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Street hawkers to the rescue

ONE fine morning, I was forced to park my weather-beaten corolla in front of Shoprite supermarket on Cairo Road. It was one of those busy days that saw the designated inner car park filled by animated shoppers. As a security measure, I double checked my car, which has seen good days to ensure it was safely locked and that I had not left valuables glaring. As I stole a look at my car, before heading to buy groceries, little did I know that thieves would ransack the boot, where I had safely tucked my laptop. I returned aghast; failing to comprehend that my newly bought computer had gone, even though my car seemed undisturbed.
With a rare show of calmness, which surprised me, I gathered Shoprite hawkers, car wash boys and hangers-on for an impromptu meeting. In plain language, occasionally spiced with street lingua, I explained that it could only be their kith and kin; their fellow hawker who could have done the abominable thing of stealing from an innocent person. Not knowing whether they would buy my feeble story; I demanded that they consult their mental registers and give out names of friends who had been around but were suddenly missing.
Empathetically they did a roll call and with anxiety announced that four missing hawkers could be responsible for breaking into my car. As the names were announced by someone who seemed to be their leader, a glimmer of hope played tricks on my mind. Indeed my car, I discovered had been cleverly jammed into by a screwdriver, rendering the locking system impotent. I was advised by curious onlookers that the suspects could possibly be scouting for a buyer within town.
Hawkers, through their chain of command ignited peers and some party cadre leader in their bid to reclaim the lost computer went on a search. In no time missing hawkers, who turned out to be the culprits were apprehended and the computer returned to me safely at the very location it was stolen. I chose the unconventional path of heart-to-heart counselling, straight talk, rewarding anonymity with change of behaviour and peer admonishment as a solution to the problem. I hope to monitor the situation over some time believing that the dynamics of peer influence will help the culprits conform to societal norm. It was the first time in many years that the words endear and ordeal where being used in one sentence in my life.
The entire episode presented lessons worth sharing about town hawkers, call boys, car washers and hangers-on;
1.In any central business district (CBD) every street has its leaders.
It is worth noting that in any CBD every street has its informal leaders. The notoriety of such streets is dependent on the culture, mannerism, training, integrity and in part poverty levels of its leaders. In the case of Shoprite on Cairo Road, the hawkers’ leader still has some semblance of humanity, is empathetic and generally opposed to petty theft in his area. Such noble leaders can be trained to police their area using peer power.
2.Street roll call is compulsory and can be relied upon to trace misfits.
Do not be misled by streets heavily populated by hawkers and vendors – these people always report to one place before venturing out, albeit, with limited movements. Most hawkers make circles around the same areas, which they have turned into temporary shops without borders.
3. Vehicles left under the care of car washers can never be tampered with.
I leant that the surest way of ensuring the safety of your car is to leave it with car wash boys. “Big man no matter how much property you leave in a car, as long as it is in our hands, we will ensure that it is protected until you come back” was the advice I got from a vendor-cum-car washer.
4. CBD can easily be policed by organised hawkers.
In a way, empowering organised hawkers for community street policing could be one way of reducing crime in our major towns. Although, I abhor street vending, some vendors can be marshalled to ensure that they are responsible for crime prevention in their prescribed trading areas.
5.I also came to know that behind the dark demeanour of hawkers, street vendors and town hangers-on – are human beings who generally shy away from petty theft. These people steal as a last resort and can be educated through peers and their leaders to be on the right side of the law despite wallowing in street poverty. 0965/0977 466284 – social and political commentator