Capital Buses company proprietor Ishmael Kankara says he will have no choice but to close down his company if the illegal mushrooming of bus stations in Lusaka’s Central Business District (CBD) remains unchecked.

But Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo says his Ministry will activate a system to deal with the situation.

Speaking when he featured on Radio Phoenix’s “Let the People Talk” programme, Tuesday, Kankara observed that there was a lot of thuggery in the local transport sector where youths were illegally extorting monies from bus drivers.

“Now, we’ve got less than half the customer clientele that we used to have, our drivers are crying! Our drivers need to be in good financial order as well. This is one of the reasons why I say if this carries on, then we will have no choice, our hands are tied but to close down. [And] if I was feeling the pinch because of a heavy genuine competition, then I would have scaled down. I would not even have complained because that is genuine business competition. Competition is healthy [and it] improves the economy of any country. I am not scared of competition, but this is not competition, this is thuggery,” he said.

“Let me give you an example; not long ago, there was a cholera outbreak [and] town centre was closed. The town was controlled by the Zambia Army and there was not even one illegal bus station in the streets. And we were adequately on the bus stations in Lusaka; we were providing proper disciplined transport to the people of Lusaka. There was no problem [and] there was no hassle. In fact, the bus stations were running very smoothly. I am not saying that we must bring back the army. Our police are quite capable and very professional to do the job if they are mandated to with a very strong political will because if there are people interfering, you must understand that these police officers are also scared. If anything goes wrong, fingers are being pointed, they are not allowed to do the job correctly. But this somehow has become political.”

Kankara complained that extorting monies from bus drivers was tantamount to robbing a bank.

“I was talking to these people [and] one guy tells me that, ‘look, we are empowering the youths.’ Come on, is this the way of empowering youths? Through criminal activities? Because as far as I am concerned, that’s criminal! I don’t know who that gentleman was. And I also said to him that ‘don’t you think this type of empowering youths is like giving people guns and encourage them to go and rob banks? Because it’s the same, you are extorting a poor driver; you are extorting a hard worker to give you his money, so stop it!’ They say: ‘no, we will see what we can do. So, as far as I am concerned, this is pure thuggery! Extortion is a criminal offence and if I am not mistaken, there is a mandatory sentence on it,” said Kankara.

“The same youths called Ngwangwazis, call-boys or whatever you may call them, they are collecting a lot of money from buses! They have got benches there and drinking Chibuku! They are getting intoxicated. And everyone knows that intoxication brings violence.”

And speaking when he called in during the programme, Kampyongo noted the concerns and made an assurance that he was going to arrest the situation.

“I think Mr Kankara knows how we have previously worked with them as a sector and I think he also knows that our doors have been open to deal with emerging challenges in the sector. And so, if there are those issues that you have brought to the fore and the lawlessness that he has described is something that requires our attention [and] we are certainly going to ensure that we follow-up because lawlessness is lawlessness and it doesn’t matter which jacket one wears. And harassing citizens and making them feel unsafe is our responsibility. If the situation is extreme as Mr Kankara put it, then we shall activate our systems as we go on. We will deal with that situation. I am ready to go with him and others to tour all these places so that we can put a stop to it,” said Kampyongo.