Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Street vending is not in itself a bad thing
By Editor
Thu 20 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

There is nothing inherently wrong with street vending.
What really matters is how it is carried out. Like everything else in life, street vending has to be carried out in an orderly manner and within the parameters permitted by law.

It is not possible for one to street vend wherever and whenever they want. There has to be respect for the rights of others. It is not permissible to start vending in the private premises of another person and ruin his or her business.

Street vending, if not carried out in the right way, can ruin the businesses of other people. If one starts vending in front of another person's shop, customers may stop coming to that shop on which one has spent so much money to develop. This would certainly not be a fair thing to do. And such a person deserves the protection of the law.

We now have vending that has gone out of the streets into other people's shops. The entrances to some shops and other businesses have almost been blocked by vendors. It has become increasingly difficult for some customers to enter certain shops or business premises without the challenge of navigating through all sorts of merchandise that are being sold in front of these shops or business premises.

Those affected in this way by vendors deserve the protection of the law and civic authorities. This in itself is not being against street vending and street vendors. Business, in whatever form, has to be carried out in an orderly, efficient, effective way and within the confines of the law. Most of the vending we see is not within the law. The law is being broken with impunity. This is not a recipe for a well organised society. It is a recipe for anarchy or disorder.

Street vending is found almost everywhere in the world. But street vending is carried out on the street. It is not carried out on the private premises of others. It is carried out on public streets where it is permitted by the law. It is also not carried out on highways where traffic is very fast.

There are also matters of public health that need to be considered. And not everything can be sold on the street. Today we have livestock - chickens, rabbits, ducks - being sold on the streets. Fish and all sorts of meats are also sold on the streets. This is in contravention of public health regulations. But nobody seems to care. Nobody is arrested or prosecuted for endangering public health in this way.

One can steal a cow, slaughter it and sell all of it on the street. Nobody checks whether the meat being sold on the street is fit for human consumption. Nobody seems to care where that meat is coming from. And who buys that meat on the street? It is the poor. And is it because it is the poor who consume that meat that make the authorities ignore public health requirements and allow such meat to be sold on the street? Even the poor deserve protection from the harmful acts of other poor or desperate people.

There is also the issue of sanitation. Street vendors are spending many hours on the street without proper toilets in their vicinity. They simply turn to the nearest bridges to answer the call of nature. We all know the consequences of this. Water-borne diseases are caused by human waste. It is not surprising that every rain season we have cases of cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and other water-borne diseases in our towns and cities.

If we want people to trade and live on the street, we have to provide the required amenities. We need to provide good toilets in the vicinity of where they trade. None of our cities can today claim to have adequate toilet facilities to support street vending. Not even Livingstone, that claims to be a model which other local authorities should emulate, has adequate sanitation facilities to support the street vending that is going on.

Street vending brings with it a lot of waste, garbage that needs efficient, effective and orderly disposal. We don't have that in any of our cities or towns. Waste or garbage is simply thrown on the street and sometimes even in front of other people's shops or business premises, unnecessarily increasing their cleaning costs. There is need to provide adequate waste or garbage disposal facilities wherever street vending is permitted to take place. And this cost should not be passed on to shop owners or to the owners of other business premises in the area. If the street vendors cannot be made to bear this cost, then the local authorities should take the responsibility.

Street vending, like any other undertaking, requires organisation. It needs to be organised by the local authorities. Street vendors need to be made to behave in a way that is civil and respectful of the law and the rights of other citizens. A culture of civility and civic responsibility needs to be inculcated in the street vendors and their customers. They need to be taught how to conduct their business in a hygienic manner. Street vendors and their customers should not be allowed to dispose waste or garbage anyhow. But who should bring about all this organisation we are talking about? It is the local authorities.

The problems and challenges we face today with street vending are not necessarily as a result of street vending being a bad thing. They are as a result of the failure of our local authorities to organise and manage street vending in an orderly, efficient and effective way. It is not necessarily the street vendors who are failing us; it is our local authorities that have failed us. The chaos that we see on our streets is the result of failed leadership in our local authorities.

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