Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) held a belated International Street Vendors Day celebrations in Mkoba Gweru. The celebrations come on the backdrop of COVID-19 challenges, inadequate financial support and a tough economic environment for the nation at large and vendors in particular. The event saw 100 delegates drawn from informal traders plying their trade in Gweru, representatives of other informal economy bodies, government representatives and traditional leadership converging.
VISET Executive Director Samuel Wadzai in his keynote address paid tribute to informal sector players at large for demonstrating remarkable resilience in the wake of the various challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic which saw vendors being subjected to measures such as border closures, marketplace destruction, movement restrictions as well as violence and intimidation by law enforcement authorities.
Wadzai said that the International Street Vendors Day first edition was first celebrated in India on 14 November 2012 as an occasion to honour street vendors worldwide as well as to draw people’s attention to the role the sector plays in economic development and to bring to light the challenges and opportunities that the sector faces on a daily basis and how authorities can make strategic interventions to better the life of the ordinary vendor.
Wadzai said it was by no coincidence that VISET had chosen to host this year’s celebrations in Gweru, but was out of consideration of the fact that the city has a progressive City Council that has led the way in market reconstruction and proactive engagements with residents and informal traders.
He also paid tribute to the solidarity from other Informal Economy players saying this was vital in strengthening the civic operating space particularly in light of the passing of the Private Voluntary Operations (PVO) bill. Wadzai said it was critical for Informal Economy players to speak with one voice on the bill as the ramifications on the sector would be immense and if not challenged would lead to further restrictions on an already limited operating space for civic society and inhibit the oversight role of the sector and the nation at large over their elected representatives.
Guest of honour His Worship the Mayor of Gweru Councillor Josiah Makombe thanked VISET for hosting the event and pledged his council’s support in trying to better the lot of vendors in the city of Gweru through trying to address their operating environment.
Makombe said the event must mark a turning point in the manner that the council and vendors relate with each other and that in that regard, he was calling upon Informal Economy organisations to organise themselves and initiate dialogue with councils so as to put a stop to council raids on street vendors and confiscation of their wares, a practice he said was personally abhorrent.
Mayor Makombe acknowledged the fact that the Informal Economy was the economy given that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) had admitted that three quarters of economic activity was taking place in the sector. As such, council has seen it fit to revise municipal by laws to ensure that they are reflective of this reality.
Mayor Makombe, much to the delight of delegates said he would make use of his strategic position as head of the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) to ensure that the reforms to municipal by laws are replicated throughout all urban councils in the country.
In solidarity, Mr. John Maketo of Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) appreciated the role that informal traders played in economic development and that government should ensure that they continue to make strident efforts to improve their operating environment. He called for a stop to discriminatory practices where smaller players were treated with disdain in favour of larger players.
Maketo expressed ZIMCODD’s hope that government would utilise the upcoming budget presentation to make sure that it is reflective of the informal sector’s central role in economic activity if it was to be truly people centered.
There were also solidarity messages from other Informal Economy organisations such as Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCOZ) amongst others.
Ms. Gillian Chinzete VISET Programmes Manager exhorted delegates to ensure that they continue to play their role in holding duty bearers to account and that to that regard, residents and informal traders were bound to make follow ups on pledges by the Mayor on reforms to municipal by laws.