HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Stella, 43, works as a vendor in the high-density suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. She sells fruits and vegetables under a tree, along with another female vendor.
But without a license to operate as a trader, she says it’s becoming increasingly difficult to earn a living. Keeping her eye on her table as she speaks, she says the vendors must be on the alert for constant raids by authorities.
She declines to give her last name for fear of arrest by the Licensing Inspectorate of the Zimbabwe Republic Police or the municipal police under the Harare City Council. She and other vendors here say they don’t understand when police tell them that their activities are illegal.
“What is illegal about selling fruits and vegetables in order to cater for my family’s needs?” she asks.
Pausing from time to time to attend to customers, she says her business helps her family as well as benefits the health of others.
“I have not stolen from anyone, and this is much better than prostitution,” she says.
She says she has no idea what to do to legalize her trade.
Many Zimbabwean vendors say they risk constant raids by police because obtaining a license is too expensive or limits them to operating in unprofitable areas. Police say it’s their job to enforce the law and that they must respond when receiving complaints from other citizens and business owners about the vendors who set up shop on sidewalks. The city residents association has been working with the city government to resolve the situation, as the federal government unrolls a plan to address the underlying issues of unemployment and poverty.
Employment estimates in Zimbabwe vary. While the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimated unemployment at 95 percent in 2009, the World Bank put the labor participation rate at 65 percent for the same year.
Informal trade has therefore become widespread as people seek alternative options to earn a living. Local vendors interviewed say they have been raided more than four times since the beginning of 2012.
Informal traders in the city streets sell a variety of wares, such as recharge cards for cell phones, cigarettes, shoe polish, insect killer, socks, toothpicks, headphones, hair combs, sweets, fruits and vegetables. But without licenses, they are subject to frequent raids.
All vendors need a hawker’s license from the Harare City Council in order to legally carry out their trades. Vendors must also always have their licenses with them, as well as their National Identity Document, which bears the same name. If vendors leave family members to sell their wares, the family members could be arrested because the licenses are not in their names.
Some vendors say that the reason they sell goods illegally is that they can’t afford to obtain a hawker’s license when they earn just $2 to $5 a day.
The application to acquire a hawker’s license requires a $20 fee, according to the licensing unit of the Harare City Health Department. If