International Vendors Day Commemorations: Unity Is Our Strength

The 14th of November 2019 marks the 8th commemoration of International Street Vendor’s Day.

The day spotlights the significant contribution street vendors make towards their local economies. It is a time to commemorate the centrality of street vending to world economies and an opportunity for vendors to reflect on their challenges, achievements and opportunities. The day was first celebrated on the 14th November 2012 under the banner of Street Net International. In Zimbabwe, this year’s commemorations are taking place at the backdrop of the declaration of war on vendor’s livelihoods by the authorities, characteristic of their arrests, confiscation of goods, detentions, prosecutions, and assaults which has decimated the vendors’ capacities to trade profitably, and taken a toll on their livelihoods and those of their families. This year, the day is being commemorated under the theme: “Unity Is Our Strength”. Street trading is thriving and growing in harsh economic times, so we can no longer overlook that street vendors are an integral part of urban economies around the world, offering easy access to a wide range of goods and services in public spaces. It should be acknowledged that street trading is an ancient and important occupation found in virtually every country and major city around the world.

Street vending has been seen as a nuisance by many local municipalities and their right to earn decent livelihoods is always under threat by unfavorable by-laws and municipal regulations. Urban policies and local economic development strategies rarely prioritize livelihood security (social protection) for informal workers. Urban renewal projects and infrastructure upgrades routinely displace street vendors from natural markets, leaving the most vulnerable without a suitable workplace.

Good practice documentation shows vendors can help with urban management challenges like crime and cleaning. Also, basic infrastructure, shelter, toilets, electricity and water can improve work environments and make public spaces safer, more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. Some cities are working with street vendors’ organizations to formulate innovative policies, programmes and practices that enable vendors to have a voice in making their cities more inclusive, Namibia and Zimbabwe should not be an exception, hence the Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) chapters serves and acts as a solidarity, resource and information center for street vendors whose constitutional rights to livelihoods, decent work and social security are constrained due to unfavourable policies and engage with local councils in addressing these challenges.

The year 2019 has not been an easy year for street vendors. It was a year when the government declared war on the vending enterprise through directives by Municipalities that all vendors be removed from the Central Business Districts of major towns and cities. We saw Municipal and Zimbabwe Republic Police using force and arresting thousands of vendors as a response to the directive. More than 4500 of our members reported various forms of human rights abuses. Arrests, imprisonment, and prosecution of hundreds of street vendors also characterized the year. Our goods were confiscated and some of us were assaulted. Municipal police officers solicited bribes from us, which ranged from cash to kind. Some of our female colleagues reported sexual harassment and abuse wherein they had to provide sexual favours in return for their confiscated goods or for places in designated vending sites.

The government has deliberately hindered our efforts at consolidation through unionism and our right to protest. VISET wishes to take this opportunity to implore our government to open up more democratic space for dialogue and engagement with us rather than criminalising our activities.

The number of vendors flocking to CBDs to search for livelihoods continues to swell. In Harare CBD for instance, there is an estimated 30 000 street vendors. While this number continues to increase, vending space does not increase. This has resulted in vendors occupying pavements; entrance’s to shops, and other unorthodox places thus exposing cities to health and other hazards.

VISET believes that while the government has a responsibility to decongest the cities and confine vending to designated sites, this has to be done in a manner that does not infringe on street vendors right to livelihoods. In India and South Africa, the Vending Challenge was overcome amicably without necessarily arresting or prosecuting vendors and we implore our government to do the same. VISET will today take the opportunity to let the world know that vendors are small businesses that, if granted adequate and appropriate support, such as access to finance, profitable markets, skills development, can grow their businesses and become macro-entrepreneurs

This year VISET managed to conduct a pilot project t whose objective is to build the capacities of street vendors through training and facilitating their access to finance and profitable markets with a view to demonstrating to government, the private sector, the donor community, the civil society and other relevant stakeholders the importance of supporting vending initiatives. In Namibia and Zimbabwe, the project, which is still being rolled out, will benefit 120 street vendors operating in the Central Business Districts of the major towns and cities of the two countries. The project managed to equip street vendors with such basic business management skills as basic profit and loss accounts, financial management, investment, customer service and so on which enables them to gain profits and to invest these profits wisely, to mitigate against losses and hence to grow their businesses. Although the project has so far benefited only a small number of street vendors, VISET will use it as a model demonstration to government, local authorities, private sector, donor community and the broader civil society that vendors are entrepreneurs who, if granted adequate and appropriate support such as was the case in India and South Africa, can grow their businesses and become macro-entrepreneurs.

Source: Vendors Initiative for Social Economic Transformation (VISET)