Irate protesters suspected to be illegal vendors trading outside a designated market caused havoc at Jenda Trading Centre in Mzimba on Tuesday evening and allegedly smashed vehicles, looted shops and destroyed billboards.
The people were allegedly protesting against a decision by M’mbelwa District Council to move them from an undesignated area along the M1 where they were plying their trade to the market constructed at Jenda Rural Growth Centre.
The move followed complaints from vendors inside the formal market that they were being disadvantaged by people selling goods outside.
The vendors in the market threatened to start boycotting paying market fees if the council did not act on the illegal vendors by Friday.
In an interview, Jenda Market vendors’ chairperson John Maseko said when council officials went to ask the vendors to move to the market, some resisted and later the situation turned ugly.
“They even went to my shop and tried to vandalise it, but the other vendors blocked them,” he said.
In an interview, Mzimba district commissioner Thomas Chirwa suspected that the riots were already planned by people who had nothing to do with vending.
“Since Tuesday was set for nationwide demonstrations, some people were already prepared to cause havoc.
“Even the songs they were singing were against government,” he said.
Chirwa also discouraged shop owners from renting out their front space to vendors, saying such practices are promoting illegal vending and depriving the council of revenue.
There was no immediate comment from police in the district.