Constitutional Awareness Initiatives: VISET Champions Freedom of Profession, Trade or Occupation

On Monday the 19th of July 2021, Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) held a discussion on ZiFM stereo to unpack Section 64 of the Constitution; freedom of profession, trade or occupation.

How can informal traders uphold this socio-economic right?

Panelists were Ms. Margaret Mutsamvi of Economic Justice for women and Mr. Tatenda Mombeyarara a Social and Economic Justice Activist with ZIMCODD. Mombeyarara began by explaining that socio rights are what is called captive generations from human rights. They are related to equality issues. They are social, cultural and economic in nature. They are also known as freedom rights. These rights range from the right to education, right to health, rights to trade and etc. Mutsamvi stated that Section 64 guarantees the freedom of profession, trade and occupation and that it further states that, this practice may regulated by law and it is under which law. She said it was her understanding that, it is the same law which is provided by the constitution. In this particular instance she was making reference to municipal By-laws which were still to be aligned to the constitution.

In addition to Mutsamvi’s submission, Mombeyarara said that section 64 provides the right to citizens of Zimbabwe to be involved in economic activities, including profession, trade and occupation. It guarantees that people have a right to earn a living. Most importantly, informal traders appreciated that there is a regulation that does not take away or undermine their same rights. Mombeyarara in response to a question on the provisions of the section and their impact on the informal sector said that over decades, Zimbabwe has had high levels of unemployment. Since the government adopted Neo- liberalism as a mode for economic development back in the 90s with programmes like ESAP. Formal employment has been a challenge so the informal economy activities including peoples markets became the main source of livelihoods for the majority of the citizens of Zimbabwe.

Section 64 provides room for self-activities and collective efforts in the informal sector. This section provides that people have a right to earn a living regardless of the lack of opportunity to employment. Basically, it is a section which allows ordinary people to be involved in economic activities, said Mombeyarara. On the limitations that hinder informal traders from enjoying these rights, Mutsamvi agreed with Mombeyarara that there was an increase in poverty levels. A recent report highlight that 7, 9 million Zimbabweans are living in extreme poverty. Some of the challenges encountered by informal traders include the recent market demolitions and that this was not the first time seeing demolitions of informal markets, as there was a national demolition exercise at the inception of lockdown measures in March 2020.

There were also continuous arrests, the cat and mouse relationship between informal traders and the city police. There is also see heavy handedness in how policing is enforced, as in some instances women are forced to flee leaving their children and wares which are impounded without recourse. Traders with disabilities are also not spared, whilst those with hearing impairments are often left exposed as law enforcement officers are not trained in communicating with them, this in spite of the fact that sign language is part of the official languages. The transport situation has also worsened following the banning of unregistered ZUPCO commuter buses. This has subsequently resulted in an increase of transport costs as well as vulnerability of traders who are forced to embark on open trucks thereby being exposed to risk of contracting COVID-19.

Mutsamvi went further to reveal that there were increasing reports of ‘Sex-Tortion’ where female vendors are asked to give a bribe or if fail they will have to give in to sex requests from police. These are some of the limitations that the informal traders continue encountering, hence it was difficult to talk of freedom of profession, yet the foregoing acted as barriers in the enjoyment of this constitutional right. In order to address these issues, citizens needed to come together and raise their voice. Vendors should come in their numbers if they begin to speak and not to be afraid and join those movements that are advocating for change within their sector.

There was also urgent need to align the by-laws to the constitution which is the supreme law of the land. Some of the by-laws date back to 1962 in a time where there was colonial rule. The informal sector was not as huge as it is today. The informal sector was highly dominated by the local black people. If we continue with those exploitative by-laws in an economy that is highly dominated by the informal sector we are not doing justice to being pro-poor and pro-people. There was need to engage and there is need to formalize the informal sector said Mutsamvi. On how one can enjoy their rights without infringing the rights of others, Mombeyarara said the voice of those in the formal sector is the voice which is heard and as such it then shape the narrative that, informal traders are becoming a nuisance.

Any economy which is structured to serve the interest of the minority in a society is unjust

Mombeyarara agreed with Mutsamvi on the societal nature of the economy that Zimbabwe inherited a colonial system that was structured specifically to serve the interests of the white minority group. But now that Zimbabwe was independent there was need to restructure the laws so that they get in line with the reforms that are in line with the reality on the ground. There are constitutional provisions for review and amending of the constitution so that it responds to the realities.

As part of the process towards amending the Constitution, there was need to have a constructed dialogue like this programme. VISET has gone a step further to involve the nation at large on issues which affect informal sector. There was need to pursue such other avenues where such voices are brought on board so that if need be there are legal frameworks so that people can enjoy rights without infringing other people’s rights.

The informal sector as a key voice

Mombeyarara urged informal sector members to team up and join organisations such as VISET, or movements like ZIMCODD, Citizens Manifesto and other lobby groups where their collective voice can be amplified. Mutsamvi said that unfortunately when it came to organising people in order to make demands to the Executive branch of government, the reality was that want policy making in Zimbabwe, now dominated by Statutory Instrument (SI). S.I are executive in nature, they are non-consultant, they don’t go out there to the people.

On what recourse people can get in instances where by-laws and Statutory Instruments are against the majority’s aspirations and against what the constitution provided for initially should be resisted. The constitution is the primary law and there are rights which are provided for. As mentioned before, socio-economic rights are second generation, there are other groups the third generation which talks of the group rights or solidarity rights to economic development.

Litigation is also one of the avenues which need to be used to remedy that problem. We have progressive organisations such as ZHRC in doing sustainable work for the rights of oppressed people for the rights of marginalized.

In finality, Mutsamvi said it was important for City authorities to establish formal markets for traders in areas where there is large concentrations of people in order to entice them to formalise and increase revenue to Council, thereby doing away with illegal selling points and space barons.

Source: VISET

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