Urban Forum

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 229–251 | Cite as

Responding to Informality in Urban Africa: Street Trading in Harare, Zimbabwe

  • Christian M. RogersonEmail author


Informality is one of the major challenges facing urban policy makers across sub-Saharan Africa. Responses to informality can be viewed along a continuum from violent repression and sustained evictions to inclusive and supportive policies. Using the example of street trading, the task in this paper is to analyse planning and policy issues around the state and the informal economy in Harare, Zimbabwe. In the experience of Harare, the pursuit of targeted actions for inclusive planning designed to support communities of growing informal entrepreneurs is not on the agenda of policy makers. The historical and contemporary directions of policy responses occurring in Harare suggest an unpromising future for their city’s informal entrepreneurs. It is shown that state responses to informality vacillate between actions of frontal aggression and of unleashing bouts of forced evictions to repressive tolerance within which formalisation is increasingly promoted as a means of extracting revenue flows from already economically hard-pressed informal entrepreneurs.


Informality African cities Street trading Harare 



Financial support for this study was provided by the Southern African Migration Programme. Thanks are given to all participant interviewees, Jonathan Crush for commissioning the research, to Percy Toriro who was responsible for collection of the interviews in Harare, and to Abel Chikanda for additional documentary inputs. Usual disclaimers apply.


