By Mthoniswa Banda
IT IS not the ZRA (Zambia Revenue Authority) that most businesses fear in Lusaka. It is the gangs, the Gangs of Lusaka City! With ZRA the taxes one pays are fixed by a known formula and periodically required according to one’s business activities. ZRA waits for the business to declare its activities or sales and then the formula kicks in to determine how much the business owes ZRA and government. This is not so with the Gangs of Lusaka. Their payment is varied, and formula not known. The bosses decide how much businesses pay them and when to pay.
When a business doesn’t have the cash the pay (to pay the bearer on demand) the business is shut down and or their services disrupted. Sometimes their business premise is allocated to another one (those deemed serious with business). One would expect that such a gang operating in Lusaka would do so as a secret society or done in the night, nay.
These gangs operate in broad day light and rub shoulders with the sanctioned offices of the council, Zambia Police, government agencies and business associations. Take for instance in the market, the Gangs of Lusaka control who gets the market stalls and market shops.
They have somehow found a way of acquiring all shops and stalls from the Lusaka City Council and Market administrations and now lease these shops and stalls at their economic figure which in most cases is 10 or more times the rentals charged by the council for these stalls or shops. All the shop owners in the markets of Chilenje, Kabwata, Mtendere, City Market and Soweto Markets owe their rentals not to the Council but to these Gangs of Lusaka.
A simple comparison of the market list from Lusaka City Council and a physical roll call will show you proof of this elaborate and well executed scheme of sub leasing Council stalls and shops by these Gangs of Lusaka. Sometimes headed by the market chairman or boss, they collect levies and other fees as when they deem fit. They can collect funds for a funeral or funds for a political rally or funds to go and watch a football match. The tenants have no choice but to cough out these monies as and when they are required. Farmers that truck their produce to Soweto market or any farmers’market are aware of the power of these gangs.
Farmer Pascal Polepole in his post to the Small Scale farmers Group in November 2018 lamented at the power that these gangs possessed and “were so powerful to make their own rules that if a farmer did not comply they had the audacity to tell one never to come sell at the market again stating that they can even beat you up and confiscate your farm goods and you will not have anywhere to report.” Polepole says the retail agents working with the Gangs of Lusaka even dictate the price at which your goods will fetch.
“They make sure they buy everything from the farmers at meagre prices and remain retailing them at huge profits when the farmer is gone.” Polepole advices new comers to the markets to identify these retail cartels and find ways of working with them if their goods are to be sold at all at these markets.
Another farmer Elvis Chibale claims the police at New Soweto Market are afraid of these Gangs of Lusaka, known as maJimbos, as they wield both political and economic influence at the market. At Intercity Bus Terminus or any bus station, these Gangs of Lusaka have exerted their influence and power such that no bus can load or depart from the station if it has not paid the gangs their share of protection fee and operation fee. Every bus that leaves Intercity Bus Terminus has to pay up as much as K500 per bus depending on size and destination.
Every minibus that leaves the City Council owned bus station, save for private owned ones, has to part away with this loading fee that too ranges from bus to bus size and destination. Their power at one time led to several bus companies like Euro Bus Company, CR and others to break away from operating from Intercity in preference for private bus stations. President Levy Mwanawasa at one time ordered the Zambia Police to get rid of these gangs from the markets and bus stations.
This action resulted in the nabbing of gang leaders who were found with AK 47s and huge sums of monies from the Intercity Bus Terminus. Before then, President Chiluba too had to contend with the once powerful taxi gang called the United Taxis and Transport Association (UTTA) once led by my neighbour from Garneton Kitwe, Willie Nsanda, who controlled the ins and outs of all bus stations countrywide. UTTA had to be deregistered because they were nothing but a gang of crooked individuals that fleeced every transporter out of their hard-earned cash. The UTTA gang owned no bus or taxies and yet controlled the industry.
The modern taxi rank gangs of Lusaka control which pirate taxi or licenced taxi operates within the City of Lusaka. Pirate taxes pay location fee ranging from K1,500 in the taxi ranks on Freedom Way and surrounding areas to K15,000 in the taxi ranks on Cairo Rd and the vicinity of the CBD (commercial business district). These monies go the Gang bosses who in turn give a cut to the town bosses and other gang leaders operating from Council and Government offices.
According to one taxi owner, James Phiri (not his real name for fear of being beaten) who plies his trade from Lusaka’s Longacres area, ‘no new taxi can be allowed to operate in any area unless they are willing to pay these entry fees and contribute protection monthly fees to the Boss and his crew.’ On our roads, every motorist knows that when one is on a journey, they need to keep some loose cash to oil the palms of another Gang of Lusaka.
This one wears the Zambia Police Traffic uniform. They make your travelling around the city of Lusaka hell. They hide in un marked roads and blind curves lying in wait for any suspicious looking car or motorist, regardless of whether the car or drivers have adequate papers and registrations. They grab your driver’s licence or claim to impound your vehicle for a countless number of offences until you pay up a ludicrous figure of K450 times the number of offenses cited.
They know that the inconvenience they create on your journey will force you to negotiate for a lesser charge and pay a release fee (ya ka lunch or admit of guilty) before you go. Their behaviour once forced the RTSA (Road Transport and Safety Agency) through their then Public Relations Manager Mukelwa Mangolwa to say “it was not in order for traffic officers to confiscate drivers licences or impound vehicles for offences that require bookings” adding that “we (RTSA) have communicated to the Police High Command on this issues … police officers have to differentiate between impoundable and non-impoundable offenses to avoid inconveniencing the traveling public” he told the media.
These Gangs of Lusaka are becoming sophisticated every day and are arming themselves with resources and weapons that very soon, no market will run without their say so and no business will operate without paying taxes. They will one day move into real estate or expand through-out Zambia and begin holding people’s properties and businesses at ransom. Just across the river in South Africa, motor taxis gangs kill each other over who operates in what route and what kind of bus size can be allowed in their locations.
In June 2016, Uber drivers had their vehicles burnt and several drivers killed when these gangs declared Uber operations illegal in the Sandton area of Johannesburg. Jonathan Ayache, General Manager for Uber told the media “It’s been consistent violence against our drivers for months and all that we want is to work and earn an income to provide for our families”. Government through its agencies like ZRA, the Zambia Police, Drug Enforcement Commission and the Lusaka City Council need to reclaim these business operation areas away from these Gangs of Lusaka. Not only are these gangs reaping where they did not sow, they are distorting the market offices of our economy and are adding huge costs to the cost of doing business and costs of goods and services. Their actions are illegal and counter-productive to the spirt of enterprise and hard work of the majority Zambian worker.
The author is Media Relations and Communications Expert at MB Zambia Ltd www.facebook.com/MthoniswaB