Since inception, VISET has endeavored to ensure that Informal Traders have an understanding on what the law says about the Informal Economy. This entails an understanding of their constitutional rights as they pertain to Informal Trading and the by laws that govern the enterprise. Over the past two week, the organisation has been conducting online campaigns on socioeconomic rights, exploring on how these can be used to strategically locate Informal Traders in the growth and development of the national economy. Below is a summary of the major talking points from a Radio Show which was organised by VISET in pursuit of the same.
VISET in conjunction with ZiFM radio hosted a Socio economic rights radio programme running under the title “What are Socio-economic rights? Are informal traders entitled to any socio-economic rights?” Panelists were Mr Samuel Wadzai who is the Executive Director of VISET and Mr Clinton Musonza an economist with Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), with Perfect Hlongwane as host.
Musonza began by explaining that socioeconomic rights are a subset of human rights. We have five categories of human rights. He said as per the Constitution of Zimbabwe, we have civil rights, political rights, economic rights, social rights, and cultural rights. Civil and political rights are mainly to do with liberty.
Socio-economic rights affect the welfare of citizens. They include the right to work, right to housing, right to water and sanitation and etc. What was important to note is that, every citizen has got the right to freely choose a means for a living and has got the right to an opportunity to work and working in a favorable environment said Musonza.
In response to Hlongwane’s question on whether traders in the informal sector had an understanding of their socio economic rights, Musonza said what was important was to identify roles of various stakeholders when talking about socio-economic rights. It was also important to know the roles of government as well as those of citizens.
Musonza went further to say rights are universal and that the state is there to protect people’s rights, it has to promote them and is also duty bound to fulfill them. It was however indeed unfortunate that a lot of people were not aware of their rights.
There are institutions created under the Constitution such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) ,who’ s mandate it is to promote awareness of these rights, however due lack of funding, not much has been done in terms of enlightening the citizenry on their rights.
Samuel Wadzai began by explaining who VISET is and how the organisation advances the cause of the informal sector players. VISET is the union of informal traders with membership across the country. VISET has structures in major cities and towns. The organisation has structures in other countries regionally Namibia, South Africa and in Zambia. Wadzai went further to say they serve as a solidarity center for informal economy players. The organisation is of the view that in order to assist informal traders to grow their business there is need to ensure that they are given all the necessary tools to operate within the confines of the law.
VISET is also a center in terms of information on how to do business in a profitable manner, said Wadzai and that they also act critically as a bridge between the local authorities and informal traders themselves. As an organisation we are there to ensure that where there is a location of markets for informal traders to operate, there is fairness, there is transparency and there is accountability so that vendors are able to realize their socio-economic rights. VISET’s vision is to have an informed informal player who is better placed to enhance the development of the economy.
Responding to Hlongwane’s question on how VISET was ensuring informal traders are readily equipped with information on what to do when their rights have been violated, Wadzai said that VISET has been working on ensuring that their members were aware of what the constitution says with regards to the work they do as informal traders. He took the opportunity to clarify what he felt was a misconception with regards to what was being said to be illegal vending or illegal informal trading. For example if one was to check Chapter 64 of the constitution, it expressly states that people are free to pursue their livelihoods.
Hlongwane sought to know how VISET was organising vendors so that they seek redress in instances where their rights have been violated and Wadzai said that they have conducted various raising awareness campaign around issues of By-laws. There was a lot of informal traders out there who are not aware that, if their goods are confiscated for example, they have a right to reclaim those goods at law. However, in many instances, at times due to ignorance or fear, when goods are confiscated informal traders do not claim them back. There was also a need to build the capacities of our members to be able to engage with local authorities said Wadzai, particularly on issues such as corruption, allocation of markets as well as the lack of adequate spaces to operate from.
Wadzai went further to say that one of the key objectives that led to the formation of VISET was to ensure that there were harmonious lines of communication between local authorities and informal traders so as to find solutions for dealing with the myriad of challenges that the sector is facing. To this end, there were VISET leadership structures throughout the country better known as SOCHAMPS. These were members that had been taken through training in communication so that when they engage with local authorities on their own they will be able to properly package their issues and ensure they will be able to get the response they need.
On Hlongwane’s question how it could be legal to sell from an undesignated area, Wadzai said that is exactly why he was saying the key role in formation of VISET was to play an interlocutor role between Councils and vendors, as many vendors did not even have knowledge on how to register with local authorities and that many of them have never taken the initiative to explain such issues to vendors.
Secondly, the issue of markets or places to operate from as an organisation, VISET has been arguing to say the problem is not with the informal traders or street vendors, but that the problem was the By-laws that are in use at the moment. As an example, in Harare there is a By-law which states that only 6000 informal traders are allowed to operate in the CBD. Thus, if you are not part of the 6000 informal traders it means you are operating illegally. The reality on the ground is that we have seen a huge growth of jobs in the informal job markets.
VISET’s argument is that it is the responsibility of Local authorities to ensure that vendors have adequate spaces to operate from on a daily basis. Local authorities are collecting millions of US dollars in revenue from informal traders. That money should be used to construct modern markets that can accommodate everyone who has decided to become an informal trader.
The markets that are constructed by local authorities are not profitable, hence why a lot of informal traders decide not to go and occupy these spaces. Siting of markets is important and requires consultation with informal trader bodies. An example is Coca-Cola area and Coventry holding bay. That space is not profitable because informal trading by its nature is anchored on ensuring that you are in a space where you can mix and mingle with customers easily.
Wadzai disclosed that they recently developed a Concept note on decentralization of markets which they shared and were proud about some of the outcomes that have arisen out of sharing the document with City of Harare who are borrowing ideas from the concept, and the view is to share the document with other local authorities.
From the economic perspective pertaining to informal traders rights, Musonza said that they are being hard done by local authorities and government in that much as they were taxpayers through the 2%transaction tax the state is supposed to do the urban planning by providing places of work for traders. Musonza also revealed that according to the 2019 labor survey, 76% of the economy is now informal, which means the informal economy is now the economy.
On whether law enforcement officers understood the constitutional rights of traders, Wadzai felt that this was an area of concern for them as vendors, due to the brutality, the unwarranted, sometimes arbitrary arrests that is constantly meted out to traders which were avoidable if law enforcement agencies are aware of people’s socio-economic rights. A considerable part of why these practices were undertaken were out of ignorance.
Wadzai castigated what he felt was misconceptions with regards formalisation of the sector, where some took it to only mean taxing traders, but that it was meant to mean providing for the sector through instruments such as social protection and access to finance facilities, in order to motivate the sector, much as there are investment incentives for companies
In conclusion, Wadzai called for the unity of all informal sector organisations in order for the sector to prevail in the advancement of their constituency and welcomed the partnerships that VISET has established in order to improve the lot of informal traders and that they are more informed, leading to the advancement of their livelihoods.