless land audit in Chitungwiza, which cost over $300,000. The needless process lasted 3weeks with members of the commission burning through US$15,000 a day in remuneration. To date, no land baron has been arrested – not even with a toy pair of plastic handcuffs, just to soothe the thousands of citizens who lost over $21M in illegal land deals. $300,000 is not monopoly money. For that amount, Chitungwiza council could have repaired a very long stretch of tarmac or built homes for the poor, rather than demolishing them, as Chombo does so often.

There is hardly ever rhyme or reason to the manner in which Ignatius Chombo operates. It was his hand behind the bulldozers that left 700,000 citizens homeless after operation Murambatsvina. Thereafter, Chombo’s ministry attempted dismally to do damage control with a sorry residential project, ironically  named Garikai-Hlalani Kuhle (in English, live comfortably), for a place where one would be hard-pressed to find even one house with fully functional indoor plumbing. And who can forget the ill-advised cancellation of all council bills, which left most municipalities struggling to pay salaries. Then came a second wave of property destruction, after the local government snoozed, while desperate home-seekers built their properties on Chitungwiza-Seke wetlands.

History will remember Chombo as a minister of local government who  destroyed more homes than he build and a town planner whose uncollected refuse and burst sewer pipes cost 6,000 lives after a countrywide cholera epidemic.

My pen is capped

Jerà

@JeraZW is songwriter, poet, columnist, blogger.

You can find more of his writings on www.thezimbabwean.co

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