Police in Bulawayo yesterday impounded scores of pushcarts which are popularly known as scanias at the fresh produce market between 4th and 5th avenues.
The pushcart operators carry goods mainly for vendors from the market to various destinations in the city and charge US$1 or equivalent in local currency for a trip. There was drama as the scania operators fled, leaving their carts behind when the police pounced.
The officers did not bother chasing after the pushcart operators but instead loaded the carts in their trucks and took them away. When the operators later regrouped, they told Chronicle that pushing scanias was the only job that they knew.
“We know there is Covid-19 and we know authorities think they are doing this for our protection but the truth is that we live from hand to mouth. If we do not work, it means we will not eat the next day,” said a pushcart operator who declined to be named.
Another who only identified himself as Dingi said police usually release their pushcarts after paying an admission of guilt fine of about $1 000 for each pushcart. He said on a good day, before the initial lockdown in March last year, he could make up to US$30.
“We have to make a choice between staying at home and starving . . . It is for this reason that we are pleading with the authorities to appreciate our plight. We should be considered an essential service because we have to fend for our families despite the pandemic,” he said.
Mr Vincent Dube said the police action was meant to reduce crowding at the marketplace as many of the people causing congestion were pushcart operators.
“It will be difficult to maintain social distancing with so many people at the marketplace hence this police action. We need few people to be at the market to buy food items and go home if we are to contain this pandemic,” said Mr Dube.
When asked why they fled and abandoned their carts, a pushcart operator said he feared arrest.
He said what they normally do is that after police have impounded their carts, they then follow them up at the police station to pay a fine and get back their carts.
“If you are arrested without a fine, you will rot in police cells and that is what we are avoiding by running away,” he said.
Police are clamping down on residents who defy the stricter lockdown measures which came into effect early this month.
Vendors were banned from the city centre but surprisingly at the market it was business as usual yesterday.
Vendors and pushcart operators were playing hide and seek with the police and many of them said they would rather risk arrest than starve at home.
Many were arrested but it seems the arrests are not deterrent enough as minutes after the police raid, new vendors are seen displaying their wares on the streets and canvassing for customers. They now display just a few items which they quickly grab and run away at the sight of police officers.
Bulawayo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said pushcart operators were not exempt under Level Four national lockdown hence the arrests. “They are violating outlined lockdown regulations. They have not been classified under essential services providers. We are not just rounding up pushcart operators but arresting everybody violating lockdown regulations,” said Insp Ncube. -Chronicle