StreetNet International, representing 567 987 members in the sector of street vendors, informal market vendors and hawkers organised in 52 affiliated organisations in 48 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Eastern Europe, we write to express our deep concern with the current situation in Zimbabwe where street vendors are apparently currently experiencing an Operation Murambatsvina 2.

(In 2005 Operation Murambatsvina – “Clear the Filth” – perpetrated by the Zimbabwe government under former President Robert Mugabe against street vendors and informal traders, demolishing their homes and workplaces, shocked the world.)

In the current atmosphere of intimidation and sporadic media cut-offs, the snippets of information which manages to filter through about the demolition of homes, tuckshops, markets and other vending structures, the beatings of vendors whose offence is trying to eke out a living in an extremely weak economy, creates a consistent image of the worst forms of violence and harassment in the world of work – an issue under the spotlight of the International Labour Conference which will be discussed for the second time at its 108th session in Geneva from 10th – 21st June 2019, the centenary year of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) with a view to the adoption of a new ILO Convention and Recommendation on the Elimination of Violence and Harrassment in the World of Work – which Zimbabwe, as a Member State, will be expected to support, and ratify the new ILO Convention.

StreetNet considers such actions towards our sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe, brutal, unacceptable and in violation of their human and worker rights.  In an economy where less than 15,5% of all working people in Zimbabwe are paid employees with permanent contracts, forcing a large proportion of workers in the labour force to work in the informal economy, proper dialogue and solution-based approach, rather than forced removals which victimise informal workers, would be more appropriate.  These workers have a right to earn a living for themselves and their families.

In our view, these actions about which we have been receiving sporadic reports are in violation not only of the constitution of Zimbabwe which states that “the state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must adopt reasonable policies and measures and provide everyone with an opportunity to work in a freely chosen activity, in order to secure a decent living for themselves and their families”, but also in violation of most ILO Conventions and Recommendations.

We urge the Zimbabwean government to adopt a more inclusive way of dealing with street vendors in Zimbabwe through negotiations with organisations of street vendors, including StreetNet’s affiliate ZCIEA (Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations) who have more than 3500 members out of work through this operation, StreetNet’s partner Zimcross (Zimbabwean Cross-Border Traders’ Association) and other relevant stakeholders.  We further urge the Zimbabwean government to release jailed civil society activists and trade unionists, and let the law take its course in accordance with internationally-accepted standards and respect for human rights.

We stand in full solidarity with all street vendors and informal traders of Zimbabwe, and call for an end to this operation – an attack on the livelihoods of the working poor which the world is watching.