Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale says it would be inconsiderate for government to ban vendors who sell newspapers and talk-time in Lusaka’s Central Business District.

On Tuesday, soldiers who are patrolling the city to maintain sanity harassed newspaper vendors, tore the newspapers they were selling and detained those who challenged them. One bystander took out their phone to capture the incident, but whenthe soldiers noticed that they were being filmed, they apprehended the woman, forced her to break her own cell phone with a stone before releasing her. The soldiers said they had orders not to allow any form of vending, be it newspaper or talk-time, on the corridors or Highway.

But during a meeting with newspaper company representatives at his office yesterday, Mwale said it was unfortunate that newspaper vendors were being harassed.

“We received a complaint from News Diggers yesterday on behalf of other newspaper companies that our men in uniform, in a bid to clean our town, were chasing away vendors selling newspapers. Not only did they send away the vendors, but in some cases, they tore the papers which were being sold by agents of these companies that have come here. So the companies are not happy, and I discussed with Mr Mwenda (News Diggers! Editor-In-Chief) that we can find a lasting solution to this problem if we all sat together and agree. It is true, we don’t want vendors back in the Central Business District because we have very few facilities to cater for everyone. In fact yesterday, we instructed the men in uniform to get rid of car dealers. Right now those car dealers are at the council protesting and we have found a place for them to do business from in Kamwala near the Mosque. Sadly they (soldiers) chased away everybody including taxis. Now there is no city that has no taxis in the world,” Mwale observed.

“Now coming to your issue which is very genuine. My instant reaction is that it is true all over the world, selling of the newspapers and things like talk-time, souvenirs are allowed in the CDB, except in a controlled manner. The immediate thing I am thinking is that we must allow newspaper vendors and talk-time sellers to be able to sell in the meantime. But we must be able to distinguish them from the rest.”

He ordered newspaper companies to provide identification outfits for newspaper vendors which would distinguish them from illegal traders.

“The easy way to distinguish them is to give them some bibs or vests that they can wear to show that they are newspaper sales agents. So you the newspaper companies can now decide how you want to do that if you want to write your names as News Diggers! Times, The Mast or DailyMail and so on. Whatever you will write, we want to distinguish those who are selling newspapers from the rest. We know that it is very difficult for a person to go to the market to go and buy a newspaper. So that (newspaper vending) can be allowed.”

Meanwhile, Times of Zambia marketing and sales manager Mark Nyasulu told the minister to consider newspapers as partners in the fight against Cholera.

“In agreeing with the concerns that my colleagues have raised, I think that the government must see us as partners in relaying information around this epidemic. We should partner with government on this agenda… I think that also, we have so many vendors across the country and if we need to provide each one of them with those vests, we will need some time to factor that cost into the budgets. So if government can give us up to 30 days in which to implement this, we will be grateful,” said Nyasulu.

Mwale however, insisted that starting today (Thursday) newspaper vendors would have to wear some form of identification.

“We will also talk to the telecommunication companies because what we know is that a vendor who sells Times or Daily Nation and other newspaper also sells talk-time in many cases. So we will talk to the telecommunication companies. This has to start immediately, it doesn’t matter what company is branded on the bibs, but they have to be identified and distinguished from the rest,” he said.

Mwale then called Information Minister Kampamba Mulenga and briefed her about the meeting in the presence of the newspaper representatives.

“I am with your people here Honourable Minister and we have had a fruitful meeting on how to resolve the newspaper vending issue in the CDB. I would have loved that we have this meeting together, but I was informed that you were on the Copperbelt. So we have agreed on some guidelines and I think we will have to liaise with our colleagues at [Ministry of] Defence and others,” said Mwale.