How Women affected by Market fires suffer and die: the case of Lusaka City and COMESA Market

By Chris Zumani Zimba


index 32Some of the historical episodes of fires gutting public places in the recent past in Zambia are: August 2016, Tambalala market in Lusaka’s Bauleni township; April 2017, Kanyama local court in Lusaka; April 2017, Lusaka’s Kamwala Market; April 2017, Mongu local court; May 2017, Kafue District Education Board offices; June 2017, destruction of Ndola Zesco electricity pylons; July 2017, Lusaka City Market, the country’s largest market; July 2017, Lusaka’s Misisi township market; and August 2017, Ndola’s biggest market, the Masala market among others. This led to the state of panic and worry among many Zambians and no one could tell the cause, sources, target and extent of who is next and why.

To ensure national security and control the spate of arson attacks, President Lungu sought parliamentary approval in August 2017 to declare a threatened State of Public Emergency by invoking article 31 of the republican constitution, which guides how a nation should deal with an existing situation which, if allowed to continue, may lead to a threatened State of Public Emergency. Parliament tabled the motion the same week and the House approved the president’s declaration. Although many people lost their lifetime investments and investigations were carried out, today, no comprehensive report has been issued to update the nation on the matter and it seems no culprit behind the fires has been found or convicted before our courts. However, this article specifically strives to look at how women affected by market fires suffer and die by looking at the case of Lusaka city market mirrored by COMESA market.

Doreen Bindawina, a 61year old restaurant market trader in Lusaka City Market (LCM) is one of the women traders affected by the 2017 July historical fire that gutted and destroyed a huge part of Zambia’s largest trading market. In an in-depth interview with me, she narrates her story on the impact of the fire on affected traders especially women by looking at the business situation before and after the fire, a perspective which we triangulated with Focus Group Discussions of female and male traders both in Lusaka city market itself and COMESA market as well as some market leaders:

Before the fire, she boasts that her business was thriving big in financial health and helped her to support her immediate family members and extended relatives. “My business before the fire was doing very fine as I could pay for my four children’s’ school fees, one university student at UNZA, supported my nieces and nephews for their school fees, paid my ZESCO, DSTV, water, health, etc bills for my household and did not lack anything in my house. I am a widow and love children. Every week on Saturdays, I used to provide and give free food to street kids and orphans found outside City Market and they knew me as ‘Mama Doreen’. Apart from building a house from my restaurant business here, I was even planning to buy a farm in 2018, madam Bindawina narrated.

Asked on how she is doing now after the market fire as an affected trader, she lamented that things are too bad for her business and only surviving alive by God’s grace. “I lost my fridges, serving dishes, capital, cookers, everything since the fire happened in our absence…. I am struggling now of course, as my business is merely improving slowly and still very down. I can’t afford to look after my family. Now my son looks after me as he is the now struggling to pay for my four children in school fees, one university student at UNZA, my ZESCO, DSTV, water, health, etc bills…This fire killed us and our families,” she laments in near tears.

On government support to affected traders, madam Bindawina merely concluded that they are own their own and neglected. “I don’t know anyone who has been compensated or paid.We are own our own neglected like orphans… For using these gutted trading spaces, we still pay K100 monthly storage fee to the market authority like everyone, K6 daily market trading fee and regularly buy tents to roof our stands inside the market here own our own…Our businesses were not insured hence we lost everything without compensation…Now I want to insure my house because of this experience….The money that was donated by well-wishers has never reached us here, maybe it’s for building new markets…There are no reports and no one now talks about our situation or come to address us,. We are forgotten children, “ she adds.

When asked on the impact of the fire on other affected traders, she poses and concluded that many are being buried especially women as they cannot handle to live in poverty when they had money and were used to giving and not begging; ably supporting their families and not seeing their children and dependents suffer in poverty and hunger. “Since the market fire in July 2017 to November 2018, more than 15 affected women traders I knew have died due to strokes, sugar, depression and other illnesses. People lost their lifetime investment and became depressed to their knees and to death. The pain for us who were affected by the market fire is too heavy to bear. Most of the affected traders were single women, divorcees, widows and retirees like me. I am only surviving because of my firm faith in God, I am a Christian and only the Bible has helped me to stand up to date”, she submits.

