Another World is Possible: Vendors and the ‘Invasion’ of Harare Streets, 2008-2018
Bernard Kusena: Doctoral Fellow, Rhodes University, South Africa & Lecturer, Department of Economic History, University of Zimbabwe.
The recent shift in emphasis from the formal to a predominantly informal sector in Zimbabwe has been quite dramatic. As this chapter demonstrates, it signalled an unprecedented turning point in the country’s fragile economy. In fact, the whole discourse about the profitability and sustainability of street vending has become an increasingly high profile issue not only in Zimbabwe, but also in other regional economies. Widely viewed as a vocation for the poor, out of sync with minimum hygienic standards, and an affront to city planning, street vending has arguably become a promising venture for the unemployed, including university graduates. This paper delineates the historical and contemporary nuances of vending from the vantage point of neo-liberalism. It borrows from the conceptualisation that the growth of urban populations has been accompanied by limited job creation. Although vendors have minimised the profit margins for licensed operators in front of whose verandas they have camped, they have provided a window to escape the economic impact of unsettling transitions characteristic of the Zimbabwean economy since 2008. While researchers have attempted to flesh out the interface between ‘streets’ and ‘business’, a lot more is required to grapple with the broader implications of this relationship. Whereas greater focus has been paid on its negative implications, the growing importance of vending as a political and economic issue has not been adequately explored. And this is precisely what this paper actually seeks to interrogate; the unfolding dynamics and contestations obtaining within these wider transitions. It unpacks the competing interests between marginalised vendors struggling to survive the harsh realities of a comatose economy, and the sometimes indifferent state which vilifies them as a cause of disorder and degraded local environments. Invidiously, the state has ‘condoned’ this compelling situation to prevail, notwithstanding its environmental shortfalls, apparently because vendors have become a key constituency in matters of elections. Singly or in combination with other factors, this strand of opportunities and threats has had a far-reaching impact on the country’s economic and social conditions. The research paper uses qualitative methodology, drawing on interviews and municipal documents in making its submissions.
Keywords: Transitions, Crises, Street Vendors, Municipality, Informal Sector, Employment.