The Zimbabwean government evicts informal economy workers in a new wave of violence against its citizens

By Irene Doda
March 5, 2024
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Evictions of informal traders on a mass scale are happening in various provinces. Our affiliate ZCIEA is organizing against this wave of state violence. StreetNet calls for an immediate stop to all evictions and for equitable negotiations.

Zimbabwe, southern Africa is going through multiple crises at the same time: the country is currently battling a cholera outbreak –  and the main opposition party to the authoritarian government going through a leadership crisis. Meanwhile, informal economy workers are being targeted by a specific repressive operation orchestrated by the government. In some areas of the country, including the Zaka province in the south east and the neighboring Masvingo province, the areas of Bulawayo, Zhombe and the capital province of Harare (specifically Melfort and Domboshava), street vendors and other people occupying land “illegally”  -according to the definition of the authorities – are being forced to vacate their working/living space. The numbers are not yet established, but this has the potential to impact tens of thousands of people. 

“We thought we were making progress in Zimbabwe, by engaging with various parliamentary committees. We always take two steps backwards. People are being removed from their workplace. We really would like to see a long term solution to the problem. There should be a way to regulate and help vendors work sustainably”,  said Lorraine Sibanda, StreetNet International and ZCIEA President, commenting on the situation. 

A traumatizing situation

The government officials are not limiting themselves to just implementing the evictions. They are publicly threatening the informal economy workers as well as other citizens. The  authorities of the rural town of Zaka hung a public notice, dated 16th that stated that “no trading shall be carried out in prohibited areas”. That is, however, not all. 

notice to informal economy workers

Notice to informal trader of the Zaka province

Names and addresses of the vendors are being publicly shared. This is a method to exert pressure and spread terror among the vendors and the informal traders. It is clear, from this action, that the government knows well who the informal economy workers are and where they reside. Officials have refused, however, to use this information in favor of street vendors – for example to arrange social protection policies or to improve health and safety systems. The workers and their families report that the current situation is traumatizing for them, especially for the families and the young children. We have received reports from our members of affiliate organization ZCIEA of children being forced to leave their homes due to the ongoing eviction campaigns. 

An old story 

In May 2005, under the presidency of long term Zimbabwean ruler Robert Mugabe, the infamous operation Murambatsvina was launched. The meaning of the word in Shona language is “Clean the Filth”, a clear reference to the stereotype that portrays informal trade and traders.

The destruction resulted in the mass evictions of urban dwellers from housing structures and the closure of various informal economy businesses throughout the country. According to the United Nations, 700,000 people—nearly 6 percent of the total population—have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Many people are now fearful that history is going to repeat itself, causing a new collective trauma for the zimbabwean citizens. The constitution of Zimbabwe states that everyone has the right to shelter. The country has also ratified the Kampala Convention of the African Union for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. This  makes the current operation both in violation of the constitution of the country and international law. Some of the villagers evicted, the Africa Land Coalition reports, are organizing to uphold the illegality of the eviction notice. 

map of Zimbabwe

A map of some of the provinces affected by the wave of evictions (source: Rarelibra – Image of public domain)

Organizing against state violence

Currently ZCIEA is encouraging its leadership in the communities to engage with their local authorities and negotiate for a reversal of this action. We are also taking advantage of the authorities we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with to seek their attention and address the matter without harming the traders” says Wisborn Malaya, General Secretary of ZCIEA “The environment is not easy but we are hoping the engagement with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Local Government will influence the reversal of this action. We are also trying to use the Tripartite Negotiating Forum to safeguard the operations of informal economy workers”. 

“StreetNet International urges the national and local authorities to cease all forced displacement” concludes Oksana Abboud, StreetNet International Coordinator, “Respecting international law and all international labor standards, to create a space for inclusive social dialogue and to enter into a negotiation with the informal economy workers’ representatives to find a permanent and just solution to the question of land distribution. The guiding principle should be the right of all people to work and trade peacefully”. 

Youth Reporter Nancy Likripa contributed to this report.