Angry street vendors, Malawi police clash in Blantyre

Hundreds of irate street vendors Thursday evening engaged police and Blantyre City Council (BCC) enforcement officers in aggressive sprinting battles as the later tried to remove them from undesignated trading points.

BCC, police and representatives of the vendors’ union on Thursday jointly re-launched the ‘operation dongosolo’ as they guarded all illegal trading places within Blantyre Central Business District (CBD), Limbe and Ginnery Corner areas.

By 06:00hrs over 150 police and BCC enforcement officers had already been deployed in the streets to prevent the vendors from displaying their merchandise in illegitimate selling points.

But what appeared to be a perfect and harmless operation throughout the day turned vicious just after 17.00hrs when some vendors, both men and women, forcefully raided the government agents and forced them to retreat from the streets earlier than planned.

Police strategically stationed on street corners to check any trouble
Police strategically stationed on street corners to check any trouble

Police had to reinforce their command by firing teargas to violently disperse the charging street vendors. No casualties were recorded.

According to sources, the operation, which is scheduled to go into full swing for 10 days starting Thursday (November 21) before scaling down, will be starting from 06:00am and finish at 10:00pmevery day.

In Limbe the angry vendors raided the enforcement teams at Kapenga minibus stage and Shoprite, where they were protecting, and started throwing stones at them forcing the team to call for back-up service from the Police Mobile Service.

At Ginnery Corner the vendors also ganged up to force the security agents out of the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) small gate area where they were patrolling.

The vendors had hidden inside the hospital compound the entire day and as darkness started they, like bees, swarmed the enforcement team, also pelting stones at them compelling them to run away from the spot.

There was no immediate reaction from the police or BCC officials but according to a source privy to the operation, more than 30 people have since been arrested.

“More than 30 people have been arrested in Blantyre and Limbe since the exercise started Thursday morning… Actually the council and police are just continuing with the 2005 government directive that all vendors must get out of the streets to designated places,” he explained.

According to the Local Government Act of 1998, the law only empowers the chief executive officer of the city and district commissioners to create market places and any defiance from that is an offence.

The presence of scores of armed and unarmed police officers, some of them in camouflage gear, from Limbe, Blantyre, Police Mobile Services and Regional Police Headquarters, patrolling the streets Thursday gave hope to the citizenry that sanity had returned to the streets of the once cleanest city in Southern Africa.

Blantyre Police Spokesperson, Elizabeth Divala, told Nyasa Times in an earlier interview, police would also take advantage of the exercise to cleanse the streets of criminals ahead of Christmas and New Year’s festivals.

Other than making the city untidy, social commentators have argued that security in the city is also being compromised with the vendors crowding every space. Pedestrians as well as motorists have also complained of restricted movements.

For the past two weeks, BCC has been conducting consultative meetings between all stakeholders such as the police and vendors’ representatives where an agreement to commence the exercise was reached.

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