Surviving against all odds: Plight of female vendors

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By Chipo Gudhe

Kwekwe Central Business District is a hive of activity with informal traders calling out to customers enticing them to buy their different wares displayed on the ground.

The air is filled with several guttural calls from hailers usually used to call out to potential clients.
Suddenly the air is filled with shrieks and stampeding feet, a clear signal that something or someone has upset the status quo.

From a corner three municipal police details are seen chasing the vendors and within that chase a young woman falls to the ground with her wares scattering all over the place.

The municipal cops haul the woman up against her will, half dragging her to a stationary truck with another sweeping all her wares into a box. The informal trader is half pushed into the truck with the two male municipal cops grabbing her to force her into the back of the truck.

This incident to Kwekwe residents is nothing to worry about as it is a normal everyday event.
Informal traders who ply their trades in the city play cat and mouse games with young women traders being at the receiving end of harassment and violence from different quarters of the population.

The female traders trying to eke out a living are at the mercy of the municipal cops who target females as they are defenseless.
In an interview one informal trader who requested anonymity said she is a victim of violence from the municipal police details who also ask for sexual favours in return for security.

“Zimbabwe is a hard place to survive at the end of the day we are forced to engage into immoral acts trying to put food on the table for our children. At one point I was dragged by the police details in a bid to arrest me for illegal vending. It is not our fault that we are carrying out our business at illegal sites but government or the local authority has failed to provide the requisite places for us to operate from,” she said.

She added that they are also abused and threatened with arrest or even assaulted by state security members who demand bribes for them for operating in undesignated places.

“During the lockdowns we had to bear the brunt of being beaten by police and soldiers for operating at undesignated places. We had no one to report to and at times they would raise flimsy charges as a way of extorting sexual favours,” she said.

Speaking in the same vein another informal worker Melody Ndawana echoed the same sentiments said female vendors are at the mercy of municipal cops who demand bribes and sexual favours for protection.

“The problem is that we have no power in the decision making process and this is making us victims. We are constantly asked for bribes by these police officers and in some instances they propose love in exchange for protection,” she said.
Ndawana however hailed efforts being made by Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) in enlightening them about their rights and engagement strategies with the local authority.

“WCoZ has helped me in many ways I now know who to engage and how. We are now in the process of getting stalls to market our wares through the engagement done with the assistance of WCoZ,” she said.

Partinella Ngozo, WCoZ Kwekwe focal person said they have since engaged council so that it can create spaces for female vendors who are at a disadvantage.

“We took into consideration the plight of young women in the informal sector and we are in the process of engaging the city leaders so that they can create safe spaces for these women to operate from,” she said.

Kwekwe Residents and Ratepayers Association Secretary General Alex Homela said he took it upon himself to make sure that when vendor stalls are being awarded it is done on an equal basis with no discrimination on gender basis.

“At the new market at the Big Bar we have 78 women and 79 men, we realized that women are disadvantaged hence the need to allocate space equally. I am happy that women are also being considered unlike before where men dominated. We are still working flat out to award women more space in other markets,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s informal sector is now the biggest employer since the country started facing slow economic growth, population growth and high employment.

Most young informal traders bemoan the lack of attention they are given by government in addressing the challenges they are facing.