By KAPALA CHISUNKA and DOREEN NAWA
ISSUES concerning the management of markets and bus stations continue to rage countrywide.
In fact, the problem of who runs the markets stems from the United National Independence Party (UNIP) era when the vigilantes or political party youth wing controlled collection of levies and other fees from traders.
Now, the fight is purely a turf war between those in the ruling party and those perceived to belong to the opposition. But like in any turf war, it is the innocent who usually suffer.
Vivian Zulu (not real name) is a second hand clothes trader at Lusaka’s Soweto market. Ms Zulu sought anonymity for fear of victimisation. She has been trading at the market for over two years to help provide for her family.
She explains that like many women traders who do not engage in any form of politics, trading at the market can be difficult because they are usually harassed by alleged political party cadres.
“We have learned to do as they want or as they demand. You do not want to be found on the wrong side. We are ordered to pay levy to authorised Lusaka City Council (LCC) and sometimes depending on where you find yourself selling from, you have to pay to those people who also claim to be LCC except these demand for a lot more,” she said.
Ms Zulu complained that there is usually no order on how things are done at the trading area and the most affected are the women.
She said to avoid being caught in the fracas which became a daily occurrence, she opted to find a stall in another section of the market were only authorised LCC officers collect levy from them.
“I have been operating from this side for a while and we conduct our business in peace with no interference or intimidation from anyone. At least officials from LCC are understanding when you explain that you don’t have money to pay that day as long as you promise to pay the next day,” she said.
Another trader who also sought anonymity but only identified herself as Sally said the problem of turf wars in markets and bus stations remains complex and one that many people have failed to understand.
She said the power struggle pertaining to who controls the markets and bus station among opposition political parties should not be an issue because it is the Council which has the mandate to regulate.
“There is intimidation and harassment here. People come here demanding money from us as levy claiming the money is for the growth of the market and bus station. Whether or not that is indeed true, we may never know. But we also pay levy to LCC officers.
She added, “Sometimes when traders fail to pay levy to the group of collectors, they risk losing their stalls the next day because you may find someone else has taken over. And when that happens, you have no one to complain to except finding another stall to operate from.”
Another trader, Joe Kaluba who trades in second hand shoes at Soweto market said the current situation is delicate and it has created fear in most traders especially women.
Mr Kaluba wondered why the running of markets should not be left in the hands of the local authorities.
“It is about time LCC took up their responsibility and started controlling and managing markets and bus stations without interference from anyone,” he said.
The situation at City market or Soweto market is no different from what is pertaining at other big trading places in Lusaka. The outcry for most traders is that the markets and bus stations are free of political interference and be placed in the rightful hands of the local authorities.
But like many traders, Mr Kaluba is also happy over President Lungu’s stance to allow the running of markets and bus stations to be left to local authorities.
Last month, President Lungu through his special assistant for press and public relations Amos Chanda emphasised the need for the operations of the markets and bus stations to be left to councils.
Mr Chanda said that President Lungu also met stakeholders in the running of the markets and bus stations to assure them that the councils would remain in charge of the operations of markets and bus stations.
But some traders are happy about the pronouncement by President Lungu because they are tired of being harassed and intimidated.
According to some bus drivers, LCC should take charge and run the bus stations and markets because it is their responsibility to do so instead of allowing political parties members.
“We are happy about what the President has said and we hope LCC will take this serious because we are Zambians and must be allowed to operate freely without fear and intimidation from anyone regardless of which party we support,” said one of the drivers.
However, Patriotic Front (PF) Lusaka province youth chairperson Kennedy Kamba said the claims that the members harass traders are unfounded.
He said just because the party is in power and has branches at every market and bus station like any other political party does not mean that the members have the authority to run the affairs of the trading places.
“My advice to those who are being harassed by the cadres should go and report the matter to the police because markets are free for all and everyone is expected trade in peace; free of intimidation.
In fact, victims should be able to identify people harassing them because these are the people they trade with at the market. So it will be easy to report to the police,” Mr Kamba said.
He said the PF does not tolerate lawlessness.