Elias Chipimo says Edgar Lungu should start treating street vendors like human beings. We agree.
“Our so-called leaders are fighting battles with ordinary citizens trading on the streets, the very people they should serve, and putting them out of business without any alternative plan as to how they will fend for the families,” bemoaned Elias. “It is a shame that after 53 years of independence, we still have no solution for dealing with the challenge of street vending.”
Others may not agree with what Elias is saying. But he has helped start a conversation about poverty and possibly lead to action on behalf of the poor. And this conversation must not end until poverty is totally eradicated from our homeland. This is a challenge to our individual and collective conscience.
Regardless of what our politicians say, remember that the poor are particularly close to God’s heart. These vendors were not playing nsolo or njuka on the streets; they were working on the street to earn a living. Therefore, removing them from the street without an alternative way of earning a living endangers their lives, leaves them vulnerable. And since we like calling ourselves Christians, let’s look at it from that angle.
No matter a person’s beliefs, there is always the potential to find important lessons in the holy books of the world’s different religions. A major message of the New Testament and Jesus Christ is that humanity should do all that it can to help the poor. These lessons ring true especially for us Zambians who have declared our country a Christian nation. Christ’s entire doctrine was devoted to protecting the poor and defending their interests. In Luke 6:20-21 we are told: “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’” Luke 4:16-19 reads: “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’”
In Matthew 25:34-36 we are taught: “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” Mark 10:21-22 reads: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
In Mark 12:41-44 we are told: “He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”
Luke 14:12-14: “He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
Luke 16:19-25: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.”
Luke 11:39-42: “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God.’”
Luke 12:16-21: “Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.’”
Outside the realm of metaphysics and belief, Jesus can be considered one of the world’s most notable defender of the poor. His teachings can be universally applied to many areas of life, including alleviating the suffering of millions in poverty around the world. How is the way we are treating our brothers and sisters who are street vendors measuring up to these teachings? Getting vendors off the streets without providing them an alternative is cruelty. Stopping street vendors from trading without mercy is tyranny.
We should be encouraging the entrepreneurship of street vendors, not trying to stifle it with police and military harassment and other restrictions.
Our brother journalist Rick Bragg was right when he wrote: “It is a common condition of being poor…you are always afraid that the good things in your life are temporary, that someone can take them away, because you have no power beyond your own brute strength to stop them.” Jeffrey Sachs said, “History is written by the rich, and so the poor get blamed for everything.”
Indeed, today cholera is being blamed on the poor when it is the greed, corruption and negligence of their rulers that is causing it. Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.
And the Bible insists that the best test of a nation’s righteousness is how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable in its midst. Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius wrote, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”