Informal traders and residents team up to stop demolitions

SEVERAL informal traders and residents have filed an urgent chamber
application at the High Court seeking an order to stop local and
central government from demolishing their vending stalls and tuckshops
across the country.

In an application filed on Sunday 26 April 2020 by Dr Tarisai Mutangi
and Moses Nkomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the informal
traders and residents together with some residents associations,
protested that the widespread demolition of tuckshops, vending stalls
and other property belonging to or used by small and medium
enterprises and informal traders by local and central government
personnel was unlawful and should be stopped immediately.

The informal traders, residents and residential associations
represented by Chitungwiza Residents Trust and Kushinga Epworth
Residents Association, which have some members, who are individual
owners and users of tuckshops and vending stalls, want the High Court
to interdict local authorities and central government from demolishing
any tuckshops and vending stalls.

Local and central government authorities have been demolishing
informal traders’ market stalls and tuckshops across the country after
Moyo issued Circular Minute 3 of 2020 addressed to leaders of local
authorities advising them of a recent Cabinet resolution and
instructing them to “take advantage of the national lockdown to clean
up and renovate small and medium enterprises and informal traders’
workspaces” and implored them “to make every effort to comply with the
resolution”.

In purported compliance with Moyo’s circular, local authorities and
their associations by way of random verbal announcement, supposedly
notified owners and users of tuckshops and vending stalls to pull down
their tuckshops and vending stalls or face demolition and immediately
commenced destruction of properties.

The informal traders and residents argued that Moyo’s circular is
unlawful as it was not issued in terms of any provision of the law and
that there is no law which requires local authorities to execute
Cabinet resolutions outside the provisions of the applicable laws.

The unlawful instruction, the residents and informal traders charged,
appears to have been taken seriously by some local authorities which
commenced demolitions in an apparent compliance with Moyo’s circular.

Informal traders and residents argued that the demolition of tuckshops
and vending stalls by local authorities amounts to compulsory
deprivation of property in violation of the fundamental right to
property enshrined in section 71 of the Constitution to the extent
that the affected owners and users of tuckshops and vending stalls pay
fees and levies to local authorities and had not consented to the
pulling down of their properties.

Local authorities, the informal traders and residents said, have been
indiscriminately demolishing tuckshops and vending stalls without any
consultation with the affected citizens including those who have been
paying fees and levies to councils. By demanding such fees and rates,
local authorities do acknowledge the legal existence of the affected
vending stalls and tuckshops and cannot suddenly deem them illegal
structures, the informal traders charged.

The informal traders and residents said local councils have not
complied with section 199(3) of the Urban Councils Act, which requires
proper notice of any proposed demolition of illegal structure to be
given to the owner of such a structure, a provision which provides for
an appeal against the notice to be filed with the Administrative Court
within 28 days, during which period no action may be taken on the
basis of the notice until the appeal is either determined or
abandoned.

Moyo’s circular, the residents and informal traders charged, is a
blatant violation of the lockdown measures announced by government
through Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 as it necessitates the
congregation of people among them vendors and local authorities’
personnel at the vending stalls and tuckshop sites to carry out the
instructions issued by local councils thus exposing citizens to
infection by the deadly coronavirus.

Furthermore, local authority employees deployed to carry out the
illegal demolitions of vending stalls and tuckshops, the residents and
informal traders argued, were doing so in their regular workplace
attires contrary to the instruction in Moyo’s circular and World
Health Organisation Guidelines that they ought to put on personal
protective equipment to prevent contracting and spreading coronavirus.

Residents and informal traders noted that the workers conducting the
demolitions have not been declared as essential service employees as
required by the law and that the demolition of citizens’ only source
of legitimate livelihood, especially as government is struggling to
provide social support to those in need of it due to resource
constraints exacerbated by inability of people to work during the
national lockdown, does not meet the definition of essential service
and can wait.

The informal traders said the state, with all its might and resources,
can always clear up and renovate workspaces without violating the
fundamental rights of its citizens and moreover, Moyo’s circular did
not mandate local authorities to demolish any structures, but simply
requires them to clear and renovate and hence it is possible for them
to rearrange small to medium enterprises’ workspaces without
demolitions.