Finally, Malawi’s cities can breathe, with the councils moving aggressively to rid the streets—especially in central business districts—of vendors who blanketed pavements, verandas of shops and office buildings.
In Malawi’s commercial hub, Blantyre City Council (BCC) yesterday evicted street vendors in Blantyre and Limbe downtown streets to force them to relocate to designated places in flea markets.
The development follows a similar exercise by Lilongwe City Council whose officials, supported by armed police officers, razed illegal vendors’ shacks along the city’s downtown streets three weeks ago.
When The Nation visited the two city centres in the morning hours, most vendors were seen picking up remains of their stalls that were demolished during the night while others were seen holding hands in disbelief.
There was heavy presence of armed police officers spread across both Limbe and Blantyre. In Limbe, police were later forced to use teargas canisters to disperse some vendors who had started to protest the eviction.
Limbe Vendors committee chairperson James Mkwezalamba in an interview said they would discuss how to handle the situation.
He said: “I received a call from one of my friends here that our stalls have been demolished. I rushed here and I found things this way. So, we will sit down and discuss our next course of action.”
However, unlike in Limbe, vendors in Blantyre were evicted from the streets in the morning hours when council officials were accompanied by armed police officers.
The vendors’ shacks along the streets were an eye-sore from which fomented some petty criminal activities such as money and phone-snatching.
A potato vendor who plied her trade at Old Nandos building in Blantyre central business district, Mary Lapken, described the development as sad.
“I used to make more money when I was in the streets than at the flea market. But now, since we have no option, we will go back,” she said.
Lapken also bemoaned the space at the flea markets, saying it is not enough to accommodate all the evicted vendors.
But while the vendors were mourning their losses, passers-by seemed relieved by the council’s action, which came over a year after the vendors relocated from the flea markets to the streets.
In an interview, Fletcher Banda, a Chitawira Township resident, said it was a relief that the vendors were evicted from the streets.
When contacted, BCC public relations manager Anthony Kasunda said the council started making public announcements last week ordering vendors to leave the streets and some went to market masters to secure spaces.
He said: “Those that did not leave the streets are the ones that the council has been compelled to evict.”
When asked how the council will ensure the vendors do not return to the streets as has previously been the case, Kasunda said BCC will do its part and also expect people to stop buying from the street vendors.
Commenting on the fracas that erupted in Limbe, Southern Region Police spokesperson Ramsey Mushani said police managed to calm the situation swiftly.
“Some few disgruntled vendors, if not criminals, wanted to take advantage of the situation. However, police moved in quickly and the situation was normalised,” he said, adding only PEP Stores in Limbe got vandalised.
Two weeks ago, President Lazarus Chakwera pledged to meet councillors of all cities to find a win-win solution to the issue of streets vending.