HARARE– The Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers on Thursday engaged the vendors union for the first time to address the issue of declining business as over 5,7 million vendors, close to half the country’s population, are threatening their survival through illegal shopfront vending.

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Retailers cry foul over “6mln vendors” as economic woes mount

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Last October, the government gazetted new laws governing operations of vendors in Harare to boost council revenue, prevent disease outbreaks and restore order in the capital where vendors have mushroomed as formal employment dwindles.

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The capital has seen an explosion of unregulated commerce in recent years due to high unemployment with over 80 percent of the country 13 million population unemployed although official statistics puts it at 10 percent.

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Apart from threats, the city council is yet to deal decisively with the issue of vendors who continue to operate from undesignated places while refusing to pay fees ranging between $1 and $3 to council.

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The retail confederation’s president, Denford Mutashu said vendors were depriving them of business yet they invested heavily into licence fees, employee and other costs in anticipation of a return on investment.

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“As we speak, most small to medium shop owners have since found the going tough and  retrenchment is looming in the sector if the situation has not improved,” he said, during a discussion on the matter on Thursday.

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“The retailer has had to heavily rely on bank money which in most cases is not easily accessible and where it is, it comes with steep interest rates which are punitive and discouraging.”

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Mutashu said they were also seeking to engage relevant stakeholders to call for a drastic reduction in rentals in line with the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country.

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He said retailers were not against vendors but that vending should be done in an “orderly manner that does not affect established business.”

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Mutashu urged vendors whom he accused of causing conflict with store owners by displaying their wares in front of the store blocking customer movement to use

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existing market stalls.

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National Vendors Union Zimbabwe chairperson Sten Zvorwadza blamed the increasing number of vendors, which he said now stood at 5,7 million, to economic hardships.

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He said the 20,000 stall allocated by municipalities countrywide were inadequate with Harare having a vendor population of over  100,000  versus 6,000 stalls.

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Zvorwadza said vendors were willing to pay tax but  shunned doing so due to rampant corruption and the emergence of space marshals whom he accused of ripping them off.

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“All vendors are willing to pay tax or revenue to the City of Harare but council has failed to come up with corruption-free methods of collecting fees and vendors refuse to pay because of corruption,” he said.

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Space barons were reportedly charging between $8 and $13 per vendor per day while remitting very little to council and pocketing the rest.

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Other issues discussed during the meeting were the need to provide ablution facilities, ensure hygiene and reduction of liter by both retailers and vendors.

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City of Harare was accused of refusing to cooperate with the vendor union in coming up with strategies to deal with vending which has become problematic in the country.