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Zimbabwe's real trouble will come after lockdown, says vendors

26 Apr 2020 at 22:37hrs | Views
NATIONAL Vendors Union Zimbabwe (Navuz) chairperson Sten Zvorwadza (SZ) says informal traders face a huge task of restarting their businesses after the lockdown. Zvorwadza recently had a lengthy interview with NewsDay (ND) Midlands reporter Brenna Matendere over this and other issues affecting the informal traders.

ND: You are probably one person to face worst brutality after organising anti-government protests in Harare and generally in your fight for social justice. Tell us extreme incidences you faced at the hands of State security agents like the army, Central Intelligence Organisation operatives and police since year 2000.
SZ: I am favoured by God the Almighty to be alive. Thousands of freedom fighters lost their lives at the hands of evil and brutal regimes. Personally, I suffered more at the hands of Zimbabwe Republic Police than at the hands of the Zimbabwe National Army. Despite facing the wrath of State security apparatus on numerous occasions and being incarcerated in some instances, the decision to fight for human rights and social justice, the passion to fight injustice, poverty and corruption gave me the peace and comfort to soldier on.

I was prepared to die for the cause. I am bitter each time I see abuse being perpetrated on other citizens. I am a freedom fighter who signed a contract between my conscience and the task ahead to speak for the voiceless. I have physical bruises and emotional scars inflicted by the brutal regime. I cannot say that I was hardened by the brutality from the State security agents, but rather safely confirm that what I went through got me to understand the evil that can exist for love of power by selfish leaders.
Zimbabwe is heavily militarised against any dissenting voice. I pray that Zimbabwe will be free in our lifetime.

ND: What is the plight of vendors?
SZ: Informal traders are marginalised. They are on the receiving end of all bad things from both the government and local authorities. They are surely between two sharp horns of a dilemma, on the one hand, the government is not protecting vulnerable informal workers from police brutality and on the other hand, municipal police are confiscating goods from the poor marginalised traders for personal benefit. Informal traders are on the streets, markets, sidewalks, alleyways and pavements, not by choice but because of failed government policies that could not revive various industries to absorb them.

Corruption from ZRP and municipal officers has always been our outcry to government and nothing in terms of protection ever came our way. ZRP officers patrol streets soliciting bribes from traders so that they can be allowed to trade. If the trader resists, his/ her goods are confiscated. If you follow through and try to recover your confiscated goods, nothing is found. In other words, ZRP and municipal officers are protected uniformed thieves who are highly corrupt and operate with impunity.

During the era of the late former President Robert Mugabe, informal workers suffered lack of ablution facilities, lack of decent workplaces, abuse from ZRP and municipal officers. Likewise, the (Emmerson Mnangagwa) ED administration is following in Mugabe's footsteps. The sad thing is that the brilliant concepts we propose to government are brushed aside, yet nothing is being done to improve informal traders' lives.

ND: How has the lockdown affected vendors?
SZ: Informal workers are going through a tough period. Our lives are defined by how much we earn per day. The lockdown has worsened the plight of informal economy workers who face extreme hunger. We are reading and following through what Zimbabwean partners have contributed towards COVID-19 in the form of various aid facilities. Our greatest dismay is that the government has so far not shown any indication on how it will assist the vulnerable informal workers.

The government cannot hide behind a finger by pretending that they do not have resources to support the vulnerable informal workers during the lockdown period because this is a highly digital era. We know what has come our way from the donor community, private companies and partners of Zimbabwe. Real trouble begins after the lockdown.

Most of the little working capital for informal workers has been used up in buying food and they have nothing now. Going back to work would mean nothing except exposing oneself to coronavirus in a state of undernourishment. Zimbabwe should simply embrace the diversity in the change of circumstances and learn to work with all groups to design a strategy and implement same for the benefit of citizens.
Coronavirus is real and what Zimbabwe needs is a practical approach in dealing with this pandemic relating to our environment, available resources and practical circumstances. Our leaders should begin to see beyond their eyelashes.

ND: Zimbabwe has largely been viewed as a siya-so or kiya-kiya nation because majority of citizens are vendors. What has been your experience on this and broadly how can the situation be turned around?
SZ: This is a nation of informal workers. True, it is amazing how a country with more than 5,7 million informal workers operates without a single law in place to protect them. The first thing that our country should do is to enact a law or laws to protect this important informal economy. After putting laws in place to protect informal workers, the government should embrace the informal sector and begin to work with it.

The reverse can also apply under the circumstances, where the government can first embrace the informal sector and begin to work with it and then work towards creation of laws to protect the vulnerable citizens. The government should understand that over 80% of our country's workforce is in the informal economy and ignoring this is akin to shooting oneself in the foot.

Foreign direct investment is good but working with the majority of people contributing to your economy is best. The government should appreciate that great knowledge, expertise and experience lies within the members of the informal sector and the best way to tap into the future with that knowledge is to involve these people in planning purposes and strategy formulation.

