By 10am on Saturday, vendors were already on the streets on Blantyre.
Everything from cosmetics, jewelry, handbags to men’s wallets and reconditioned vehicles is on sale as this informal market that personifies selective justice chokes the traffic on the highway in the city’s central business district (CBD).
Some vendors have even built shops on the sidewalks downtown Blantyre and other undesignated areas.
By 4pm, minibuses flood Haile Selassie Road to the Blantyre Flea Market, making the drive slow and risky.
At 6.30am on Sunday, buses were already lined outside Escom and Nico houses.
That all this is happening in full view of Traffic Police officers shows how informal vending has paralysed life in the CBD, where vendors and taxi operators have completely taken over and can do business as if they are above the law.
Victor Joseph, who sells, mends and shines shoes along Haile Sellasie, says it is easy for customers to find him there.
“Instead of them going inside the market to buy vegetables, fruits and other commodities, prospective clients just buy from us along the streets,” he says.
As Joseph is cashing in on the breakdown in law enforcement, vendors inside Blantyre Flea Market complain that their business has gone down due to the return of street vending.
Lameck Moyo, a butcher at Blantyre Market, is bitter with lax law enforcement.
“At first, I could sell five heads of cattle a week, but now I sell one. Our customers prefer buying from those who are trading in the streets. I pay K30 000 every month as rentals, but street vendors don’t pay anything,” he says.
Vendors in Blantyre and Mzuzu have been protesting against the vending but authorities are reluctant to act decisively as did councils when President Bingu wa Mutharika ordered vendors to leave the streets in 2006.
The councils swiftly issued eviction orders and deployed armed forces to demolish shops and benches along the country’s streets.
Meanwhile, Mzuzu City Council is losing K150 million a year due to illegal vending, according to its spokesperson McDonald Gondwe.
The sum is enough to pay its staff for two months, averting protracted strikes against delayed pay that left the city inundated with uncollected.