THE Zimbabwean government this week deployed police to chase vendors out of the streets of Harare in an effort to move them to so-called designated areas. The anti-riot police who have been moving in their hundreds and in trucks are armed. They have been evicting vendors and destroying their properties. The Harare municipal police and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) details in carrying out the human rights violation clean-up are implementing a public order issued by the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe on October 7, 2017. The Harare city is typically calling the clean-up Operation Restore Order.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) condemns the eviction of vendors from the streets where they are trying to earn an honest livelihood in a difficult economic environment. ZimRights is of the view that the current high numbers of vendors is directly related to the high levels of unemployment, which some economists have put at over 80%. The attempted eviction of vendors is therefore tantamount to addressing the symptoms of the problem. The solution lies in the Zimbabwean government creating opportunities in the main stream economy. The removal of vendors cannot precede the economic revival as that destroys livelihoods of the urban vulnerable and poor. ZimRights urges the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, who issued the order for the evictions, to stop the unwarranted human rights violations and uphold the Constitution. ZimRights calls upon the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to urgently advise the Zimbabwean authorities of the futility of the campaign and its adverse effects on the poor. ZimRights sees no difference between Operation Restore Order, and Operation Murambatsvina of June 2005, which failed to decongest the city, but had led to gross human rights violations of mammoth proportions.
Addressing a ruling party, Zanu-PF’s youth meeting on Saturday, October 7, 2017, in Harare, Zimbabwean President Mugabe ordered the authorities to remove vendors from the streets so that roads can be “smart”. On Sunday, October 8, 2017, Harare town Clerk Josephine Ncube announced the city would commence an exercise called Operation Restore Order. Recently, organisations that represent vendors like the Vendors Initiative for Socioeconomic Transformation (VISET) and National Vendors’ Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) have tried to engage the authorities before but their efforts have been in vain and their leaders subjected to arrests. One such is Stendrick Zvorwadza, the chairperson of NAVUZ, was arrested on Tuesday, October 10, 2017, on allegations of “insulting or undermining the president” after he said the President was “daydreaming” to order such a clean-up.
Reliving old mistakes
Similar exercises have happened in Zimbabwe before and have become cyclic. Similar evictions in 2015 and 2016 led to clashes between informal traders and police. Information traders were subjected to mass arrests. About 12 years ago, Zimbabwe under President Mugabe’s government carried out Operation Murambatsvina, a similar but more wide-ranging exercise across Zimbabwe’s urban areas, which directly affected over 700 000 people according to the then United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Human Settlements, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka and was condemned by the world body. It is apparent that the advice given 12 years ago by the UN fell on death ears and to the detriment of the growing populations of Zimbabwe’s urban poor.