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No business under electricity pylons: Zesco puts safety first, evicts traders

LUSAKA, the country’s largest city, has been battling with the challenge of street vending for a long time now.
Despite existing markets, among others Luburma (Kamwala), City Centre, New Soweto and COMESA and others under construction, some marketeers opt to trade outside the markets, where they find it convenient to reach customers.
The influx of traders especially in the central business district (CBD) of Lusaka has had its own consequences such as litter and lack of adequate parking space.
In their quest to get closer to customers, some traders have resolved to improvise by finding space illegally and place themselves under the high voltage of electricity pylons at Soweto market.
For years, the local authority in partnership with the State power utility company (Zesco) have attempted to remove the traders from uner the electricity pylons but they constantly returned, claiming they have nowhere else to go.
Getrude Nyirenda, of Kanyama township claims she has been trading under the pylons for over 20 years.
Though she is fully aware of the dangers associated with the pylons, she does not mind as one of the benefits she derives is lack of remittance of levy to the local authority.
Mrs Nyirenda, a charcoal seller claims business under the pylons is good compared to designated markets.
“I was once located space at the new Soweto market but I found trading inside the market quite challenging. At times, I would only sell products worth K50 on a daily basis. This would result in perishable goods going bad.
“And the other problem I encountered was that I was required to pay levy on a daily basis, with or without business. These are some of the things that made me leave the market and resort to trade here under the pylons. I know it is not safe but what can I do, I need to put food on the table,” Mrs Nyirenda says.
Martin Chewe is another trader who feels ‘safe’ to trade under the high voltage pylons as he doesn’t have to deal with levy-collectors from the local authority.
Mr Chewe, a dry beans trader, of Zingalume township, however, complains about party cadres who claim ownership of the space and collect money from the traders.
“However, it is not a big deal managing the cadres as we easily negotiate with them regarding the price. So I’m quite disturbed that Government has decided to move us from this trading area,” Mr Chewe laments.
Hyde Michelo, another trader has asked for leniency from the local authority by allowing them to trade under the pylons until they find designated markets to trade from.
Mr Michelo, a father of eight of Matero township, claims he has lost K1,000 worth of charcoal following his eviction from the illegal and dangerous trading area.
“They forcefully kicked us out of the trading area and my goods were thrown out and in the process, I lost my products.
These are among the many traders that were recently forcefully moved away from the Zesco pylons in Lusaka.
But the power utility company says it has removed the over 5,000 vendors and dwellers for safety purposes.
The area, which some people had turned into their homes, was raided by State and council police recently to rid it of the traders.
Zesco public relations officer Henry Kapata says the aspect of safety is paramount to the power utility company.
Mr Kapata says a 4 km stretch of Zesco pylons has been barricaded from Kafue Road up to Mumbwa Road.
He says currently, State police are manning the area and once complete with seven gates mounted, officers from the power utility company will be stationed at the various localities.
“The idea behind this is that pylons have so much been patronised by vendors and traders. So we have been emphasising on the aspect of safety as it is paramount for us.
“As much as they (vendors) might feel it is safe to trade under the pylons, the worry is once the electricity conductors snap, people are at risk of being electrocuted,” Mr Kapata says.
He says the company did engage the affected traders on the matter although the majority were unwilling to relocate.
Mr Kapata says a committee on the removal of the vendors from the area incorporated the affected traders and sensitised them on the dangers of trading under the pylons.
He says people who had constructed permanent structures around the area were compensated in certain cases.
“There is a law to this effect, the Electricity Act; it is there, except we thought it would be important to engage the affected traders and failure to comply, we would take them to court. So far so good, we have managed to convince them and they are out of those pylons,” he says.
Mr Kapata laments the power utility company faces another challenge of people cultivating under the pylons in Lusaka’s Chalala area.
He says people cultivating under the high voltage pylons are also at risk of being killed if any of the lines drop off.
“Yes, we have a responsibility to provide safe electricity but we also get concerned when people start patronising these dangerous areas, so whoever will be found trespassing in those areas will face the wrath of the law,” he says.

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