  1. Anon. (2014a). Grace Mugabe hammers police. New Zimbabwe, 6 October.Google Scholar
  2. Anon. (2014b). Grace Mugabe inspires vendor lawlessness. 12 December. Available at [Accessed 21 February 2015].
  3. Anon. (2015a). Harare vendors in anti-graft demo. New Zimbabwe, 30 January.Google Scholar
  4. Anon. (2015b). Let’s make the sun shine on Harare. The Herald, 16 February.Google Scholar
  5. Anon. (2015c). Harare vendors give in to Chomo’s order. 14 February available at
  6. Bass, L. E. (2000). Enlarging the street and negotiating the curb: public space at the edge of an African market. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 20(1/2), 76–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bhowmik, S.K. (2005). Street vendors in Asia: a review. Economic and Political Weekly (28 May-4 June), 2256–2264.Google Scholar
  8. Bratton, M., & Masunungure, E. (2006). Popular reactions to state repression: Operation Murambatsvina in Zimbabwe. African Affairs, 106, 21–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bromley, R. (2000). Street vending and public policy: a global review. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 20(1/2), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, A., Msoka, C., & Dankoco, I. (2015). A refugee in my own country: evictions or property rights in the urban informal economy? Urban Studies, 52, 2234–2249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Charumbira, M. (2014). Interview, Principal Town Planner City of Harare, Western Region, 25 September.Google Scholar
  12. Chirisa, M. (2014). Interview, Senior Lecturer and Acting Chair, Department of Rural and Urban Planning, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, 25 September.Google Scholar
  13. City of Harare (2013). Harare (Hawkers) By-Laws, 2013. Harare: City of Harare.Google Scholar
  14. City of Harare (2014). Harare (Vendors) By-Laws, 2014. Harare: City of Harare.Google Scholar
  15. Cross, J. C. (2000). Street vendors, modernity and postmodernity: conflict and compromise in the global economy. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 20(1/2), 30–52.Google Scholar
  16. Crush, J., Skinner, C., & Chikanda, A. (2015). Informal migrant entrepreneurship and inclusive growth in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Cape Town: The Southern African Migration Programme, Migration Policy Series No. 68.Google Scholar
  17. David, S., Ulrich, O., Zelezeck, S., & Majoe, N. (2013). Managing informality: local government practices and approaches towards the informal economy. Learning examples from five African countries. Report prepared for the South African LED Network, SALGA and LEDNA.Google Scholar
  18. Dube, M. (2014). Interview, Chief Security Officer, Harare Metropolitan Police, 29 September.Google Scholar
  19. Ghani, E., & Kanbur, R. (2013). Urbanization and (in) formalization. Washington DC: Paper prepared for the World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grant, R. (2015). Africa: geographies of change. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gumbo, T. (2013). On ideology change and spatial and structural linkages between formal and informal economic sectors in Zimbabwean cities (1981–2010). PhD dissertation, University of Stellenbosch.Google Scholar
  22. Kamete, A. Y. (2007). Cold-hearted, negligent and spineless? Planning, planners and the (r) ejection of “filth” in urban Zimbabwe. International Planning Studies, 12(2), 153–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kamete, A. Y. (2009). In the service of tyranny: debating the role of planning in Zimbabwe’s urban ‘clean-up’ operation. Urban Studies, 46, 897–922.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kamete, A. Y. (2012). Not exactly like the phoenix—but rising all the same: reconstructing livelihoods in post-cleanup Harare. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30(2), 243–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kamete, A. Y. (2013a). Missing the point? Urban planning and the normalisation of ‘pathological’ spaces in southern Africa. Transactions. Institute of British Geographers, 38, 639–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kamete, A. Y. (2013b). On handling urban informality in southern Africa. Geografiska Annaler Series B, 95, 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kamete, A. Y., & Lindell, L. (2010). The politics of ‘non-planning’ interventions in African cities: unravelling the international and local dimensions in Harare and Maputo. Journal of Southern African Studies, 36(4), 889–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kawadza, M. (2014). Interview, Planning Officer Urban Development Corporation, Harare, 24 September.Google Scholar
  29. Little, P. D. (1999). Selling to eat: petty trade and traders in peri-urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Binghamton, NY.: Institute of Development Anthropology.Google Scholar
  30. Lyons, M., & Snoxell, S. (2005). Sustainable urban livelihoods and marketplace social capital: crisis and strategy in petty trade. Urban Studies, 42, 1301–1320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Machipisa, M. (2014). Interview, Housing and Community Services Department, City of Harare, 2 October.Google Scholar
  32. Mbengo, M. (2014). Interview, Lecturer in Urban Geography, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, 26 SeptemberGoogle Scholar
  33. Midzi, M. (2014). Interview, Economist, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Harare, 2 October.Google Scholar
  34. Mitullah, W. (2003). Street vending in African cities: a synthesis of empirical findings from Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa. Background Paper prepared for the 2005 World Development Report.Google Scholar
  35. Mitullah, W. (2004). A review of street trade in Africa. Report prepared for WIEGO, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USAGoogle Scholar
  36. Musoni, F. (2010). Operation Murambatsvina and the politics of street vendors in Zimbabwe. Journal of Southern African Studies, 36(2), 301–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nhiliziyo, D., & Muvundusi, J. (2015). Chombo wants vendors off the streets. Available at, 1 February.
  38. Njaya, T. (2014a). Challenges of negotiating sectoral governance of street vending sector in Harare Metropolitan, Zimbabwe. Asian Journal of Economic Modelling, 2(2), 69–84.Google Scholar
  39. Njaya, T. (2014b). Coping with informality and illegality: the case of street entrepreneurs of Harare, metropolitan Zimbabwe. Asian Journal of Economic Modelling, 2(2), 93–102.Google Scholar
  40. Njaya, T. (2014c). Operations of street food vendors and their impact on sustainable urban life in high density suburbs of Harare, in Zimbabwe. Asian Journal of Economic Modelling, 2(1), 18–31.Google Scholar
  41. Parnell, S., & Pieterse, E. (Eds.) (2014). Africa’s urban revolution. London: Zed.Google Scholar
  42. Potts, D. (2006). ‘Restoring order’? Operation Murambatsvina and the urban crisis in Zimbabwe. Journal of Southern African Studies, 32(2), 273–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Potts, D. (2007). The state and the informal in sub-Saharan African urban economies: revisiting debates on dualism. London: London School of Economics Crisis States Research Centre Working Paper 18.Google Scholar
  44. Rogerson, C. M. (1997). Globalization or informalization? African urban economies in the 1990s. In C. Rakodi (Ed.), Managing urban growth in Africa (pp. 337–370). Tokyo: The United Nations University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Rogerson, C. M. (2008). Policy and planning for changing informal retailing in South Africa. Africa Insight, 37, 230–247.Google Scholar
  46. Rogerson, C.M. (2016). Progressive rhetoric, ambiguous policy pathways: street traders in inner-city Johannesburg, South Africa. Local Economy 31, 204–218.Google Scholar
  47. SAMP (2014). Urban informality and migrant entrepreneurship in southern African cities: Conference report. Cape Town: African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  48. Skinner, C. (2008). Street trade in Africa: a review. WIEGO Working Paper No. 51.Google Scholar
  49. Steck, J.-F., Didier, S., Morange, M., & Rubin, M. (2013). Informality, public space and urban governance: an approach through street trading (Abidjan, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lome and Nairobi). In S. Bekker & L. Fourchard (Eds.), Politics and policies governing cities in Africa (pp. 145–167). Cape Town: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  50. Tawanda, A. (2014) Interview, Secretary-General Zimbabwe Cross-Border Trader Association, Harare, 2 October.Google Scholar
  51. Xue, D., & Huang, G. (2015). Informality and the state’s ambivalence in the regulation of street vending in transforming Guangzhou, China. Geoforum, 62, 156–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Youth Forum (2014). Destroying market stalls insensitive. Zimbabwe Independent, 26 September-2 October.Google Scholar
  53. ZCTU (2005). The economic impact of the clampdown on the informal economy code named Operation Restore Order/Murambatsvina, available at [Accessed 20 January 2015].
  54. ZEPARU. (2014). Harnessing resources from the informal sector for economic development. Harare: ZEPARU and Bankers Association of Zimbabwe.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Tourism and HospitalityUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations