Harare — Police on Thursday launched "operation restore order" to rid the capital's central business district of thousands of vendors after President Robert Mugabe condemned the bric-a-brac traders.
Riot police, backed by water cannon were out in force across the capital as the campaign started.
The opposition MDC Alliance said the vending crisis was a "result of the economic implosion that has primarily been caused by the ruinous, ill -advised, corrupt and populist economic policies of the Zanu PF regime".
Irate vendors have vowed to stay put, declaring war on government if the blitz continues. They demanded that Mugabe provides them with alternative employment.
The veteran leader demanded the clean-up exercise while addressing youths from his ruling Zanu PF party last weekend, lamenting that the capital had lost its lustre due to the vendor invasion.
However, the furious vendors - many of them Zanu PF members - charged that Government must address the joblessness in the country which is forcing many onto the streets.
Some estimates put Zimbabwe's formal unemployment at around 90%, blaming the collapse of industry in an economic crisis that has lasted more than 15 years.
"Some of us were beaten and had our wares confiscated," said a male vendor who refused to be named, fearing victimisation.
"Government should give us ample time to relocate to alternative places; something like six months to vacate these premises.
"How can they just chase us away from where we are trying to honestly eke out a living? That is grossly unfair because this is where the people are."
"The issue is about the government failing to create employment for the people, which is what has pushed people to the streets. The leadership should address the cause."
MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu said the blitz would be a futile exercise.
"What Mugabe and his cronies do not appreciate is the fact that they cannot successfully cure a disease by merely rushing to suppress the symptoms rather than curing the root cause of the disease," Gutu said in a statement Thursday.
"For as long as there are no jobs and other viable business opportunities that are open for the majority of the people, the problem of indiscriminate vending will simply not disappear.
"Mugabe can use all the physical might of the Zimbabwe Republic Police to forcibly flash out vendors from the streets but, certainly, this will not mean the plight of the majority of jobless Zimbabweans will suddenly improve.
"Not until the economy starts to rebound and to create more job and viable business opportunities will the problem of indiscriminate vending be permanently and holistically addressed."
Meanwhile, the vendors accused council authorities of double standards and questioned the rationale of paying the US$5 dollars to obtain a vendor's card only to be forced off the streets despite having the requisite documentation from the same city authorities.
Designated trading points
Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said they were not stopping individuals with vending cards from trading but only relocating them to designated points.
"We have set up market stalls where we are relocating the vendors and the stalls are the Simon Muzenda mall, Coca Cola, Market Square, Glen Norah and Copacabana," said Chideme.
However, Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation Director (VICET) Samuel Wadzai castigated police for their heavy handedness saying there are better ways of dealing with the issue rather than resorting to brute force.
"We condemn the police reaction in the strongest terms as there are channels such as consultations and dialogue," he said.
"We would have expected better pronouncements from the President as the vendors are in the streets because of unemployment.
"For him to just rush and say vendors is illegal without proffering solutions just shows the kind of leadership we have in this country."
Wadzai said they would be back on the streets Friday, next week and next year, adding they would resist any moves to forcibly remove them from the city centre.