KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
WEDNESDAY, July 18, 2018 might have started like an ordinary day for traders at COMESA market. As usual by 19:00hours, many traders had closed their shops for business.
Two hours later hundreds of traders had gathered at the market amid confusion to save their goods which were caught in a blaze that was ferociously sweeping through the stalls.
Those who were lucky managed to salvage what they could from the fire. However, amid the confusion, those whose shops had survived the fire faced a misfortune as their shops were broken into and goods were looted.
Some traders who unfortunately appeared on the scene late, only wept as they saw their goods worth millions of Kwacha being reduced to ashes.
Lusaka Fire Department managed to quench the fire but it was too late to save the millions of goods in Kwacha which had gone up in flames.
By Saturday, the atmosphere at the market was still sombre as traders continued to literally mourn for their loss.
In disbelief, some traders were found sitting at their burnt shops as though their goods would be back again.
“I am still in a state of shock. Where will I start from now? This was my livelihood; I have managed to educate all my children through to college because of this business,” Jane Mwansa lamented.
Ms Mwansa, whose shop was completely burnt to ashes, said despite the misfortune, she wants to quickly rebuild her business and start trading again as any delays may cripple her financially.
However, although Ms Mwansa is anxious to re-start her business at the same market, authorities have asked all the traders not to start trading because they will be relocated to an alternative place while the market is being re-built.
But Ms Mwansa, like many other traders, is adamant about not relocating and has since started setting up a make-shift stall within the premises.
“I have no plans of moving to another trading place while authorities work on rebuilding this market because I do not know how long it will take. I would rather set up my stall here and continue with my business,” she said.
Another trader, John Shawa, who has been trading at the market for more than five years, said closing the market for rehabilitation indefinitely will push the many traders into economic hardship.
“We have been told that the COMESA secretariat has a better plan for this market and that is the plan they want to use to rebuild this market but our concern is how long will that exercise take? And what guarantee is there that we will still have space in this market once they rebuild it?” he asks.
Mr Shawa is also reluctant to go for the verification exercise at the COMESA secretariat saying it does not guarantee him a shop.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about this market now. And my fear like many other traders here is if we will remain at this market and how we are going to survive if the authorities decide to close it because I have no plans of moving anywhere else,” he said.
His concerns were echoed by another trader, Betty Kalumba, who is of the view that being relocated to another trading market will cause more problems for the traders than solutions.
President Edgar Lungu, who toured COMESA market two days after the inferno, assured the traders of Government’s support.
The President also directed Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo to work hand in hand with Minister of Local Government Vincent Mwale to ensure that a temporary trading area is identified for the traders to operate from while Government works on the gutted market.
But the traders have remained defiant against Government’s plans stating they would rather continue trading at the same market.
The traders have also continued requesting Government and COMESA secretariat to allow them re-build the structure on their own.
But Mr Mwale has said it would be irresponsible for Government to allow the traders to re-build the market. Mr Mwale said COMESA will re-build the facility to acceptable standards.
He said the facility will be cordoned to prevent the loss of life and property adding that the fire was somewhat a result of the state of the market.
“COMESA has started the process of coming up with architectural designs for the market but the process had stopped. But now they have resumed,” he said.
However, the traders who have been requested to report to the COMESA secretariat for a verification exercise of their details have been slow in responding to the call, which started on Saturday July 14 and was expected to end on Monday July 15.
By Wednesday last week, the verification exercise was on-going with the COMESA Traders Trust Board chairman Misheck Musonda explaining that the exercise has been slow because most traders are reluctant to do so.
Mr Musonda, who acknowledged that some traders have started selling from the market, said it has been a challenge advising his members on the importance of the verification exercise and the need to relocate to an alternative market.
“As to the way forward about relocating, we will wait for the authorities to tell us what to do next,” he said.
Mr Musonda said the authorities had suggested the traders relocate to City Market but the members are resisting moving to a new place because they are not sure how long it will take the authorities to build a modern market.
“The members are refusing to move because they are afraid of an indefinite period it will take to rebuild the facility. They are scared of losing their customers once they move to a new trading place. It is still a challenge to convince them to move. For now, some have gone back to the market to conduct their business,” he said.
The fire, which has resulted in the death of one trader, has affected 2,500 other traders at the market.
KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka