Monday, 13 July 2015

Is the vendors saga the new battleground for the MDCs and Zanu

THE government has recently upped its campaign to rid city centres of thousands of illegal vendors ostensibly to restore the glamour that cities were known for.

The government says it also wants to avert what could be looming disease outbreaks posed by lack of ablution facilities in the different vending sites, citing Harare, with over 10 000 street traders at a given time, as a ticking time bomb.

However, the frenetic force being deployed to jettison vendors from city pavements has been met with spirited resistance from the opposition.
Is the vendors saga the new battleground for the MDCs and Zanu
The MDC insists widespread street vending is only a symptom of a far bigger economic crisis which can best be addressed through the delivery of scarce jobs as was loudly promised by Zanu PF prior to the 2013 elections.

The unfolding tug-of-war has in the meanwhile given rise to wide beliefs local politicians have turned the genuine plight of street traders into a new political battle ground ahead of the 2018 national elections.

By coincide, it has emerged there are Zanu PF and MDC aligned vendors’ representative groups battling for control of vending spots.

Political analysts say Zanu PF views swelling populations of street vendors in the context of the famous powder keg that sparked the 2011 uprisings which led to the ouster of Arab dictators such as Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

The MDC-T, which has modelled its politics since formation around mass protests, is alive to this and enjoys the virtual siege that the situation puts on its rivals.

Former student leader Pride Mkono says that Zanu PF would want vendors ‘paddocked’ in so-called designated zones as opposed to the current scenario where they remain scattered and difficult to control.

There, he says, the vendors can fall under a Zanu PF command system as was being experienced at Mupedzanamo trinket market and city termini where traders and mahwindi are systematically forced to stop trading to attend to Zanu PF gatherings.

He adds: “More importantly, it’s is a battle to punish opposition supporters who are the majority of 'illegal' vendors and reward the ruling party supporters in the so called 'new vending sites'.

It is indeed a battle for control ahead of 2018 for Zanu PF.”

Harare based political analyst, Precious Shumba says Zanu PF’s bid to put vending under control is evident in the move to redeploy steely minister Saviour Kasukuwere to the local government ministry.

He continues: “It has become apparent that a lot of politicians are seeing the vendors issue as a battleground for gaining votes, that is why you are seeing messages such as ‘we will meet in 2018’."

He was referring to placards carried by protesting vendors during Thursday's clampdown.

“That in itself is a strong political message that is coming from politicians," Shumba says.

Only two days after Kasukuwere’s deployment, Harare municipal police moved with speed to beat up, arrest and raze down tents used by vendors in central Harare.

The operation has seen the burning down of a lot of wares being confiscated from the traders.

An economic rights activist who preferred not to be named said the MDC-T, which has seen its choreographed attempts to mass action go up in smoke under the watchful eye of security forces, may have finally found cannon fodder in vendors.

“With unemployment rising, informal trade has become the meeting place for many out of jobs,” he says.

“Politicians, especially those from the opposition, will want to bag the vendors for their own political expedience.

“However, sooner than later, vendors are going to be self-organised and more united to defend their livelihood.”

He adds: “The current attack on vendors only serves to crystallise their view of the real enemy and indeed it is the state. Their unity with other sections of society will signal the emergence of an important site of struggle.”

Similarly, other theories say the MDC should ordinarily voice its disquiet in the forced evictions which threaten its urban powerbase.

The opposition, it is said, has risen into a formidable opposition to Zanu PF over the years through a protest campaign and finds political mileage in the vendors saga, itself a microcosm of a failed system.

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