Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation, on Thursday the 29th of July 2021, conducted an Informal Sector All Stakeholder Engagement Forum meeting under the theme Building Bridges: Fostering a Culture of Accountability in Informal Sector Governance in Zimbabwe.
VISET Executive Director Mr. Samuel Wadzai in welcoming participants said the purpose of the project was to foster constitutional awareness on the part of informal traders in order for them to be better informed when holding solution holders to account in demanding their rights in an amicable manner rather than the acrimony that has in the past characterised the relationship between informal traders and local authorities. To that end, the Informal Traders Accountability Agenda (ITAA) has been a success as it brought the two parties together in forums, a hitherto unimaginable scenario. Informal traders were now better empowered to demand their rights, whilst also solution holders were more appreciative of the needs of the Informal Economy.
The first panelist Mr. Malvern Mangwende, Director of Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development said the Ministry was in the final stages of formulating the SMEs policy, with its anchors being provision of quality, affordable marketplaces and the revision of loan facilities with less stringent conditions through entities such as EmpowerBank and the Zimbabwe Women’s Bank.
Ms. Vimbai Chiza, the Acting Deputy Director of Employment Promotion and Services in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare was the next speaker and she acknowledged the informal sector as the biggest employer in the Zimbabwean economy and as such it was of utmost importance to ensure that the sector was formalised in order for it to reap benefits such as social protection. She informed that as a Ministry they had engaged a consultant who will be tabling an inception report in the next week which would clearly spell out the timetable to be followed in implementing the formalisation plan. Ms. Chiza said that they were aware of the negative impressions by many within the sector of the formalisation process, but that they were banking on countering this through a comprehensive communication strategy as well as obtaining buy in from all relevant stakeholders.
Mr Stephen Odaro of Platform for Vendors Uganda (PLAVU) gave perspectives of the operating environment in Uganda and hailed the progressive policies by government but said policy gaps exist in translating them into practice. Odaro said issues such as the lack of social protection for the informal sector were cause for concern and that as much as the Constitution provided for the right to work and dignity of all persons this was not the case for informal economy players.
Mr. Shelton Sithole of Bulawayo City Council Town Planning Department said as a Council they were alive to the fact that given the contribution of the Informal Economy to the country’s GDP, it could not be wished away, they had then created a specific office to deal with the sector’s requirements and had also taken the extra step of ensuring that informal sector bodies have MOUs with the Council in order to engender accountability and formality in the relationship between the two entities. He revealed that Bulawayo had also embarked on a decentralisation strategy as a means to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and ease congestion in the CBD.
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr. Michael Chideme said as a Council they have since learnt the need for inclusive town planning and hence were now ensuring that they always consulted informal sector bodies on issues to do with their livelihoods, in this regard he paid particular credit to VISET for always engaging with the Council in a constructive manner. Chideme said they were constantly reviewing their policies and were in the middle of consultations pertaining to informal sector players with disabilities.
Mr Michael Ndiweni Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) Executive Director in his presentation said that much as they as Informal Sector bodies demanded accountability and transparency from solution holders, it was equally incumbent upon these bodies to look internally and ensure that they were meeting the same standards they demanded from external players and highlighted the need for dispute handling mechanisms, inclusivity of all sectoral players and cohesiveness of efforts by players in the industry.
Mr David Mutambirwa, the VISET Manicaland Coordinator gave an account of the challenges faced by informal traders in the workplace, in particular female traders who were subject to the practice of ‘sextortion’ where law enforcement agents demanded sexual favours in return to being allowed to operate, or in instances where pregnant women or those with babies on their backs were forced to flee municipal police when raids were conducted. At marketplaces, there was the challenge of inadequate ablution facilities and no running water making it hazardous to operate in this COVID-19 era.
In conclusion, Samuel Wadzai said the programme would continue with the training of those who were not able to be part of the initial training. Wadzai also acknowledged the partnership with development partners for enhancing the relationship between traders and solution holders.