Molleen Makasi (54) runs across a busy street in Gweru’s central business district while clutching a bag full of tomatoes, onions, carrots and vegetables. At the corner of the road, she is blocked by a truckload of municipal officers.
A municipal cop jumps from the vehicle, grabs Makasi’s bag and throws it on the back of a council truck parked nearby.
The truck quickly drives away, as Makasi, who has been illegally trading on the streets of the Midlands capital for years, breaks down.
She sobs as her “stuff”, the name commonly given to wares sold by vendors, is taken away by council police.
In anger, Makasi is heard shouting that she would put her Christian values aside for a while and travel to Malawi to look for juju (magical powers) to fix whoever took her goods.
Such has become the way of life for illegal vendors as municipal and police officers patrol the streets of Gweru daily to weed out the unregistered traders.
It is now more than two weeks since the joint operation, involving State security agents and municipal cops to rid illegal vendors off the streets, began its blitz on August 20.
The operation was in response to a typhoid outbreak that has so far claimed eight lives, with more than 1 500 cases of the water-borne disease cases being reported.
“We can’t have people dying (of typhoid) because of vending. Yes, there is need to engage them (vendors), but we are faced with a crisis and there is need to be a bit hard on them. We have to remove the vendors from the streets until the disease in contained,” declared then Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Owen Ncube last month at a stakeholders’ meeting before the operation.
Since then, the streets of the Midlands capital have resembled a war zone as law enforcers and the hawkers engage in running battles.
Although the street pavements have now been cleared of vendors, the traders have devised new ways of hiding their wares and displaying them in small quantities.
“Do we have an option?” quipped Solomon Kupfavira, a vendor operating at the front of one of the biggest supermarkets in the city.
“They (police) can do whatever they can do. It’s their job, but I also have a family to feed. It is a dog-eat-dog affair, but obviously, when your source of livelihood (the items vendors sell) is forcibly taken away from you, what can you do?”
On August 21, there were violent clashes between the vendors and police, with the former stoning the latter while the police responded by firing teargas.
Gweru Vendors and Hawkers’ Association, Lovemore Tingaka told NewsDay Weekender that the animosity that has developed between the vendors and police needed to be carefully handled.
“That is why as an association we have always emphasised on dialogue,” he said.
“You cannot have people who feel that those taking their goods are denying them food on the table, yet they continue engaging in daily running battles with the same people (law enforcers).
“When will this stop? What would be the consequences?”
But Gweru town clerk Elizabeth Gwatipedza said the operation to weed out illegal vendors was the last resort council took after all avenues had failed.
She blamed the vendors for refusing to relocate to designated vending points.
“The vendors should register and get allocated sites where they can legally operate. But they want to be everywhere on the streets, and that is our problem with them,” she said.
Such has become the daily struggle for survival as illegal vendors and police engage in running battles on a daily basis. But observers are asking, when will the cat and mouse game end and with what consequences, given the deep anger growing between the two parties?
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