Street vending, a major source of livelihood for struggling Harare residents

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By Evernice Tayisepi

The economic hardships that are being experienced by Zimbabweans have resulted in older adults swarming the streets of Harare in an effort to make a living out of vending. Street vending in the pathetic economic environment is a relief to the suffocating economy as it creates jobs, not only for older adults around the city but also for the youths who most of them are drowning in drug abuse as a stress reliever. Street vending also provides alternative source of income particularly for women and provides low cost products mainly to low-income groups in the city who are trying to make ends meet in an economy where jobs are not available.

The increase of vending stalls is a clear sign of the high rate of unemployment yet only in June this year 2021, the City of Harare demolished vending malls, threatening the survival of the small scale businesses. The sad part is the city council workers take all the stuff the elderly sell when they catch them unaware, leaving the majority of them at a sad loss. The City council should have been sensitive and considerate enough and provide acceptable alternatives to the vendors and all relying on the informal sector, before demolishing the vending stalls. In as much as vendors should operate in designated places, the economic environment is not so encouraging hence they end up operating in the undesignated places which they are now destroying. As for the recent demolitions, the city council should have given a clear and long notice period at least than catching the elderly poor and
vulnerable unaware.

Vendors have a right to find economic opportunity in an environment where opportunities to do so in the formal sector are scarce. As much as safety and order are important, the livelihoods of hundreds of people (elderly) who are relying on selling for the livelihoods of their immediate and extended family are equally important or else people are relegated to extreme poverty, considering most of these elderly, especially women are widows who will be looking after grandchildren who have parents drained in extreme poverty due to the high unemployment rate amongst the young adults. The destruction of vending markets is just but a huge blow on these elderly vendors who are surviving on a hand to mouth basis. It continues to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, especially in the context of Covid-19, where lockdown is the new normal widening the gap between
the rich and poor.

Vending has helped older adults to deal with stresses that are associated with being idle all day in
homes. In a dialogue with the elderly woman, a vendor in Budiriro, she said opportunity permitting, she wants to be employed but in the meantime vending is the only option she has, to sustain her family. The community they live in should offer free space for them to keep them occupied during the day hence meeting their social needs and also economic needs. Depression affects the elderly mostly, due to idleness, so the fact that they now establish small scale markets outside their home gates is therapeutic and should be embraced by building them legal vending stalls.

This calls for regulatory authorities and government to put in place legislation and policies that recognize street vendors as key players in the country’s national economy. The suggestion is that local authorities prepare and provide space for the elderly vendors before they demolish vending structures with no alternative solutions to people who are only trying to make an honest living out of
their vending markets. The City Council should engage with vendors to come up with immediate solutions whilst working on permanent and sustainable strategies. Governance structures in local authorities should be strengthened as well and transparency equally with accountability should be improved, to enhance revenue collection which the Local Authorities need. Political interference and corruption should be arrested in order to achieve this.