Dismayed by continuous fights over trading spaces between street vendors and city councils and in his effort to stop the misunderstandings, President Lazarus Chakwera yesterday announced his plan to engage councillors to resolve the matter.
Chakwera, in his national address last night monitored on local radio stations, said the relationship between the street vendors and law enforcement agencies within the country’s cities has been a contentious one historically.
“For this reason, over the next six months, I will host three strategic conferences with the councillors of our three cities, beginning with the 27 councillors of Lilongwe City.
“Under my presidency, the city authorities will receive the support they need to serve Malawi’s citizens with excellence and turn our cities into flourishing havens of peace and prosperity, even for vendors,” the President said.
Chakwera said last week, street vendors within the capital city were told by the city authorities to move their benches away from unauthorised places such as sidewalks and relocate to designated markets.
“Sadly, these running battles between city authorities and street vendors have become a yearly staple, which is clearly a sign that we need a more lasting solution to the problems our street vendors need us to solve.
“As I understand it, the street vendors feel aggrieved every time they are forcefully removed from unauthorised places, and so when it happened again…they marched to the city council to have their grievances heard,” he said.
The President commended the street vendors for marching peacefully, but also for raising such pertinent issues as the lack of space for plying their trade.
“I also commend the city authorities for encouraging the vendors to always bring their need and request for space to the council for processing rather than resorting to conducting their businesses illegally,” Chakwera said.
He said the nation cannot build a new Malawi with beautiful cities if vendors and city authorities continue to treat each other as adversaries.
The President said the truth of the matter was that the nation cannot succeed in turning the cities into hubs of beauty, order, efficiency, and industry if business and State actors do not work together as partners to create innovative solutions to the functional challenges the cities are facing.
“But the first place to begin our work of redesigning our cities is to accept responsibility for the mess our cities are in. Finger-pointing and blame-shifting will get us nowhere.
“We need to be honest with ourselves and each other by accepting that we are all partly to blame for the fact that our cities are in disarray,” he said.
Chakwera pointed out that the streets of the cities are not properly or regularly cleaned; the buildings of the cities are not regularly checked for quality or safety controls; the zoning laws of the cities are not always enforced or followed, thus giving licence to construction projects without reference to standards or a vision of what the nation wants the cities to look like a generation from now.
“The city rates themselves are not diligently collected or paid, even though the money is desperately needed; and even the trash of our cities is not properly disposed of, which is both a health hazard and an eye sore.
“We cannot blame city authorities or street vendors alone for this mess. We all bear some responsibility for it because although we all use and need our cities in one way or another, we are not all pulling together in the same direction to create for our country the kind of cities that can be said to be modern, or organised, or beautiful,” Chakwera said.
On Friday, Lilongwe City Council vowed to remove all illegal vendors plying their trade in the streets of the capital, saying the decision is final.
Lilongwe City Council mayor Juliana Kaduya said in an interview following a protest by some vendors who marched to Civic Offices in City Centre on Friday to force the city fathers to rescind plans to conduct the cleanup exercise.
On Thursday , Kaduya, who was escorted by police officers and other stakeholders, toured part of Old Town where illegal vending has been worsening over the years—and the mayor’s visit gave a signal to the vendors that the new administration was planning to remove them from the streets; hence, the protest.
According to Kaduya, the vendors who stormed Lilongwe City Council premises acknowledged that they were trading in undesignated places but pleaded for more time before being removed.
The mayor, however, observed that the council would not rescind its plans because it wants to deal with lawlessness that has now characterised the capital city.
Said Kaduya: “Imagine we now have people openly selling ‘zigege’ and fresh vegetables right on the streets? Where in the world do such things happen? I know others would like to politicise this cleanup but this new government will not relent and we will ensure that our town is admirable.”
She said the exercise of removing the vendors ought to have been executed a few days ago but the council has gone back to the drawing board to restrategise with its stakeholders such as police on how best to carry out the exercise.
In an interview, one vendor Cathy Bokosi from Area 36, who sells bananas, said the only ideal place to do her business is in the central business district, adding that once vendors are removed, she will struggle to feed her family.
She said: ” At least I make K5 000 on a good day and it is enough to keep us going at home, who can buy my bananas in our township? We rely on these well-to-do people who come into town.”
But a governance expert Makhumbo Munthali in an interview last night attributed the problem to politicians, who in their attempt to win votes, have let vendors trade in unauthorised spaces in the cities.
“You actually see authorities slowing down in moving out street vendors that ply their trade in unauthorised spaces, especially when we’re going towards elections.
“I hope the Tonse Alliance administration is serious about this and will push vendors to the designated areas they belong to, they need not be apologetic about it,” Munthali said.
The streets in the cities are filthy and apart from selling vegetables along some pavements of some city buildings, some streets vendors are, at worst, roasting meats, sausages and green maize right in the middle of the cities.