Vendors: New Pawns In Zim’s Political Game Of Chess.

By Sij Ncube

Resplendent in Zanu PF regalia emblazoned with President Robert Mugabe’s face, youths and women purporting to be vendors chanted the revolutionary party’s slogans and repeatedly punched the clenched fist into the air as they marched into Harare’s central business district on a wintry Tuesday morning.   

The partisan hush-tag: #1980sofarsogood, which is now a permanent feature in the front pages of all state-controlled newspapers, was also prominent in most of the placards carried by the so-called vendors, impeccably adorned in new Zanu PF campaign gear in central Harare.

But it is the Queen of Grace ZimAsset Trust placard, complete with Grace’s picture and Zanu PF party symbols, which left no doubt the Tuesday road-show was a Zanu (PF) choreographed political display right deep in the stronghold of the opposition which controls Town House, the seat of the MDC-T mayor.

At the Main Post Office self-appointed officials of the previously unknown group Queen of Grace ZimAsset Trust issued vendor registration cards due for renewal in 2018, curiously the year when the country is scheduled to hold presidential and general polls.

Soon after the clean-up exercise ahead of the ejection of illegal vendors from the streets set June 28, rival hawkers’ pressure groups thought to be linked to the opposition came out guns blazing, accusing the Queen of Grace ZimAsset Trust of drumming up support for Zanu (PF).

Samuel Wedzai, the director of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe, said the Grace group does not represent the interests of vendors but was a coalition of Zanu (PF) people who illegally sell space to vendors in Harare.  

But be that as it may, political analysts canvassed by VOP say it is not surprising Zanu PF and the opposition are  jostling for the soul and hearts of vendors, pointing out the informal sector is emerging as the new social base for political predators.

Jack Zaba, a political analyst who works as a programme manager with the Harare-based Elections Resources Centre, says both Zanu (PF) and the opposition clearly, and rightfully so, appreciate the reality that the vendors have retreated into a new social base which culminated from the prevailing economic malaise.

“Vendors have simply supplanted erstwhile workers as represented by labour unions to form an untapped political goldfield which political parties cannot afford to ignore. Resultantly, instead of scrambling for workers as it used to happen, any serious political party has to target the new labour force-vendors. Clearly in the realm of a rapidly vanishing working class, political parties simply need to shift focus to the new social base of vendors,” said Zaba.

Maxwell Saungweme, a developmental analyst, noted that elections in Zimbabwe have over the years been influenced largely by the political-economy, pointing out that vending is a huge constituency as everyone has become a vendor due to poor policies of the Zanu (PF) government that decimated industries, and have led to the collapse of both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors that used to be dual drivers of our economy.  

Saungweme believes the emergence of the Queens of Grace outfit is a well-orchestrated gambit by some political schemers in Zanu PF to take advantage of the vendors into supporting the party.

“Zanu (PF) is responsible for driving everyone into penury and turning everyone into a vendor. So the vendors must be wise not to be lured to support the very monster that has stripped them of everything they toiled for over the years. They know how to take advantage of the people ahead of polls,” he said.

Saungweme cautioned various Zimbabwean constituents from taking seriously Zanu PF machinations and supposed sympathy such as currently being shown to vendors.

“Everyone should know that Zanu (PF) is the author of our misery and never take this party and its functionaries seriously. They don’t care about the poor, but their political survival and lining of their own pockets.”