Analysis: GODFREY SIMWINGA
EVERY discernable trading space within our towns and cities is being decimated at an alarming rate by salaula traders. If the trend is left to spiral out of
control, we risk adding to our status a salaula tag. Perhaps it’s because many average Zambians are in love with the so-called bend-down boutique, aptly named for its nature to force customers to stoop and rummage through a pile for their catch.
Many visitors to most of our towns, including the capital, cannot miss the open-air trade that has choked, locusts like, many of our avenues and side streets. The famous Lumumba and Freedom ways are always in salaula frenzy from dawn to dusk. Yes, it is a multi-million Kwacha business that is run by largely unbanked and untaxed informal traders. Permit me not to delve into unbanked and untaxed issues as this is for another day.
People with a bone to chew with the unsanitary salaula business and its twin effects of claiming huge spaces for trade rarely share their hopelessness. Salaula has also started a shouting match; hundreds of mainly women and youth shout their lungs out trying to lure customers to bend down for that cheap second-hand pair of shoes, skirt, shirt, pant or jacket. Innovation has added to the confusion with the advent of recorded messages being played so much loud as to even confuse buyers. Popular musical and comic artistes have traded their voices to battery-powered amplifies to do their bidding.
Women especially have been known to move from one mountain of clothes or shoes or handbags and sometimes second-hand panties to another, deftly defying time and competing pairs of hands fishing for the gold in their catch. Even if one doesn’t want to talk about tax, those in the formal sector complain about the laxity given to the booming salaula business. With the burden of tax hinging on the formal sector, a third in numbers compared to their untaxed opposites, voices to regulate, tax and sanitise salaula trading are growing ever louder.
Salaula traders, on the other hand, say they are choking from local authorities’ taxes, sometimes done on a daily basis. They say when you add cadres and internal salaula cartels, the combined loot can help sanitise salaula business. A perfect start would be to use the money generated to acquire a centralised location away from the hustle and bustle of towns.
One school of thought contends that setting aside space for salaula trading away from town is the best solution. When I visited Malawi some time ago, I marvelled at how salaula trading by then was given a special market away from main town Lilongwe. I had to board a minibus to an outskirt that stocked second-hand shoes and clothes. I was on assignment to buy second- hand military style boots craved by our macho youngsters.
Since salaula doesn’t need much of complicated buildings, a covered only space, replete with parking, left locker luggage arrangements and a partially rain cover can do the trick. Since ours is slowly becoming a salaula nation, many of us would still follow the trade. We could also use standing infrastructure like Heroes and Mwanawasa stadia car parks incorporating picturesque partial roves to act as salaula spaces. This is workable provided the traders are told to dismantle during games that demand heavy car park space.
Another option is just to look for bare land that can accommodate salaula trade, replete with night illumination if 24/7 is in these traders vocabulary. For Lusaka, Chongwe could present a solution to this problem. The local authorities on the other hand can sit down with the traders in a participatory manner to endorse an area and a timeline of choice. Imagine the tranquillity of a salaula mini town, where all of us can be rushing once the urge of a salaula experience is on us.
There is still the third option of barricading backstreets in a manner that allows for salaula trading. Why can’t we map back streets and leave space for salaula? We really need to rethink approaches to road traffic in cities like Lusaka. Major streets such as Lumumba need to be re-evaluated in regard to vehicular, pedestrian, and trader use, while side streets could be blocked off from vehicles entirely. Allowing some streets to be pedestrian only can pave way for salaula.
Although the aforementioned might seem radical, “development” should not be left to “rummaging through a pile” or “salaula”
The author is a Social and Political Commentator – email@example.com 0963013760 – 0954593848 – 0977466284