Street vendors look for their place

Mar 26, 2010

Time and again the Zambian government has tried to chase vendors from the streets of Lusaka. But they keep coming back, as they often cannot afford to pay for a stand on the market. Caroline Michelo investigates the reasons for the ongoing conflict.

Mulenga Katongo wears a simple traditional wrap and a stained top. She balances a tray of bananas and oranges on her head. Mulenga tries to sell her fruits at city market in Lusaka. On most days the woman in her early thirties walks on the streets to offer her merchandise. Today it is raining and she has chosen to come to the market because there is a shelter to protect her from the rain. But Mulenga is not at ease - her business is illegal. For her it’s not allowed to sell neither in the street nor walking around in the market offering her merchandise. Mulenga suffers from the situation. “We can’t have a situation where there are no vendors in town. What will we eat? We make our money in the streets.” Mulenga says that she couldn’t sell from the markets. It’s too expensive. “There’s a lot of corruption going on”, she adds. Mulenga has been selling fruits on the streets for three years now as a way of helping the husband sustain the family. They have to pay their children’s school fees and provide their five children with basic needs like many other vendors. Working with fear The battle lines between Lusaka city council and street vendors seem to be drawn. Chanda Makanta council public relations manager says, ”it’s very unfortunate that people believe that when they sell on the street they make more money than they would in the market.” But why do the council and the government want these people out of the street despite the hard economic situation the country is facing? Shouldn’t the Zambian authorities be glad that the unemployed find their way out of poverty? On a normal day, Lusaka streets are crowded with vendors competently balancing trays with fruits and vegetables mainly on their heads. They carry on their work amidst fear of being arrested by police and the council. Is it that these people want to be on the streets and not designated market places simply because they want to reach out to their customers and avoid paying council levy of about 3200 kwacha per day? Mulenga argues, in her opinion the markets are not enough to accommodate all the people selling and she says it is very difficult to acquire stands in the market. Way forward Mercy Phiri from the Lusaka district business association shares the concern of the vendors: “The markets’ space here is not enough and those in top most positions grab the stands first. People who want to get a stand have to rent from those few selfish individuals, who hike the prices and this pushes marketers back to the streets.” Mercy seems to have a solution for the authorities: “If the government can legalise one street in the town center to allow these vendors to conduct their business especially in the evening when most people are knocking off from work, it would help the vendor. They could even collect levy from there.” But until the situation on the market changes or the Lusaka city Council declares a street a legal vending place, Mulenga will continue carrying bananas and oranges on her head – always prepared to run away from the police. Caroline Michelo