The Disability Observer June 2019

The untold story: Deaf vendors in Harare

By Isaacs Mwale

Deaf vendor in CBD.

With the collapse of the formal sector in Zimbabwe the informal sector has become the “fall-back” source of income for millions of unemployed Zimbabweans.The BBC reported that as of 2019 the unemployment rate has reached over 90% in Zimbabwe1, making it one of the highest in the world. This tough economic environment has hit the average Zimbabwean hard with many being forced into trading of goods and basic commodities on the streets of Harare in order to make a living.

Amongst those vendors trading in the CBD is a significantly large group of Deaf people who have been operating as vendors for over a decade. As one walks around the CBD in Harare these vendors can be spotted on various street corners, selling “airtime juice cards” and other various basic commodities.In the last quarter of 2018, the Harare Council banned vendors from operating in undesignated areas in the CBD in an effort to clean up the city streets over concerns of a Cholera outbreak. Harare was the epicentre of that Cholera outbreak that affected over 4000 citizens.2 The city council with the support of the Zimbabwe Republic Police swiftly moved in to enforce the ban and clashes between the vendors and police have been ongoing since.

Caught in the middle of this “vending war” are the dozens of Deaf vendors who in many instances get caught and rounded up by the police because they do not hear the police coming. What then transpires after they are caught is very disturbing due to the fact that the Police services cannot communicate with the Deaf vendors in Sign Language.

Because of this language barrier the Constitutional Rights of the Deaf vendors are grossly violated as they are never informed of their rights and the reason for their detention in violation of Section 50(1)(a) of the Constitution. The rights abuse does not end there as it continues at the Central Police Station where the Deaf vendors are not attended to because there is no officer at the station who has been trained to communicate in Sign Language. This results in the Deaf vendors being held at the Station for many hours without being informed of the procedures that have to be followed for them to be freed and reclaim their confiscated goods.

Every citizen of the country must abide by the rule of law and yes, it is now illegal to be trading in undesignated locations. However, basic human rights that are entrenched in the Constitution need to be observed and respected by the Police Services. As the new reforms are being made in the Zimbabwean Republic Police, measures must be taken for the Police officers to be taught basic Sign Language to remedy this violation of human rights and to ensure that justice is achieved and the abuse of Deaf vendors is remedied.

Inside this issue

  1. The untold story : Deaf vendors in Harare
  2. Making a change through Law , Abraham Mateta
  3. Access to Justice in Zimbabwe for the deaf