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Isn’t it time to restructure economy?

ZIMBABWE has a chance to “restructure its economy by taking advantage of the Covid-19-induced national lockdowns to impose different opening times for various businesses and build new infrastructure for informal traders”, with a view of decongesting and maintaining order in cities, analysts say.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

By adopting such strategies, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration would not only have managed to create an environment where non-essential workers do not troop into cities at peak hours and communicable diseases do not easily spread, but also eliminate the menace of pirate taxis and pushcart vendors who are crowding out organised businesses.
Herbert Gomba, Harare Mayor, said it is the authorities’ wish to maintain the same order post lockdown.
“The town has been orderly and we wish the same order should continue. We are adopting a few measures to ensure that the same order prevails. We have selected some places for vendors to operate from mainly outside the central business district (CBD).

“We don’t want unplanned vending and we intend to engage in public private sector arrangements to build areas where vendors will be sheltered … to avoid vendors loitering around everywhere and to ensure harmony in the city,” he said.

Gomba said a lack of resources has hampered plans to rebuild bus termini in the city and implement automation at such places as the Simon Muzenda Street rank, and increase revenue collections.
Archimedes Muzenda, a town planning expert, said it was crucial for city authorities to ensure that the central business district is maintained in an orderly fashion as a way of encouraging business to flourish without hindrances from unregistered traders.
“For decades, we have been treating CBDs as one giant place and this created disorder. The pandemic has given city authorities an opportunity to introduce and strengthen sub-districts, that will make CBDs more orderly and more manageable,” he said.
“The zoning of CBDs into, financial districts, retail, entertainment and even residential districts is required. Office uses will have the tranquility they need to function, while others cluster in districts where they function best,” Muzenda said.

“Without these enforced districts businesses will continue to be affected and might continue fleeing to suburbs,” he said.
Muzenda also called on city authorities to “up their cleaning services of CBDs, which must ideally be done at night, and given their high pedestrian volumes and business value”.
Major towns, he said, must also consider heavy fines to discourage unregulated vending, littering and other illegal activities.
While other commentators say pushing out vendors, driving commuter omnibus operators into well-managed, toll-based ranks and hawkers into regulated markets require “lots of political will”, they said local authorities like Harare can still “enlist the services of armed forces to maintain order — since the country is also at peace time — and use the current model as they seek to attain a worldclass city status by 2025”. This urban renewal project, they said, will not only create opportunities for Zimbabwean construction and infrastructural companies — or be led by July Moyo’s Local Government ministry — but facilitate the growth of an organised urban transport system like in the old days of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company.
“The challenge we now have is undesignated vending, which disrupts other uses and … we need to ensure various uses (co)exist in CBDs,” Muzenda said.
“If cities and towns create sub-districts … it becomes easier to manage vending as authorities can (create) modern market squares or stalls..,” he said.

Christopher Mugaga, the ZNCC chief executive officer.

And Muzenda said with sub-districts, activities such as “betting shops, boutiques and salons can be reassigned to peripheral, residential areas where they will also open from 1000 hours to whatever time at night” in order to minimise traffic and noise levels.
“Because for CBDs to be vibrant commercially, they need certain level of traffic particularly pedestrian traffic which fuels retail, without such traffic retailers lose business and they will likely move to shopping centres in suburbs,” he sad.
“If too much commerce moves to suburbs, CBDs will become more of dead zones. So city authorities have to take stock of what constitute their CBDs: the percentage of retail, of commercial uses, of office use, of residential and of vending then decide on the amount of decongestion required,” Muzenda said.
He urged city authorities to incentivise more development in the CBD to improve vibrancy.
A retail sector executive said authorities must zone towns and cities, and ensure that non-essential services such as boutiques, and saloons change their operating hours to decongest the CBD.
“Reorganisation of the city and maintenance of orderliness, clean environment using sustainable planning methods is essential,” he said.
“The current lockdown has shown us how practical it is possible to keep cities clean and orderly. Decentralisation of services, retail sector included can surely begin in earnest.”

However, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive Chris Mugaga said the government must do more to encourage the informal sector to conduct their business in organised places.
“I think we will be in denial to dream and envisage the orderly city we are seeing here. It’s an artificial order which can’t sustain beyond the virus scare, only a massive urban to rural migration and investment in satellite towns can solve the crisis,” he said.
“Those vendors are just a mirror of failing formal businesses, they are more people working as vendors at Eastgate Mall as compared to… those formally employed, which must confirm… that it’s now more lucrative to be in the informal sector…,” Mugaga said, adding the “current standards are what we call an ideal situation as opposed to basic standards”.
“In a nutshell, Zimbabwe’s economy is too weak to afford pavements devoid of vendors loitering around.”