Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale says government has no option but to close all shops and remove all vendors from Lusaka’s central business district regardless of what they are selling in order to disinfect the city of cholera.

Mwale who spoke to News Diggers! in a separate interview said he sympathised with vendors and understood the economic challenges that they were facing, but insisted that it was for their own good.

“That place [trading centre] is contaminated, so anyone can catch the contamination. The whole place was tested by environmental health specialists that went round and collected samples of everything. So we want to clean up and disinfect the place before we can allow people to go back and begin to trade,” Mwale said.

When asked why the soldiers were chasing away newspaper vendors who don’t sell food, Mwale said all vendors would eventually want to eat and later use the toilet.

“I know newspapers and cosmetics are not food but if vendors go back to the same contaminated place because they are selling different things rather than food, then we will see those same people needing to eat and the next person will then come in seeking to provide them with some food and that will be the beginning of chaos,” Mwale said.

“So once we allow different people to come in because they are not directly dealing with food, we may open a pandoras box. Already we have received reports that vendors are vending in the night and some of them in fact were apprehended by the street vendors association themselves who were patrolling. We understand that some street vendors went back in the night to sale vegetables in bulk and they are hiding behind minibuses. So if we allowed others selling things different from food, we may have a situation where we may fail to control who is doing what and people will be doing things secretly. Those people who are selling newspapers, cosmetics and other stuff need toilets because some areas have no toilets completely.

He said he understood the economic challenges vendors were facing but insisted that they were not being sent away for anything else rather than the public health challenge that the country was facing.

“We agree with you and our policy as government has not changed, we will not send away people completely until we provide for them alternative places which are conducive but we must understand that we are in a situation of life and death now. Today the cholera cases in the last 24 hours went up by 90 more cases, so now we are standing at 2000 cases cumulatively and when you trace the contact again it is those same places that we are talking about. So it’s a matter of life and death otherwise, we would have loved for our people to stay on until we provide alternative places but there won’t be anybody to sell to if people die. So this is a public health issue that we must deal with,” Mwale said.

“There are two things here, there is a public health issue we are faced with now and there is a road map that we have for relocating street vendors, that road map still remains in place and once we complete the 22 thousand market spaces that we are putting in place, then we will implement that programme and move those people. I really understand and sympathise with the vendors and that’s why I had to address people yesterday in the streets and I am so grateful that they understood, all they needed was just information on what was happening, what was going to go on and when we gave it to them, they were very happy to participate. But the sooner we clean up the streets and disinfect then the better for people. I hear you on the economic challenges that the vendors must be going through and the livelihood but we are not sending them for anything else rather than the public health challenge that we have,” said Mwale.

He said there was a shortage of clean and safe toilets in the city and added that the local authority was working on alternative means.

“The mayor is starting an exercise to go round to identify where we have to mount portable toilets and in some cases not just in the streets but also permanent toilets in markets. When all those things are in place, then we can begin to discuss where we will allow people to go back and where not. It’s not everywhere were we will allow people to go back, some places people must stay clear of the drainages and they must remain outside those areas, in some places we will allow until we finish our four market projects that we have that will create 22 thousand market spaces enough for everyone. Then we can remove everyone and ban street vending and enforce that.”