Conflict erupts over vending space in Gokwe

Ephraim Munhuwei

The battle for vending space in Gokwe has reached a boiling point as informal traders clash with the local authority in a bid to secure prime locations for their businesses. The surge in vending as a means of livelihood has seen hundreds of traders inundating the central business district, causing tension and frequent confrontations with the council.

The situation has escalated to the extent that confrontations between the local authority and vendors have turned violent, highlighting the intensity of the conflict. In a recent incident on November 2, 2023, Gokwe Town Council Police allegedly confiscated vendors’ goods from the bus terminus during the early hours of the morning, prompting outrage from the vendors who claimed to be unaware of the operation.

This crackdown is not an isolated event, as a similar incident occurred on October 4, 2023, leading to heightened tensions between the council and the informal traders. The vendors underscored their frustration, particularly regarding the impact of council penalties on their businesses. Nokhuthula Nkomo, a vendor operating in the bus terminus, expressed her distress over the dwindling profits, attributing them to the council’s actions. She voiced concerns over the domination of vending spaces by undocumented structures, exacerbating the already tenuous situation.

“I am concerned that our space is now being dominated by unoriented buildings in which most of them do not even have leases or any documents,” she said.

It’s apparent that the issue of vending space has become a point of contention, with both sides expressing valid concerns. The clash between the local authority and the informal traders underscores the need for constructive dialogue and mutually acceptable solutions to address the challenges faced by all parties involved.

The influx of traders not only threatens the livelihoods of local vendors but also impacts established businesses, according to investigations.

Charity Mungwani, chairperson of the Combined Gokwe Residents and Rate Payers Association, shared her perspective on the ongoing conflict between the local authority and the vendors.

“While the council’s operation aimed to maintain order in Gokwe CBD due to concerns raised by residents, it is essential for the council to refrain from confiscating vendors’ properties or driving them away from their designated vending spaces,” remarked Mungwani.

She emphasized the responsibility of the council, particularly the policymakers and implementers, in addressing the issue. Mungwani stressed the need for the council to reclaim and reorganize the designated vending spaces, highlighting that the open areas reserved for vendors have been illegally occupied by developers. She advocated for the construction of shades for the vendors, pointing out that the Craft Centre was initially intended for farm wholesalers, not vendors.

Mungwani underscored the importance of upholding the law, expressing concern over the council’s approach and urging the councillors to refrain from legitimizing illegal activities.

A vendor, who lost goods during the operation, raised concerns about being unfairly targeted by the council, particularly when they are held accountable for litter and dumping that is often caused by travelers.

On the other hand, a resident of Gokwe voiced support for the council’s actions, citing health hazards posed by some vendors. He raised the issue of public health risks due to unhygienic vending practices, such as vendors sleeping and relieving themselves in the streets. He expressed worry over the potential for a cholera outbreak and emphasized the need for decisive action to address the serious public health concerns.

The diverse perspectives presented underscore the complex nature of the conflict and the range of factors that need to be considered to arrive at a resolution that addresses the interests and welfare of all stakeholders involved.

Another resident also expressed concerns to the local authority, highlighting the need for action to address the issue. “Council has to do something about the problem. Some vendors sleep in the marketplace where there are no toilets,” the resident emphasized. “If there’s a system for regulating night-time trading, there should also be accountability and control for trading during those hours.”

A vendor who suffered losses blamed the local authority for the setback in her business. “These people have nothing to lose, and as vendors, we cannot overlook that. We are striving to provide for our families despite hardships and harassment, and then someone comes and destroys what little we have. I caution them to stay away from our goods,” she asserted.

The informal sector has emerged as a crucial pillar of Zimbabwe’s economy, contributing at least 80% of the gross domestic product (GDP). However, the formalization of this sector has remained challenging, with vendors enduring discrimination and harassment from local authorities.

Mr. Gwasha, Chairperson of GUDRA, welcomed the council’s initiatives but emphasized the importance of following due processes and ensuring that vendors are supported amid the challenging economic conditions.

“We appreciate the council’s development plans and the 30% retention scheme for infrastructural development, including repairs and maintenance of vending stalls. However, it’s crucial that they do not destroy people’s property or take anything from them,” he stressed.

He further pointed out the neglect of the informal economy and emphasized the need for modern markets, as well as adequate water and sanitation facilities, emphasizing that the revenue should be utilized effectively to address these needs.

The various viewpoints expressed underscore the complexity of the situation and the importance of finding constructive solutions that consider the welfare of all stakeholders involved in the informal trading sector.

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