I wish this government would listen to the voice of reason. The government should adopt a comprehensive economic reform agenda that stretches across all sectors aligning itself to all sectors uniformly. This can only happen when the "we know all" mentality is put aside. Zimbabwe is for all of us not just a privileged few.

ND: Your organisation has been trying to help vendors access bailout packages, enlighten us on that.
SZ: Navuz supported the lockdown as a measure to protect informal workers from the deadly coronavirus. We were also aware of the effects of the lockdown on informal workers. Navuz has also embarked on a fact-finding mission to establish possible bailout resources to assist informal workers during the lockdown period. We discovered that bailout packages were being channelled through government and we suggested ways to have our members benefit.

Navuz, among other organisations, submitted names of the vulnerable. However, the taskforce overseeing disbursements does not have even one member from the informal sector. The government did not consult us on how to best deal with this issue, so none of our members has benefited. We are watching and our time to talk will come.

ND: Government announced a grant of $200 million to cushion the vulnerable, while the World Bank also pledged support for vendors and reports are that Zanu-PF has hijacked the programmes.
SZ: We have been hearing a lot around the abuse of this fund. The corruption surrounding the use of this fund left us tongue-tied. Our biggest tragedy is that our government does not want to learn how to do things better and our government is not willing to listen to the voice of reason. Why would a taskforce dealing with informal sector members be devoid of members from the sector? It's dodgy. Navuz members have not benefited from the fund.

Why is our government not willing to work with the informal sector since August 2018 when it came into power, I wonder? Our members are suffering and as their representatives, we have very little knowledge on how the funds are being used. It is sad.

ND: If the lockdown was to be further extended or relaxed, what impact would it have on vendors?
SZ: Relaxing the lockdown with proper planning and strategy to combat the disease is practical but in our case, relaxing the lockdown is equally deadly because the country lags far behind in plans to combat the disease. Our disaster management is in shambles.

Continued lockdown is as bad as killing people without any form of support, under the current circumstances. Informal workers are between a hard place and a rock. Our question is: What is better death; coronavirus or death from hunger under lockdown?

ND: Let me take you back a bit, you at one time was a fierce critic of Zanu-PF during the Mugabe era but you softened up as time went by, raising suspicion you were paid by the regime to shut up.
SZ: Correct. I was a fierce critic of Zanu-PF during the Mugabe era. And I stood by my (MDC) president, the late Richard Morgan Tsvangirai. I paid little attention to undemocratic processes that were happening in the MDC back then. In May 2013, I then realised that MDC was harbouring an undemocratic monster, an enemy of the people, a centre of corruption, permanent friend to violence and injustice, that individual is now the leader of MDC Alliance (Nelson Chamisa).

Comparing ED and that pseudo democrat, it was better to give ED a chance. ED had promised heaven on earth for all Zimbabweans. I truly gave the ED administration my sincere support hoping that it would be different from the woes of our past. My support was undivided and premised on the hope that his administration would care for its people.

I'm too dear to buy and I will remain too expensive for anyone to bid for my soul and conscience. However, the ED administration has few progressive leaders within its government structure and a lot of deadwood.

The suffering of many Zimbabweans is being caused by Zanu-PF and MDC Alliance. The leaders in both parties are arrogant to our detriment. I am a permanent friend to principles of democracy, justice, poverty alleviation and anti-corruption. Why did MDC Alliance allow an undemocratic monster to emerge? I refused to contest as legislator on the MDC Alliance ticket for that reason. A good name is better than money.

ND: Recently, you joined the anti-corruption taskforce led by axed Zanu-PF youth leader Godfrey Tsenengamu, what do you aim to achieve?
SZ: If you listened to me from the onset, corruption is my number one enemy. I will continue to work with Tsenengamu. His cause to fight corruption is noble and I even wonder why Zanu-PF would expel a young man fighting against such a cause. Godfrey's fight against corruption must be supported by the Head of State.

ND: Do you aspire for political office and on which side do you stand Zanu-PF or MDC?
SZ: I already hold a political office outside the structures of Zanu-PF or MDC Alliance. I am a political and human rights advocate and on that space, I hold a serious political office. If politics is about standing with your people and working with your people for their general good, then the two political parties mentioned require some lessons.

I have a very strong feeling that if Zanu-PF and MDC Alliance don't wake up on time, they will only know late that they made fools of themselves. Both parties have inflicted suffering on general masses of Zimbabwe in the past two years unbearably.

ND: What does the future hold for vendors?
SZ: We are surely on a windy journey from the land of suffering and persecution to the promised land. The emergence of leaders who have people at heart, who plead to God for their people and who seek God's guidance will see a shift in the lives of Zimbabweans.

The leaders I am talking about here should not be partisan in mentality and should not be greedy and corrupt. Our tomorrow is bright if Zimbabweans unite against cheap politics. The current political leadership lie to people and have no intention to protect the vulnerable.

Source - newsday
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