AS the country’s economic meltdown continues, people living with disabilities are fighting for vending space in the cities.
Zimbabwe has 1,5 million people living with disabilities, according to figures released by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh), an association of non-governmental organisations.
According to 2012 figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats) only two percent of them are formally employed with 64 percent said to be employed in the informal sector. Many among the remaining survive on begging.
In the city of Harare, a total of 870 registered people living with disabilities are operating as street vendors while the figure could double if it includes those who are not members of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (Navuz).
The site of disabled vendors parading their wares along busy city streets has become common across the country, as they battle for survival amid concerns that government social welfare funds have dried up.
Their working environment is the most challenging as some have to crawl into public toilets which are usually dirty and not friendly to their handicap.
The municipal police has been chasing the disabled vendors, at times dragging them to their holding offices.
While the Harare City Council had indicated that it wanted to put designated places for vending in Harare, the vendors living with disabilities are afraid that these places will not be conducive for their needs.
A street vendor living with disability, Sheunesu Chivanga of Epworth said cleanliness is of utmost importance. “We should have user friendly environment, cleanliness is important and the toilets should be cuser friendly to us. We should not be put in a dirty place where we can be affected.”
Justice Manai, board secretary of Navuz said, in Harare, such vendors are facing challenges due to a lack of government provision of social welfare safety nets.
“The vendors living with disabilities are faced with many adversities on the streets. With the liquidity crunch, they fight for the dollar with other able bodied vendors on the streets that are estimated to be about 10 000 in Harare alone,” said Manai.
Marko Abraham leader of Rights of Disabled Persons in Zimbabwe which represents 150 disabled persons said the idea of vending at bus termini was first mooted by vendors living with disabilities five years ago.
“The idea of using the bus termini as selling points was first mooted by vendors five years ago, but council ignored it only to introduce it recently as their own. As a result, most vendors living with disabilities are still on the streets,” said Abraham.
The Weekend Post visited one of the bus termini in Harare at Copacabana and discovered that the place they were operating from was not conducive for a vendor living with disability.
The area had no protection from weather conditions, it was hot and had no shade.
Abraham said the absence of a toilet that is user friendly to the vendors living with disabilities was a major factor in the vendors pulling away from the new designated vending sites.
Tendai Gumbo, 29 on clatches said he only makes a profit of $3 a day which goes towards the welfare of his wife and two children.
“My wife is a vendor at Domboramwari in Epworth where we live. But I have to chip in with the money that I make in town.”
Gumbo said he prefers working from the streets outside big retail shops because shop owners often allow him to keep his wares in their shops and collect the stuff for display in the morning.
“With my disability, I cannot move around carrying my stuff so I am grateful for this shop owner who allows me to keep my wares in their shop.”
Ralph Masamvi, 51 of Mufakose concurred with Gumbo in the assistance of shop owners adding that they assist him with the toilet.
“Toilets at the rank where they are asking us to operate from are messy and some of us crawl and some use bare feet and this is a challenge to us.”
Masamvi said he was living in poverty only making a profit of a $1. “People no longer have money, everyone is living in poverty and it is difficult to get any profit. We used to sell more goods at monthend but this is no longer the case.”
While Cleopatra Chirwa, 42 is living with disabilities, she braves every day to make a trip to town to vend for a living. She sales socks, shoe polish and towels at a street corner where she risks being pushed if the street becomes busy.
On Friday, Chirwa and other vendors with disabilities gathered in Harare under the auspices of Navuz to hand over a petition to Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni. They were calling upon the city fathers to be more sensitive to their plight.
Female vendors living with disabilities were the most affected as they appeared to have children to look after apart from other dependants.
Chirwa urged council to address their concerns through their union. “They should not insult us for being disabled because this is God given.
“I am slow when walking due to my disability and the municipal police forced me to walk to the licensing department from Copacabana. I had to go with them because they had taken my wares. I fell three times; I was bleeding by the time I reached the offices on the other side of town.”
The vendors said they were usually insulted by municipal police who always physically searched them looking for money.
A visually impaired woman, Muchaneta Chabvepi, 40 with four children said life has become too tough, hence she had to resort to selling airtime on the streets.
Chabvepi said she is not receiving social welfare money and her children are not accessing any form of government assistance at school.
She said: “I am speaking on behalf of visually impaired vendors. We cannot leave our children at home because they are not attending school. We are living horrible lives selling on the streets and the profit is too little.”
Most people living with disabilities are registered with the ministry of Social Welfare for monthly disability grants of $20 dollars per household. That, they say, is severely inadequate and it is not available to some. - Margaret Chinowaita