There was chaos at Bwalo la Njobvu in Lilongwe City Wednesday as irate vendors from Tsoka Flea Market chased their counterparts who have been plying their trade on the streets of the administrative capital over the past six months.
Tension started simmering as early as 6 o’clock in the morning when the market vendors ganged up and chanted songs against the authorities’ continued tolerance of street vending.
The market vendors then turned on their counterparts, driving them away from town before blocking briefly Kamuzu Procession Road at Lilongwe Bridge.
Tsoka Flea Market Vendors Shoes Section chairperson, Steve Magombo, said they were fed up with authorities reluctance to chase away illegal vendors.
Magombo said street vending was taking away business from traders who operate in designated places.
“What is happening is that for a long time, traders operating in Tsoka Market have been recording a sharp decline in trading volumes.
“This is so because buyers are opting for the street vendors. So we are saying ‘enough is enough’. We have been paying market fees on a daily basis without selling anything,” Magombo said.
The government had initially planned to chase the street vendors from the streets early last month but Minister of Local Government, Benson Phiri, suspended the exercise due to the political situation that prevailed at that time.
A statement issued by Secretary for Local Government and Rural Development, Charles Kalemba, said Phiri had directed that the exercise be put on hold.
“I wish to advise that due to the current political situation that the country is experiencing, the minister has directed that the exercise of relocating the vendors to designated places should be put on hold until further notice,” Kalemba said.
Phiri could not be reached for a comment Wednesday. But on Tuesday, he told Malawi Broadcasting Corporation that there was need for dialogue on the matter before rushing to chase the street vendors.
But Tsoka Flea Market Baggers Section chairman, Davie Kathumba, differed with Phiri saying there was nothing to discuss on the issue of street vending.
“In 2006 Sadc countries agreed to outlaw street vending. When that was done, we were chased from the street. Now what we want is for the authorities to apply the same rules they used in 2006.
“The rules have never been replaced by dialogue so there is nothing to be discussing here. It is a straight forward issue,” Kathumba said.
Lilongwe City Council spokesperson, Tamara Chafunya, asked for more time before she could comment on the matter.
One o f the country’s social commentators, Moses Mkandawire, said authorities have taken too long to address the problem of street vending, arguing that this is the reason the situation has become volatile.
“City councils should make sure that they provide designated business areas for those vendors selling merchandise in the streets. This would help the councils to even collect market fees from them and bolster their revenue streams,” Mkandawire said.