As a resident of Harare, you will often interact with vendors. Whether you rely on them for your daily veg, or just the odd bag of fruit or avocado, vendors are a regular part of Harare’s street life. The tough economic circumstances in the country have caused a swelling in the number of vendors in all urban areas. Indeed, the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) claims a membership of 180,000 across the country, with over 50,000 plying their trade in Harare’s CBD alone.
It’s not an easy job. Vending is an activity much maligned by council, and regarded as a threat by those retailing from more formal locations. Moreover, forceful sales tactics by many of these on-the-street sales people, especially those located at Northern suburbs shopping centres, has given the practice a bad name as a whole.
It is however, a lifeline for many of the City’s most desperate residents. NAVUZ was formed to give this group of mostly hard working and often abused people a voice.
Formed in 2008, NAVUZ aims to provide a platform for vendors to discuss their issues and to devise strategies in the face of the adverse operating conditions. It gathered support and momentum, and eventually registered as a trust last year.
What difficulties do people face vending in Harare?
Government is using outdated laws to govern the operations of vendors. So naturally it becomes very difficult for vendors to do their work without clashing with the authorities. Vending in Harare is being affected by lack of strategies from the City of Harare to act decisively in terms of getting vendors organised and eventually legalised. The emergence of Space Barons (individuals who force vendors to pay exorbitant fees for them to be able to operate at certain vending sites – making themselves upwards of $4,000 to $5,000 a day in ‘fees’ from vendors) who are linked to certain senior officials at the Harare City Council is worrying. NAVUZ is educating vendors in Harare to ensure that they operate from clean environs by ensuring that their vending sites are clean all the time. The Union recently launched the Cleanliness is My Responsibility Campaign (CiMRCA). The major aim is to encourage vendors to clean the operating environments and in the process demonstrate to the City Fathers the commitment by vendors to ensure cleanliness all the time.
We have got vendors who are holders of Masters degrees, holders of doctorates for god’s sake. The government needs to realise that they have to support the informal sector. Making sure that vendors are organised and that they are able to do their business without being interrupted by agents of the government is critical.
What is NAVUZ doing?
The issue of vendors being able to participate in economic policy and legislative processes is one area that we are very passionate about. We are running programmes that are aimed at training vendors to become entrepreneurs. We also train them to engage with the government without the Union being involved, to deal with issues that are affecting them in their locality throughout the country. We call these trade capacity programmes. We are also pushing the Street Vendors’ Bill Protection of Livelihoods. The thrust of the bill is to ensure that vendors are regularised and legalised, so that they are also supported and recognised as economic players in the economy of this country.
The livelihood of vending affects everyone in Harare – the way the vendors behave, the wares they sell…are you working with vendors to train them about best practice?
We run prorgrammes that are specifically for vendors: how they conduct themselves in terms of relating to their customers, the basic business etiquette, basic accounting, and public relations. We have had a number of complaints from the public saying that vendors harass people, so we created this training and the response so far has been good. Of course there is room for improvement but we are working on it.
How can people join the union?
One does not need to pay anything to become a member of the Union, our aim as a union is to ensure that vending is legalised and vendors are organised to do their business profitably and be able to contribute to the development of the economy. There is no need to pay for that.
Find NAVUZ at St Barbara House, Corner Leopold Takawira and Nelson Mandela, 2nd Floor, Room 208–215.