It is said that lightening does not strike the same place twice, but some businesspeople in Mzuzu on Sunday endured the sight of their goods going up in flames for the second time in three months.
Slightly after 9pm, just when some residents were watching Germany beating Argentina in the just-ended football World Cup final, nearly two thousand gathered at Mzuzu Main Market to witness a fiery fire which consumed half of the market made of timber, cartons and other ignitable materials.
City authorities suspect that the fire started when an unnamed trader left a smoldering charcoal burner in one of the restaurants at the heart of the market. However, some of those affected businesspeople say it could be an act of sabotage by people who did not benefit from donations that poured from politicians during a similar tragedy on April 19 whose damage was estimated at K110 million.
Yet both sides seem to agree that the greatest tragedy with the present scenario is not just that its ruinous impact looks graver than the previous—almost double, vendors say.
Rather, their lamentations show it will not be easy to rise again since the marketplace went up in flames just when the business community was grappling to recover from a similar blow which attracted donations from the then Minister of Local Government, the late Godfrey Kamanya, and Vice-president Khumbo Kachali.
Having been in the crowd as the blazing fireballs were reaping one stall to the next, Mzuzu City Chief Executive Officer Thomas Chirwa said it appears that no lessons were learnt from the tragedy three months ago.
In an interview, he said: “It’s quite unfortunate that such fateful events are happening back to back like this. Just a few months ago, millions and millions of kwacha were lost. This time, the loss looks much bigger.
“We are not quite sure about the cause, but it appears no lesson was learnt because the fire started in the same [restaurants] section this time.”
Chirwa reckons the city council had grand plans to construct shops made of bricks and other fire-resistant materials on the rubble of what was predominantly a timber-and-carton affair, but laments that the process was overtaken by politicians canvassing for votes ahead of May 20 tripartite polls.
While the city was reportedly approaching central government and donors for funds, Kamanya ordered survivors who had money to start rebuilding to save their businesses from collapsing.
Despite the dream market, the city lords seem to have learnt no lesson whatsoever when it comes to fire fighting.
As the furious fire raged on Sunday night, there was only one fire-fighting vehicle on site and the firefighters were seen scrambling for the water gun as they couldn’t agree on the way forward and direction of spot.
In a clear scene of desperation, some traders resorted to hoes, axes, sickles and other farm implements to pull down shops and create a fire break raising questions as to whether they have requisite equipment to stop a bigger accident from bursting into fatal proportions.
The moments of madness, with the fire engine taking about an hour to return to the worst hit spot, the fire fast jumped onto Tower Mzumara’s shop which was among the worst early this year.
In an interview, the woman, who lost imported goods worth K700 000, cried: “What wrong have we done? Why is this happening to us just when we were rising from the previous disaster? Why is this happening to us again?”
Her questions aptly summed up the mood among the traders who feel the fire has gutted their major source of income and rising up again will not be easy.