City Market fire: My personal experience

Life: What a journey CHARLES CHISALA
THE woman of our house sounded irritated when her mobile phone rang just as I was preparing to go for a bath in preparation to go for work.

Before she could pick up the call the handset went silent.
“Just who can be calling me this time of the day? I will not call back,” she grumbled and slumped back into bed.
It was about 06:00 hours.
I reminded the woman of the house that such calls were usually important.
“People don’t normally call around this time unless there is something urgent they want to communicate. You could miss something big,” I counselled her.
“Whoever they are must tell me something sensible, otherwise I will tell them off for disrupting my sleep,” she warned.
Reluctantly, she heaved herself up and called back.
I just saw her sit up suddenly and exclaim, “Iyeee mwebantu shuwa [equivalent to Oh, my God]! Where are these people taking us sure? How can they do such a thing? Whoever they are the police should arrest them and jail them for a long time.”
I was ready to leave for the bathroom, but out of curiosity I asked the woman of the house what had happened.
“They have burnt City Market. It is on fire right now, but my friend says she has managed to salvage her property from her stall because someone had alerted her early,” she said.
Both of us went outside and could see a pall of brown smoke spiralling above the market.
As I was about to drive out of the yard the woman of the house begged, “Please, don’t use the usual route [Mumbwa road]. You must use a different one.”
But I assured her that I would be safe.
When I arrived in the city centre around 07:00 hours, I parked my vehicle on Kalundwe Road and walked to City Market.
People seemed to be in a state of confusion. Fear, anger and despair were written on their forlorn faces.
Fire tenders from the Zambia Air Force and the Lusaka City Council were racing in and out of the market, which had already been cordoned off with yellow duct tape.
A combined team of State and council police and cadres was providing security to fend off would-be looters.
The flames were raging inside the southern section, where the entire column of stalls was engulfed in the fire.
Everywhere I looked I was met with grief-stricken faces. Women and men who had lost merchandise were seated on curb stones lamenting over their lost livelihoods and cursing those responsible.
Two women were holding each other in a hug while crying like little girls as the third marketeer, a man, tearfully tried to console them.
The atmosphere was as if Zambia was in a state of war, an indication that like other Zambians residents had been so used to living and doing their business in peace that they were struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of the disaster.
I used my press card to breach the security cordon. The security men and women guarding the entrance allowed me to have a closer look at what was happening inside.
Firefighters, their faces and clothes covered in black soot, had dragged a water hose deep inside the market and were battling the raging flames.
One group was directly attacking the flames while another was making frantic efforts to prevent the fire from jumping across the first isle and spreading to the second row of stalls and stands.
Some marketeers who had managed to salvage all or part of their merchandise were sitting on or next to their goods as a horde of agitated cadres armed with pieces of planks, steel bars, belts and whips patrolled, looking out for looters.
And there was a lot of tension. People were edgy.
Two young women in their late teens or early 20s almost got themselves a beating for failing to read the mood.
As they walked into the market premises from Simoson Building across the road, they were watching something on a smart phone and laughing.
“This is nice,” one of them quipped and they giggled.
But one woman in her 40s confronted them and demanded to know what they were watching and laughing at.
“What is it that is nice? You mean for you two what has happened is nice? Let me see what you are watching,” the woman said angrily and reached for the phone.
But the young lady who was holding it swung her arm behind her to prevent the angry woman from grabbing the gadget.
Two more women and a man arrived and also demanded to know what the young women were laughing at.
It was only when they convinced the marketeers that they had been watching a video of some kitchen party or wedding that they were allowed to go.
Shaken and trembling, the young ladies walked briskly out of the market and crossed Lumumba road, probably thanking God.
There was a lot of speculation, and names of some organisations and individuals were being mentioned.
Many of those who were affected looked lost, completely blank of what to do.
They were just either sitting or walking around waiting for whatever was coming next.
Some street kids and adults who had seen the disaster as an opportunity to reap where they had not sown were disappointed when they were blocked and manhandled by the cadres.
Even those whose goods were intact were affected because no-one was allowed to enter the market.
As I walked away and later drove to the office, I mused over what I had heard and seen, and fully appreciated the importance of peace and why everything possible should be done to preserve it.
It is encouraging that those who have lost their source of livelihood are slowly picking up the pieces to start all over again in the true Zambian spirit.

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