DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
CHILUFYA Chileya is a vegetable trader who travels back and forth, sometimes twice a day, between Lusaka’s main Soweto Market to collect vegetables for sale in Zingalume Township.“Although not satisfied with being a trader, I am grateful that I can do something that puts food on the table for my children,” she says.
Not only that, Ms Chileya also says she has managed to build a house in Zingalume just from her vegetable business.
Her main worry is only during the rainy season.
“Whenever it rains, coming here [Soweto market] is unbearable but I have no choice because I have been trading in vegetables for years,” Ms Chileya says.
Soweto becomes filthy whenever it rains.
“I am happy that it is not raining now, the filthy environment is sometimes too much to a point that one has to wear protective boots and sometimes you have to carry another pair of clothes to change after doing your business here.”
The Glorious Band would say the story of Soweto market is well known [Ilyashi Likaya].
The market lacks proper water drainage systems thereby giving rise to the potential outbreak of water-borne diseases like cholera, which Lusaka City was battling with only recently.
“There is no way we can allow this to happen so long after independence. I don’t understand,” said a shocked Minister of Local Government Vincent Mwale, who toured the market last month with his Gender counterpart, Victoria Kalima. “What needs to happen here is an entire upgrade to the place.”
But for all the complaints against its trading environment, Soweto market remains a popular destination for many shoppers.
She needs to check TripAdvisor, an American travel and restaurant website company providing hotel and restaurant reviews, accommodation bookings and other travel-related content.
“Best place to visit especially if you are not afraid of crowds! For locals, everything under one massive roof… For foreign tourists, a good place to experience life in one of the biggest markets of Lusaka. Please make sure you move with a friend or a person who knows the market well as the place may seem overwhelming for a loner,” one reviewer wrote.
Another one added: “Since there is not much else to do, I took a drive out there with a taxi. It is a true African market, people everywhere, cars and taxis hooting and shouting. I felt uncomfortable to leave the taxi and just decided to drive through, which was the interesting part. I’ve been to many African markets, but the mayhem at this one is by far the worst. Fun to see, so go look and decide for yourself, and just have an exit plan.”
There are many other positive reviews of Soweto market.
“A walk through this market place is a must, from vendors selling all kinds of trinkets and Chinese-made goodies, to the shop stalls peddling new and used apparel, from undies to wolly jumpers and everything in between,” another reviewer wrote.
“The small shops offer just about any kind of new goods from phone chargers to fridges and the latest flat screen TVs and portable hi-fi’s. Adding to the hustle and bustle are the busy side walk salons where ladies can do a dazzling hair style, while the traffic passes by. If one is a little hungry, there are some take- away food eateries, mostly chicken and chips. A very busy place and look out for the usual street urchins lurking about.”
They are mostly right. Soweto market, located on Los Angeles road on the western part of the city, is a place where you can find anything; groceries, toiletries, medicines, clothes, furniture, stationary, Zambian curios and one suspects even spare parts for an aircraft.
But despite the positives, the traders still want the issue of sanitation to be attended to.
“We’re not happy, we feel very unsafe. Now there is no much peace. The market now accommodates everyone, farmers, buyers and us the traders, unlike before, farmers had their specific place. The other side was closed because of the cholera epidemic and currently, the place is under construction,” Isaac Sakala, who sells groundnuts at the market, says.
An agribusiness expert, Wesley Litaba Wakun’uma, says the situation at Soweto market hinders the growth of the country’s agribusiness.
“Any agribusiness venture needs access to markets in order to create a profitable food market. The time has come for making Zambian agriculture and agribusiness a catalyst for ending poverty. We have lots of people venturing in agribusiness but the situation at Soweto market is one that can negatively affect access to markets,” Mr Wakun’uma says.
“Unlocking the potential of agribusiness in Zambia begins with better and orderly food markets where customers can assemble and buy whatever they need, from vegetables to fruits.
“Soweto market is a competitive place even among Zambia’s neighbours, but it is held back by the difficulty and filthy environment farmers and traders work from. Trading in a filthy place is a major deterrent for consumers and this constrains the growth and performance of our farmers and agribusiness ventures in Zambia.”
Fortunately, the minister of local government is seemingly on top of things.
“The new vegetables and fruits wholesale trading markets at new Soweto is taking shape. Farmers and traders will soon trade in a safe environment with adequate sanitary facilities,” Mr Mwale says.
“The market will have four shelters, 28 toilets, four showers, a large parking space for trucks bringing farm produce and a solid waste collection bay.”
He says once the market starts operating, a health committee will be appointed to ensure that the highest levels of sanitation are upheld.
“It is absolutely important that we do that considering that almost all farm produce that end up on our tables pass through this market and any contamination risks lives of the entire population of the city,” Mr Mwale says.
The new market is expected to accommodate over 2,500 traders.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka