LIFE: WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
THE intensity of the fight against cholera in Lusaka reflected the seriousness of the public health problem.
But it also had a silver lining – drama.
There were many incidents, away from the media’s prying eyes, that somehow brightened up what was otherwise a gloomy situation.
Hordes of street vendors, hawkers and hustlers could be seen roaming the streets and shop corridors, not sure what to do in the face of the banning of trading on the streets and markets by the government.
The central business district (CBD) and the two big markets – New Soweto and City markets – had been closed for a massive clean up – were crawling with troops from the Zambia Army, Zambia Air Force, Zambia National Service and Zambia Police Service.
President Lungu had evoked his constitutional powers to order the defence and security forces to be at the frontline of the battle against cholera which had by then topped over 2000 cases.
Suddenly, there was so much order around the CBD that it looked unusual, almost awkward.
Residents could not remember when they last enjoyed walking on the streets, roads and shop corridors without having to navigate narrow foot paths left by endless lines of vendors displaying all manner of merchandise.
Even the unruly minibus drivers were exhibiting some semblance of discipline.
Knots of anxious street vendors could be seen here and there looking for an opportunity to make a quick sale without attracting the ever-alert Zambia Army, ZAF, ZNS and police personnel.
But the troops were equal to the task. They were not willing to give the traders an inch of freedom to conduct their illicit business.
Of course, some tried to be dare devils and ended up in the hands of the same soldiers they were scared of.
In one incident, a vendor was carrying shoes hidden in a back pack strapped to his back.
He would accost a passer-by, produce a pair of shoes from the sweat shirt he was wearing and surreptitiously show the prospective customer.
From nowhere, he just saw four ZAF service men and a woman walking towards him.
When he turned in an attempt to elude them, he almost buried his head into the belly of a heavily, built serviceman.
He was beautifully trapped, and he knew it.
The officer seized him by the waistline of his unbelted pair of jeans trousers while another held him by the colour of his grey sweat shirt.
They ordered him to hold the pair of shoes they had captured him with aloft, above his head.
The most senior of the troops, a sergeant, ordered the vendor to march – military style – ahead of them while holding aloft the pair of shoes.
“Quick, march! Left right, left right…!” the sergeant shouted as the captive marched in front of them while holding the shoes above his head.
After marching for some metres, his hands started dropping lower, the shoes almost touching his head.
“Iwe, up! Hold those shoes higher or else uzalila [you’ll cry],” the sergeant barked, and the vendor complied without question.
You could tell from his face that he was in agony.
His arms were sagging lower and lower.
Some people were laughing while others simply shook their heads in wonderment or disapproval.
“Bamugwila [they’ve caught him]. He thought he was very clever; that he could outsmart the soldiers,” one woman remarked.
But another disagreed with her saying the man was just trying to survive in the wake of the ban on street vending.
At one point, the vendor owned up. He could no longer continue holding the shoes above his head.
He pleaded, “Bwana napapata, lekeni ntusheko amaboko yakalipa [sir, please let me rest a bit. My arms are aching].”
One of the soldiers rebuked him, “Iwe uganiza ati tisobela kapena [you think we are joking? March or else we shall ‘treat’ you.”
He helped the poor soul to lift his arms above his head again, warning him not to lower them again without permission.
I did not follow them. So, I don’t know what happened next because I had my own business to attend to.
As I have said earlier the atmosphere was strange. The corridors were so wide that I could even afford to swing my arms as I walked.
It had been impossible before the vendors were removed.
At the infamous Munyaule market some soldiers ‘captured’ a group of men and women and ordered them to join them in the cleaning.
They were removing the thick, grey-black filth from a clogged drainage.
“Come on, tiyeni tisebenzele pamodzi [let us work together]. You are the people who made this drainage dirty.
“Double!” shouted one of the soldiers as the ‘captives’ reluctantly joined in the cleaning.
But they did not hide their indignation.
A female fruit vendor who had hidden her juicy merchandise in a chitenge wrapper was discovered.
A group of soldiers ordered her to eat all the pineapples, bananas and apples as they waited.
When she failed to finish the fruits they marched her to a place where there were more troops and a parked military truck.
She marched before them while carrying the merchandise on her head.
Some people will indeed never forget this year’s cholera outbreak and the subsequent, unprecedented fight to contain it.