NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
WHEN the city market fire broke out a fortnight ago, Ruth Nawakwi, who is a tailor, was asleep at home and had left both her phones back in her shop at the market.
Saturday, July 1, was the last day she spent at the market before it burnt on the Tuesday that followed.
When she realised she forgot her phones in the shop, she decided against returning the next day to retrieve them, opting instead to go back after the public holiday which followed the weekend of July 1.
But when Tuesday morning came, her phones were ringing non-stop while her friends tried to inform her that the market was burning.
“They were surprised that my phones were just ringing continuously. I had no idea and even started off late for the market on Tuesday only to hear people discussing the fire as I headed there by bus,” she says.
A completely clueless Ruth began to worry but when she reached the market, she discovered her shop had luckily not burnt in the fire.
Sadly, some of her merchandise and material belonging to her clients were stolen. Thieves entered her shop through a window and also made away with two sewing machines.
They left only one sewing machine which was attached to a lock they were unable to break open.
Ruth has three children whom she has been supporting through her tailoring business over the last few years.
Her oldest child has been calling her every day since the fire broke out and is worried that her mother will not manage to raise the fees for her to attend the third term at Evelyn Hone College.
Lillian Chisha has a similar tale. Although her shop did not burn, her goods were stolen as she was trying to get them out of her shop to place them somewhere safer.
“In business, losing one week is a lot and we are already struggling,” Lillian shared. “I have school-going children and every day I give them K30 as transport for school.”
Her children have not been to school since the week of the fire because she has no money to give them.
“I am a widow and that money from the business is what I use to take care of my children,” she said.
Like Ruth and Lillian, Eliza Lungu’s shop did not burn in the fire but she lost shoes worth K2 600 through theft. She had ordered them only a day before the fire broke out.
Eliza is both a mother and grandmother with a household comprising 12 people in total.
She says plans for traders like herself to be relocated to temporary trading sites like the Old Soweto market are welcome but the process must happen quickly.
A week following the fire, some traders expressed worry that their families would continue to suffer if they were not given trading space as soon as possible while those whose shops survived the fire were willing to share rented space with those whose shops were destroyed.
Last Friday, it was announced that the government had raised K12.5 million in pledges and cash after launching a fund for the reconstruction of the market.
Jeff Mwale and Vincent Banda both owned stationery shops that were completely gutted. They were not able to recover any of their merchandise following the fire.
Vincent says it is difficult for him to estimate exactly how much he lost in the fire but reckons it is around K60 000.
Among the items they lost were machines such as computers and photocopiers. Vincent has been trading at City Market since 1997, when the market was just opened.
“We are the ones who opened this market,” he says. “The sooner we start trading again the better. Even if we borrow money, we don’t have anywhere to trade from at the moment until they open the temporary trading spaces.”
After losing everything in the fire, there are some days when Jeff feels it is all just a bad dream.
What is important for both Vincent and Jeff is having trading space before they can be given any form of compensation.
“At least we can survive like that and know where to start from,” Vincent says.
First Lady Esther Lungu is also among those who have pledged to aid the affected families through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU).
The fund, called ‘Fund for the Rehabilitation of Markets in Zambia’ launched by Vice-President, Inonge Wina last week, is intended for the construction of a bigger City Market structure than the present one.
Minister of Local Government Vincent Mwale earlier revealed that US$20 million is needed to reconstruct City Market.