PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s shadowy group operating under the banner Vendors For ED is on a collision course with Bulawayo City Council after it violated city by-laws by establishing unsanctioned vending bays in the central business district (CBD) with the full backing of Zanu PF stalwarts.
Turf fights between opposition-led local authorities and organisations affiliated to the ruling party often escalate during election periods, resulting in the disruption service provision, amid accusations and counter-accusations.
Information gathered by The NewsHawks shows that on 23 February, the local authority battled to clear them off the streets, but they converged on the Large City Hall in huge numbers where they were addressed by Zanu PF’s Bulawayo Nehanda district chairperson Josiah Mutangi.
In his address, Mutangi told the restive vendors who have traditionally had running battles with the local authority to defy police and council officers and go back to their illegal operating spaces.
While Mutangi addressed the vendors who had pelted security officers with stones earlier on while resisting orders to leave the streets, riot police failed to take action on an illegal public gathering attended by over 100 informal traders.
The NewsHawks gathered that the “Vendors For ED” are renting some of the vending bays in the CBD and collect fees from desperate informal traders which they say are for their protection from arrest or dispersing by municipal police at the illegal sites.
Last month, Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni in his end-of-year report for 2022 said several attempts to remove the undocumented traders from the streets had been met with violence and threats to involve influential government officials in the matter.
Michael Ndiweni, the Bulawayo Vendors’ Association executive director, told The NewsHawks this Thursday that the shadowy group had degenerated the situation in the country’s second-largest city into chaos and a hub of illicit deals like drugs pushing.
“There is a serious issue of space barons who appear to be a law unto themselves. They have caused and are at the centre of all this mess – the selling of drugs, illicit alcohol, duping innocent women and men who are informal traders by promising them protection through collecting a US$1 a day and they are literally eating the mon ey collected,” he said.
“What is very unfortunate is they then expect council to clean the waste they generate with their own diesel, use of their own trucks, getting toilets over-flowing with sewerage and expecting omahlokoza [council workers] to come and work for free. Surely a genuine informal trader would not condone such acts. It’s sad that these traders are now at the mercy of the authorities. These space barons are now cartels, a law unto themselves.”
Christopher Dube, the Bulawayo town clerk, declined to comment on the politically contentious matter. “Please ask Mrs Mpofu, our corporate communications manager, for those details,” he said. Mpofu was unreachable for comment.
After the skirmishes in the CBD on Thursday, the group of the Vendors For ED walked around urging vendors to register and vote for Zanu PF.
Ahead of the next elections, several shadowy groups pledging their support for Mnangagwa have emerged but some have gone into illegal activities such as forcefully invading public spaces like schools in their campaigns.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe last year complained that a group known as Teachers For ED had started holding workshops at schools, campaigning for Mnangagwa.
The group, seen as sympathetic to the administration of Mnangagwa who is colloquially known as ED, was given the nod by government to “roll out its economic development” programmes in all schools where hundreds of teachers are reportedly abandoning classes to attend the workshops to avoid victimisation.
Schools are reportedly forced to use own funds to cater for the travel and subsistence expenses of the organisers. Teachers For ED got government approval for their controversial activities in a letter dated 22 September 2022, written by acting Primary and Secondary Education secretary Kwadzanai Nyanungo.
“Your communication dated September 2022, is hereby acknowledged,” Nyanungo wrote.
“Permission is granted for the roll out of the economic development programme in schools, on the understanding that teacher participation in your proposed activities is in the spirit of voluntary teacher building capacity programme, with due care that there is no disruption to planned teaching and learning process in schools,” read part of the letter.
However, teacher unions complained that schools, as professional institutions, were not supposed to be politicised, especially during learning hours.
Other groups pledging support for Mnangagwa and conducting controversial activities include Mahwindi for ED, Nurses for ED, Pastors for ED, Lecturers for ED, Mahure for ED, and Men Believe ED.