This submission was supported by female participants in a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) of 9 women traders in the same market. “We have lost many people for the past two years after the market fire especially women. Affected people became depressed and are still depressed, hence some dying like that. Some women have resorted into heavy alcohol drinking and some have become commercial sex workers as it is easy and faster for them to raise money”. Clearly, this could mean that the negative impact of market fires on affected women have a direct bearing on making them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, STIs, unplanned for pregnancies, sexual abuse and other forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and poverty. In addition, it important to note that these side effects of market fires on many women traders are not just directly on them, but this vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, STIs, unplanned for pregnancies, sexual abuse, child marriages and other forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and poverty have a direct bearing on their respective families especially girl children and female dependents.

However, one of the female participants in this Focus Group Discussion (FGD) of 9 women traders in the same market revealed that some women simply combine market trading during the day and commercial sex work at night to raise more and faster money. “Many women are fighters in their rights and survive in different ways. Some ladies you find in night clubs, bars or on the streets at night doing commercial sex work are traders especially single women, but not everyone. It has little to do with being affected with market fire but although it was worsened the situation for some depending on how one was raised up or take their life”, she concluded while others angrily refuted her submission insisting her views is an insult to many hard working and descent market single female traders.

In the FGD of 5 men and 6 women held at COMESA Market in Lusaka, the majority participants explained similar sentiments and agreed that many people affected by the fire at their market were women as they are the majority traders in all markets around Zambia and many parts of the world.  “Women are the most affected gender side here and since the fire, many are suffering and down…The government knows because they have all the names of the affected traders… So far, no one has been compensated and many affected traders are struggling on their own, others are just renting their trading spaces while some have disappeared and we don’t know if they are alive or dead…..The fire killed the livelihood and lives of affected people because trading is everything for us and our families,” many FGD participants could be heard complaining and lamenting.

One Lusaka City market committee leader who only agreed to comment on anonymity, added his voice. “As leaders of this market, we are working with the ministry of local government through the council to ensure that affected traders are back to know normal business as before the fire.  For example, the local government has helped many affected traders to relocate to the new market spaces in Soweto Market while others have refused to remain in Lusaka City Market awaiting renovations. We have also helped these affected market traders to access soft micro loans”, he added. But another affected trader, a Mr. Mwale of Lusaka City Market immediately responded that he has never received or accessed any micro loan since the fire as the requirements are not for people with zero capital or assets.   “The truth is that many affected traders are suffering. There are many micro finance companies working in the market but they all require collateral. If it was as simple as any trader accessing money, no one would be suffering or complaining here”, he lamented while other onlookers agreed with him.

In conclusion, it is clear that the aforesaid submissions and observations by the affected traders at COMESA market validates the comprehensive investigative findings at Lusaka city market on the effects of market fires on affected women traders. Thus, market fires have and are still having direct devastating impact on the lives on many affected traders and their families today especially women. As noted, affected women are the worst victims of the impact as they are not just vulnerable to emotional depression, strokes, HIV/AIDS, STIs, unplanned for pregnancies, sexual abuse, child marriages, other forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV), poverty and premature death, but that the same negative impacts directly transcend to their respective immediate families and extended relatives especially girl children and female dependents.

If this is how government and other stakeholders could understand and look at the ramifications of market fires in Zambia, then their response, intervention and approach to addressing their plight and restoring the livelihood lives and financial standing of affected traders would be different and faster.  Therefore, as we look and talk about market fires that swept Zambia between 2016 and 2017, it very important for us to critically look at the gender implications of how the fire destroyed the livelihoods, lives and households benefits of the affected people besides looking at the goods worth millions of Kwacha that were lost in that fires.

President Lungu in his address to the nation in 2017 was right when he said, “You will appreciate that the recent gutting of markets will have untold misery on the poor traders and their families whose livelihoods are largely dependent on the existence of the market…This therefore calls for Government to formulate intervening measures to alleviate their suffering. I wish to announce that a committee of ministers has been formed to be chaired by the Vice President which in due course will provide details on the form and nature of assistance that will be provided to those affected,” President Lungu said in an address to the nation. This is where we need to start from and those entrusted to help these people must come clean.

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Radio, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:20hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles. Sometimes, he lecture Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS) outside his daily commitments.



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