Blantyre vendors clash with Malawi police, city council: Operation Dongosolo

There was a fierce free-for-all battle in Blantyre as police officers and security personnel from the Blantyre City Council (BCC) tried to clear vendors out of the streets.

The fight has since resulted in the city council and police temporarily withdrawing the exercise dubbed Operation Dongosolo to properly strategize on how best to deal with the vendors without causing loss of life, Nyasa Times understands.

Since last week the law enforcers and BCC enforcement rangers have been seen patrolling both Blantyre and Limbe streets chasing away vendors including those at the volatile and filthy Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) entrance (small gate).

However, this week the vendors seemed to have had enough and on Monday evening some of them ganged up and took head on the law enforcers and BCC security agents injuring more than six of them.

Blantyre vendors -photo by Blazio Banda/Nyasa Times
Blantyre vendors -photo by Blazio Banda/Nyasa Times

The injured personnel were in a Blantyre City Council patrol vehicle registration number BQ 7696.

An eye witness of the fracas told Nyasa Times the law enforcers could not contain the situation as they panicked near Portugalia (formerly Nandos) after their vehicle was trapped in a traffic jam restraining it to flee from the irate vendors.

“Some vendors pelted stones at the men who were packed in the patrol vehicle as they could not run away due to the traffic jam,” she said, adding that although the police tried to fire tear gas the development did not help.

The patrol team had only four armed police officers who were not enough to stop the aggressive vendors in their hundreds from attacking.

But in an interview with Nyasa Times, Blantyre Vendors Union Chairman, Thompson Banda, condemned his folks’ reaction.

He, however, backed BCC saying it was important that those vendors operating in illegal places be removed to their designated area in the flea market.

Last month, traders operating in the designated places (flea markets) in Blantyre threatened to abandon the markets and join their colleagues in the streets if authorities did not remove them accusing government of deliberately allowing street vending.

“Government’s directive of 2005 that vendors should not be trading along the streets still stands and no vendor is supposed to trade along the streets so it is a mockery that President Joyce Banda is deliberately allowing street vending to return,” argued one vendor at Blantyre Flea Market.

Besides, the flea market vendors argue that those who operate along the streets block customers from reaching the flea market as most of them prefer buying such things as vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes and other perishables from the streets.

They also argue that vendors in the streets “do not pay market fees yet they are the ones who get better business than us and that is also where council employees priorities to sweep.”

In another interview, a city council official privy to the matter disclosed to Nyasa Times street vendors do not pay market fees as demanding them to do so would mean the council legalizing street vending.

Many vendors claim they opt to trade along the streets because there is no space in the flea markets.

They also accuse city council management of failing to bring piped water and electricity back in most markets where sanitation has reached at worrying levels and poses health risks not only to the vendors but customers alike.

But a snap survey conducted by Nyasa Times actually indicated that there was more unused space which is just being wasted in nearly all the markets.

For instance, inside Limbe produce market some traders actually occupy much more space which could accommodate about 10 vendors because the space is just idle.

Nyasa Times also discovered the council had worked on the water and electricity issues last month hence its exercise to clear the vendors from the streets.

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