City Council, Malawi police in verbal war over vehicle vendors

A verbal war is reportedly building up between the Malawi Police and management of Blantyre City Council (BCC) over the return of imported used vehicle traders along the city streets, Nyasa Times has discovered.

Over the last few months, the country’s commercial city has seen a proliferation of such used vehicles that are being sold in undesignated places such as the road reserves.

Among other places, these cars are sold along the Masauko Chipembere Highway near Kamuzu Upper Stadium and also near BAT Football Ground (opposite Trust Auctioneers offices), a development many people have described as “an eye sore” with police saying it is a security and safety risk.

A visit this week by Nyasa Times to some of these undesignated vehicles’ selling points revealed a normal and relaxed trading environment for the dealers.

Car vending

For instance, there were 41 vehicles parked along the Highway and only seven at BAT Football Ground.

Unconfirmed reports indicate the motor vehicle dealers were chased away from their old selling point, behind Trade Fair Show Grounds, where they have been operating for years now, because the plot owner, an unnamed Indian businessman, wants to construct a hotel there.

Before moving to Trade Fair Grounds, the dealers were trading right in front of Southern Region Police Headquarters and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) grounds but were forced out of the place after the 2005 operation of vendors’ reallocation to designated places and markets.

But in an interview with Nyasa Times, one of the dealers declared they would not move an inch from the said undesignated place because BCC management is failing to offer them a proper trading place.

“After we were advised by the plot owner to move out [behind the Trade Fair Grounds] we obeyed. We then went to BCC, Civic Centre offices, to request them allocate us an appropriate place but we were referred to their Ginnery Corner offices.

“At Ginnery Corner, we were again referred back to Civic Centre’s Town Planning section which we were advised was responsible for such issues.

“But to our dismay, officers at Town Planning told us to meet the Director of Administration, Mr Alfred Chanza, who had earlier on referred us to their Ginnery Corner offices, as the one responsible for illegal and enforcement errands,” explained one of the representatives of the group.

He said during their first visit to BCC they were directed to Chanza’s office but as he referred them to their Ginnery Corner offices, he refused to identify himself by name and only said “I am the boss of the people who move out vendors from the streets.”

“When we realized it was the same officer who had earlier on referred us to Ginnery Corner, we knew they didn’t want to meet us and were just playing us, so we gave up,” explained the trader, a committee member of the Secondhand Motor Vehicle Dealers Association.

He added: “We, then, just decided to come here [along Masauko Chipembere Highway] on our own for we know one day we will be vindicated.”

However, another car trading tycoon said after sometime they resumed the issue but could still not meet any relevant BCC official.

“So we decided to formalize our concern by putting it in writing and right now, over three weeks have so far elapsed but we are yet to get a response from them,” said the business mogul on condition of anonymity.

The traders have since vowed they would not leave the place unless authorities also remove other car sellers (trading directly opposite them but in a compound) under the trade name Africa Auto Sellers.

“Otherwise if those people [Africa Auto Sellers] are permitted to operate there we too will remain right here,” challenged the trader.

The motor vehicle vendors have also threatened to move back to their original place (just in front of Southern Region Police Headquarters) if BCC does not allocate them place to operate from.

Southern Region Police Headquarters spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa could not be reached for comment but a senior traffic police officer at the headquarters blamed the situation on BCC’s laxity claiming it is trying to create disorder.

“Their existence at that place is creating security and safety hazards to motorists. Our officers went there but we were convinced with the explanation they gave us, the problem is with the city council, it is failing to enforce its own bylaws and bite.

“We picked up the matter with them [BCC] but there is nothing substantial coming out from them,” he explained, without hinting on what they will do as police.

BCC Public Relations Manager Lunzana Khanga could not respond to Nyasa Times questionnaire but a source within BCC’s administration section shifted the blame back to police claiming they are the ones to blame for creating the mess because “the issue is a traffic offence which falls under their jurisdiction.”

Over the last few months, Nyasa Times has enthusiastically been observing that vendors are slowly trekking back to the streets of Blantyre Central Business District (CBD) and its environs.

Hundreds of vendors selling different foodstuffs and merchandise are seen in the streets with the city officials and police doing nothing to control the situation despite the fact that government gave vendors a deadline of 20 July to leave the streets.

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