By Peter Bolder|
The planned deployment of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to eject vendors from central Harare is illegal, legal experts have said.
Legal monitors Veritas said the planned crackdown was unconstitutional as the Harare City Council and the police had not failed to deal with the situation and had not formally invited the army to intervene.
The experts also warned of bloodshed as the army had no arresting powers and could resort to killing vendors who resisted their orders to leave.
On Wednesday, heavily armed anti-riot police were deployed in Harare to prevent a meeting of vendors from taking place. The vendors have been ordered to leave the city centre by Sunday but they have vowed to resist the move as no alternative vending sites have been provided.
Veritas issued the following statement:
“The government, in the form of the Minister of Local Government and JOC [the Joint Operations Command, consisting of the army, the President’s Office and the police] has ordered street vendors to move to designated sites within a week, failing which they will be forcibly removed by the army and the police. This order is questionable on several grounds — amongst others, whether the central government should enforce local authority by-laws on street vending — but in this Constitution Watch we shall confine ourselves to asking if it is constitutionally permissible to deploy the army to move the vendors.
Role of the Defence Forces
The Constitution regards the army as one of the branches of the Defence Forces. “The function of the Defence Forces is to protect Zimbabwe, its people, its national security and interests and its territorial integrity and to uphold this Constitution.” [section 212].
According to section 213 (2):
“With the authority of the President, the Defence Forces may be deployed in Zimbabwe –
- a) in defence of Zimbabwe;
- b) in support of the Police Service in the maintenance of public order; or
- c) in support of the Police Service and other civilian authorities in the event of an emergency or disaster.
There is a very good reason for limiting the grounds on which the Defence Forces can be deployed within Zimbabwe. The Defence Forces are the coercive arm of the State, to be deployed when the government is compelled to use violent force to defend itself. Their personnel are not trained as police officers: ultimately they are trained to kill people. They do not even have the legal power to arrest civilians.
When it comes to ordinary police duties such as moving street vendors to designated sites, the police and local authority officials should be left to do it. It is implicit from the nature and role of the Defence Forces that only when a threat to public order must be forcibly quelled can the Defence Forces be called in to apply that force.
If the government intends deploying the army to remove the street vendors, without first giving the police and local authorities an opportunity to do so, then it will be acting unconstitutionally. “