A Highly Informal Economy: The Zimbabwean Dilemma

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Zimbabwe vendors struggling to make living

African Governments: are grappling with dilemma of how best to formalise the informal vendor economy. Zimbabwe has had numerous running battles for many years with urban vendors yet a sustainable solution to this unconventional “war” remains out of range.

By Tawanda Munyanyi

This article intends to highlight some of the challenges and alternative options in the short and long run to our vendor crisis.

Changes to the Zimbabwean economy manifested in the early 1990s at the adoption of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) by the government following the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendations.

The IMF Policy appeared outwardly blooming yet in reality was like a poisoned chalice as it led to massive retrenchment of employees. The impact was like that felt by a hungry herdsman who picks a rotten fig from a fig- tree, very enticing from the outside yet rotten inside.

The worsening economic woes drew more retrenches and young graduates into the vending industry. We all initially ignored vending as it was perceived subgrade. There was a myth that no university graduates would stoop as low as to become vendors.

However, the persistent economic challenges transformed the vending industry into the viable source of livelihood and as the population soared, more vendors came on board, until almost every one of us become a part- time or full-time vendors.

The challenges became apparent as these vendors ventured into non-traditional businesses like selling meat, sadza, fish and other perishables in open urban spaces of the CBD. The country and especially cities experienced chronic diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Government and local authorities have targeted vendors labelling them instigators. It is no surprise that police and soldiers were unleashed at them, after authorities employed the “Labelling Theory” to justify their actions. The skirmishes and battles continue as I write, yet solutions proffered recently are just cosmetic with no tangible resolution in sight.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Government slept on the job in more ways than one in my view.

Formalisation of vending into small trader businesses and future planning with good management could have arrested this dilemma a long time ago, as this in my view, making vending sustainable.

The first lapse on part of the policy makers was underestimating the long-term effects of both the ballooning population and the education graduates.

The failure of indigenisation and economic empowerment, land reform policies and the general economic measures adopted worsened the employment prospects for high school, college and university graduates. The economic meltdown as well as a non-productive agricultural system contributed to bring this crisis.

The Government of Zimbabwe seems to put emphasis and give priority to political grandstanding events at the expense of an investment drive geared towards building and creating enabling environment spaces and sustainable economy.

The size of political party budgets expended for none productive issues such as buying campaigning vehicles for election candidates, regalia and embedded operational costs are evidence of the policy failures which then manifest in the form of livelihood crisis for citizens.

The number of vendors today countrywide should worry a responsible government and motivate them to redirect resources towards seeking a sustainable economy and reprieve for the citizens, and generations to come.

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