THERE was chaos in Gweru central business district yesterday as vendors and riot police clashed after government ordered illegal traders to vacate undesignated sites to curb the spread of typhoid.
Police had to fire teargas to disperse the informal traders, who were pelting the law enforcement agents with stones.
Last week, Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Owen Ncube said his office had written to the Joint Operations Command (JOC) chairperson to assist the municipal police in evicting vendors operating from undesignated areas that have no ablution or adequate waste disposal facilities.
“We can’t have people dying [of typhoid] because of vending. Yes, there is need to engage them [vendors], but we are faced with a crisis and there is need to be a bit hard on them. We have to remove the vendors from the streets until the disease in contained,” Ncube said last week.
The streets resembled a battle front as vendors, trading outside major retail outlets, engaged in running battles with riot police.
“We have no option, but to fight back as we have nowhere to go to eke out a living,” one vendor, who identified himself as Moyo, said.
“The minister (Ncube) cannot just order us off the streets as if we have an option. This is a matter of survival. The economy is bad and we are trying to make a living.”
Another vendor, who identified himself as Solomon, said council and government were blaming vendors for the typhoid outbreak, which has so far claimed seven lives, saying this was just a scapegoat for failed service delivery.
He said the water-borne disease started in parts of Mkoba suburbs as a result of people drinking contaminated water, yet the “blame was now centered on vendors”.
Gweru Hawkers and Vendors’ Association acting chairperson Lovemore Tingaka said there was need for dialogue among all stakeholders in addressing the problem of vending.
Provincial police spokesperson, Assistant Inspector Ethel Mukwende could not be reached for comment.
To date, 1 313 typhoid cases and seven deaths have been recorded in the Midlands capital.
Gweru City Council, which is failing to contain the water-borne disease, is struggling to provide potable water to residents as a result of ageing equipment, incessant power interruptions at its reservoirs and a mounting debt.
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