Street vending: Back to square one?

LUSAKA’S Freedom Way after the removal of street vendors.

IT is slightly over a year ago since President Edgar Lungu directed all the three wings of the defences force to join the Ministry of Health and the Lusaka City Council (LCC) in escalated efforts to contain the spread of cholera in the capital city.
Government had declared an outbreak of cholera in Lusaka on October 6, 2017 after confirming two cases that were presented to Chipata First-Level Hospital.
The outbreak was to later affect Chipata, Garden, Kanyama, Chawama, Matero, Kabanana, Garden House, Mazyopa, Chazanga, Misisi, Bauleni, Mandevu, Ng’ombe, Mtendere and John Laing townships.
Low-density areas including Rhodespark, Woodlands, Balastone, Chelstone, Silverest, Chamba Valley and Ibex Meanwood among others were also affected.
At some stage, Lusaka was recording an average of 60 new cases every day. The outbreak was initially linked to contaminated water from shallow wells and unsanitary conditions in the residential and public areas affected.
However, it was later found that the spread of cholera was being propagated through contaminated food following an analysis of food samples such as mangoes, apples, fish, meats, and chicken obtained from various markets and streets.
From the cases that were recorded, the majority of those affected were traders, street vendors and people who had consumed raw and ready-to-eat food from the streets and some markets.
Analysis of food samples from restaurants and food handlers in Soweto market and some street vendors revealed contamination with feacal matter and vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes cholera.
Drastic measures had to be undertaken.
One of the measures was the directive to have defence forces to join in the cleaning. Initially, the sprawling Soweto market was closed to allow for thorough cleaning. Interim measures also included suspension of street vending in identified areas in order to allow for thorough cleaning, garbage collection and unblocking of drainages.
There were also broad restrictions in the sale of raw and ready-to-eat foods including fruits, vegetables, meats, chicken, and fish on the streets and trading areas with unsanitary conditions.
All markets, bars, restaurants and other public places that did not meet the required public health standards and sanitary conditions and posed a risk to further cholera transmission were closed until they satisfied the required hygiene standards.
Later, a Statutory Instrument banning street vending was issued by the Minister of Local Government.
But fast forward a few months later, vendors are slowly creeping back to the streets.
LCC, whose mandate is to ensure that the ban on street vending is adhered to, seems unable to address the problem.
LCC public relations George Sichimba says the council recently recruited more council police officers to help enforce the ban on street vending but the number seems not to be adequate.
“The problem is that people want to be where they want to be in the market, all of them want to be on the front table of the entrance,” Mr Sichimba says. “For example, in Kuku market, people have left the market, its empty as they all want to be at the first table of the entrance, which is not possible.”
He says vendors do not want to sell their goods in designated places and always want to get very close to the customers.
“We are, however, determined to ensure street vendors do not go back to the streets,” he says.
Between January and October last year, LCC arrested 899 street vendors with 290 of them appearing in the Fast Track Court (FTC), where they were convicted.
“Of the convicted number, 53 failed to pay the prescribed fines resulting in them serving custodial sentences of two weeks simple imprisonment while 237 managed to pay fines,” Mr. Sichimba says.
Mr Sichimba is urging members of the public to help in curbing street vending by restraining themselves from buying food items and non-food items from the streets. SI number 12 of 2018 regulation 46 implicates the buyer. Under this regulation, any person found buying from street vendors can be arrested and charged.
Green Enviro-Watch (GEW) chief executive officer Abel Musumali, whose not-for-profit organisation looks at environmental sanitation and other issues to deal with the environment, says the coming back of the vendors on the market is a sad development.
“Street vending leads to accumulation of solid waste such as plastics, paper, food waste, cans, glass and other dirt on the street causing environmental hazards which leads to the clogging of the fragile drainage system in Lusaka thereby causing floods,” Mr Musumali observes.
“When waste accumulates on the streets and drainages are blocked, it causes a breeding ground of vibrio virus that causes cholera and other diarrhea related illnesses.”
Lusaka resident Simon Mwewa, who was recently in the news for compelling a woman vendor to pick litter, has his view.
“The law that bans street vending needs to be seriously enforced if cholera is to be prevented,” Mr Mwewa, who has his offices at the famous Simoson Building off Los Angeles Road in Lusaka, says.
He says unfortunately, those against street vending are seen as villains or anti-poor by members of the public especially the vendors themselves.
The fight against street vending is not an easy one.
Thelma Mulenga, who owns a shop in Lusaka’s Kamwala trading area, is not happy with the way the council police are working.
“I have decided to take some of my products outside my shop and join the vendors because they are blocking customers from entering the shop and council police do not chase them,” Ms Mulenga, who sells women and children’s clothes, says.
“If we experience cholera again, it is because of LCC police officers who have failed to perform.”
For Kennedy Kalunga, another street vendor in the Kamwala area, the excuse is the one already known.
“The government is building markets in the outskirts of town where there is no business, that is why we keep on coming back to these busy areas because this is where people are,” Mr Kalunga says.
Miriam Chibwe, who sells tomatoes and fruits in Kamwala, has a sallable reason why she is on the street.
“Hunger is what has brought me back in the streets, I need to provide food to my four children and also pay for their school fees,” she says.
“I’m a widow and have no any education qualifications because even the Chinese people when employing they ask for qualifications.”
Why she brings in the Chinese in the conversation is another topic altogether.
But her colleague, Mary Chishimba, who sells dry fish at Kulima Tower, has the same justification. She says her husband left her with five children and she has no means of providing for them.
“I have to pay rentals, pay for my children’s school fees and if I stay at home they will not get an education,” Ms Chishimba says.
But septuagenarian Janet Bwalya, who sells mopane worms (Vinkhubala) near Downtown Shopping Centre in Kamwala, wants the ban on street vending reversed altogether.
“The president should reconsider on the decision of chasing street vendors as some of us are very old to be running from the council police. He is the only one who can make us do our business here in the streets in peace,” Mrs Bwalya says.
Whatever the case, public health is at stake

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