Story by Mduduzi Ncube
A new pandemic has sprouted in Bulawayo where vendors are losing money to public officials soliciting bribes. Tarisai, a mother of two, has been paying five dollars to bribe police and city council officers to trade peacefully on CBD pavements per day since lately. Tarisai sells gum, chocolates, Pepsi drinks, and candy sweet products. She remarks,
“I last went to what I had begun to call work on Thursday last week, after I realised I have been paying daily for four days to avoid arrests for trading illegally on the 8th avenue pavement.” At times they come twice or thrice a day to still chase us after paying bribes to them. City council officers and police now dress in disguise and approach us as vendors and just say wasungwa (you’ve been arrested) and flash their IDs quickly.”
Bulawayo Vendors are prohibited from trading in the CBD by City council by-laws, which also require them to obtain licences to trade. The city council and police have been having joint ventures occasionally arriving in plain pick up vehicles and pounce on vendors confiscating all their goods. Tarisai added,
“If you are lucky to have the opportunity to bribe a little more, they will return some of your goods and you cannot ask about the missing goods. My colleague who sells phones next to me was arrested and asked to bribe 35USD, while officers handpicked phones they had interests in. When he asked about the phones they handpicked, he was told that he was lucky they even gave him back the other phones. It’s very common to lose all your stock to officers, cooler boxes, Drinks, Sweet potatoes, chocolates, they all disappear.” Added Tarisai
In a statement, Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association Executive Director Michael Ndiweni challenged the informal traders to decongest the CBD to opt for designated vending areas like Entumbane and Nkulumane where there are stalls and low rentals. Bulawayo Metropolitan province has experienced growth of the informal sector in the past few years owing to the prevailing economic downturn and closure and relocation of most industries.
“I make about 6-8USD a day, if I have to pay 5USD to officers what do I take home, what is left for my bills, how do I pay fees?” added Tarisai in a low toned voice.
The situation is dire and presents serious questions for social and economic justice especially as corruption continues to deteriorate the economy. The poor continue to lose the little they make and this is disheartening.
Photo courtesy of Access Info Europe