Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) today joins the rest of the progressive world in celebrating International Vendors Day, under our theme, ‘Social Security and the future of the Informal Economy Work’. This year’s commemorations are being held when the world is struggling to cope with ravaging and desolating effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
The first ever International Street Vendors Day was celebrated across the world on the 14th November 2012. The day calls for recognition of the contribution street vendors make to national development and to raise awareness on the significant challenges street vendors face. Eight years later, street vendors still face considerable challenges in going about trying to earn a decent living. Whilst there are some peculiar challenges to the trade, on the whole street vendors face similar challenges in plying their trade on the African continent and globally.
Most of these challenges arise from the historical fact that most African countries have not transformed statutes on their books that pre date attainment of Independence, such as municipal by laws that criminalize informal work. Law enforcement authorities and municipalities have often viewed street vending as being a part of an underground economy which hinders operations of the formal economy and this has led to clashes over market space, licensing and sanitation. It is unfortunate that, even where local authorities collect substantial amounts of revenue through operating fees, no proper records are kept in order for them to respond to the needs of the sector. Besides the regulation challenges, street vending is at times adversely affected by low purchasing power of customers, poor location of market space, lack of formal financing schemes and unreliability of credit customers.
In Zimbabwe, as in much of Africa, street vending has increased significantly over the years due to economic structural adjustment programmes that led to retrenchments as well as capital flight by multinational corporations.
The profile of the average street vendor is changing as well, with most university graduates also turning to the trade due to limited employment opportunities. There is also a more affluent type of street vendor that now operates from car boots, as well as using social media and uses air travel to purchase wares from destinations such as Dubai, Turkey and China.
At present, it is estimated that across the continent, the informal sector accounts for over 65 percent of employment, with street vending providing much of that number. It is thus imperative for national and local governments to begin to respect and respond to the needs of the informal sector.
As we celebrate this years anniversary in the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought much uncertainty to peoples existence, it is a time to lobby for meaningful social protection for the informal sector, as the lockdowns enforced in many countries left street vendors economically vulnerable. Most interventions that were said to cushion people during the lockdowns were poorly thought out and their implementation woefully inadequate characterised by allegations of corruption. Part of this maybe ascribed to the fact that there are no proper policies guiding the provision of social safety nets for the informal economy in instances where people are unable to engage in their trade. Most social security bodies are designed for the formal sector, yet evidence at hand shows that more employment is now being found in the informal.
Governments and local authorities need to begin to embrace the informal economy as a whole and proffer policy interventions that respond to their unique needs. South Africa in this regard has been a perfect example with the social security grant system that provided allowances during lockdown, as well as from the regulatory perspective through the Business Act of 1991, that changed the legal approach to informal trading. The Act provides traders with the right to trade, with local authorities merely regulating rather than preventing traders from operating. At local authority level, Durban in KwaZulu Natal province has a specific Department of Informal Trade and Small Business Opportunities.
In Zimbabwe, as a way of contributing to the amelioration of some of the challenges highlighted above, VISET has developed an alternative policy on street vending dubbed National Policy for Urban Street Vendors and it seeks to ensure that this important section of the urban population finds recognition for its contribution to society, and is conceived of as a major initiative for urban poverty alleviation.
We are convinced as VISET that the time to embrace the Informal sector is now. The right to carry on trade or business is provided for under Section 64 of the Constitution which provides for the right to freedom of choice and practice of a trade or profession. Section 24 of the Constitution provides for the national objective of removing restrictions that inhibit people from working or otherwise engaging in gainful economic activities. Section 13 of the constitution obliges the government to promote private initiatives and self-reliance. The right to human dignity, right to food and right to life can all not be realized if people are denied opportunities to earn livelihoods. Street vendors provide valuable services to the urban population while
trying to earn a livelihood and it is the duty of the State to protect the right of this segment of population to earn their livelihood.
We take this opportunity to wish you all a happy, safe and productive International Street Vendors Day!
Source: VISET Information and Publicity Department