NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
THE biggest of them all was undoubtedly the in fire July when property worth millions of Kwacha was destroyed at City Market in Lusaka thereby affecting thousands of lives that depended on the market to earn a living.
Yet the fire at City Market was not an isolated case.
The first half of 2017 was dominated by news headlines about sporadic fire incidents in different parts of the country.
In August 2016, Tambalala market in Lusaka’s Bauleni township was destroyed by fire in a suspected political violence crime.
At the time of the market fire, President Edgar Lungu had visited Bauleni township to inspect it.
Preliminary investigations suggested petrol bombs were used to set the market ablaze and the incident was one of varied pockets of violence experienced in different areas after a tight general election which ushered in President Lungu’s second term.
Traders at the market lost goods worth millions of kwacha in the fire, and at the start of 2017, many similar incidents began to be recorded.
The Tambalala Market fire was followed by the gutting of a store room at a Mongu local court in April 2017. Residents of the town fought hard to quench a fire that was started by unknown people. It was later discovered that petrol was used in setting the fire.
Yet again in April, a local court in Lusaka’s Kanyama township caught fire and a makeshift warehouse in Choma located at a market called Makalanguzu was set ablaze. As with the Mongu and Bauleni fires, the Kanyama and Choma fires were seen as a politically motivated act of arson.
But the fires continued to occur and again in the same month, an inferno swept through 120 shops located at Lusaka’s Kamwala Market. It was estimated that goods worth millions of Kwacha were lost in that fire.
Following the incident, Minister in the Office of the Vice President, Sylvia Chalikosa had directed investigative wings to conduct a thorough forensic investigation to establish the cause of the fire.
Another event in April involved the arrest of four youths outside the Lusaka Central Correctional Facility who were found with substances capable of causing a fire, and again in the same month, a person was apprehended for attempting to set ablaze Intercity Bus Terminus in Lusaka. The arsonist in this incident tried to set a bus on fire after lighting a head sock.
On May 1, Kafue District Education Board offices were gutted and two containers of petrol were found at the scene. On June 1, 10,000 households were affected in Ndola following the destruction of Zesco electricity pylons.
The incident in Ndola was followed by a similar act where citizens and industries serviced by the Kafue West – Lusaka West line were affected by the destruction of Zesco pylons.
All the various fire incidents culminated into the worst one of them all in July 2017 when the Lusaka City Market, the country’s largest market, was gutted.
Property worth millions of Kwacha was destroyed in the City Market fire and simultaneously, a fire erupted at Lusaka’s Misisi township market.
The Lusaka City Market fire affected hundreds of traders who had spent years at the market etching out a daily living and it also happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and appeared to be the cumulative effect of all previous fires before it.
Following the fire, President Lungu issued a statement on national television in which he highlighted and condemned the various fire-related incidents that led up to the Lusaka City Market fire.
“You will appreciate that the recent gutting of markets will have untold misery on the poor traders and their families whose livelihoods are largely dependent on the existence of the market,” President Lungu said in an address to the nation.
“This therefore calls for Government to formulate intervening measures to alleviate their suffering. I wish to announce that a committee of ministers has been formed to be chaired by the Vice President which in due course will provide details on the form and nature of assistance that will be provided to those affected.”
President Lungu requested the committee to superintend over the rebuilding of the markets that had been affected in a similar nature and called upon the business community, all well-meaning Zambians and residents to support this initiative in whatever form practical.
To ensure transparency and accountability, he specified that all forms of support-financial, material or otherwise to would be coordinated through the Vice-President’s office.
To ensure national security and control the spate of arson attacks, President Lungu announced he would seek parliamentary approval to declare a threatened State of Public Emergency and assured that all law-abiding citizens would not be affected in any way.
He cited article 31 of the republican constitution, which guides how a nation should deal with an existing situation which, if allowed to continue, may lead to a threatened State of Public Emergency.
Shortly after his televised address, a motion was tabled in Parliament which saw the House approve President Lungu’s declaration of article 31.
Despite the threatened State of Emergency being in effect however, a fire swept through Ndola’s biggest market, the Masala market, at the end of August, 2017 and less than two months, a huge section of Lusaka City Market was destroyed by fire.
The Masala market fire affected hundreds of traders and left little for them to salvage as the flames reduced the market to ashes.
After a 90-day window, the State of Threatened Emergency declared in July came to an end in October 2017 but the month also happened to witness another fire at Lusaka’s City market which once more saw the destruction of merchandise worth millions of Kwacha. Government recently announced that it had failed to raise enough funds to reconstruct the affected part of Lusaka City Market.
Local Government and Housing Minister Vincent Mwale stated that Government had now decided to downgrade its earlier intention to construct a six-storey building and would instead settle for a three-storey building due to lack of funds.