LOOTING, wailing, evident disbelief and obvious pain prevailed as a huge fire ravaged COMESA market in Lusaka’s central business district last night.
The fire, whose cause is yet to be known, reportedly started slightly after 19:30 hours.
Goods, whose monetary value is unknown, were lost.
The Mast, however, estimated that the lost property could be in millions of kwacha as COMESA market is a hub for all sorts of valuable cross-border merchandise.
When this reporter reached at the scene of the inferno at 21:40 hours, a topsy-turvy situation dominated as hundreds of people – shop owners, spectators, chancers and all and sundry – lingered.
‘Shop’ or stand-owners ran around in desperate attempts to retrieve whatever commodities they could pull from the devastating fire.
Others managed to get a few items that had, however, been ‘spoilt’ by water that ‘flew’ from fire engine connectors.
Conversely, many more hapless traders, especially women, could not help but simply wail as they helplessly watched the forceful fire bring down their stalls – full of their goods.
As could be anticipated in such a troubling situation, some crooked people who stood by took advantage and looted what distressed traders had reclaimed.
Crying and voices of discontent grew.
Many people, speaking local languages, kiSwahili and other foreign languages, were spotted on phone – ostensibly to inform their fellow traders about the tragedy.
Some middle-aged men hovered, armed with planks, and threatened to lynch anyone spotted touching what did not belong to them.
As traders continued with a hazardous rescue mission of their goods, fire engines from the Lusaka City Council, Zambia Airports Corporation and Zambia Air Force tried hard to put out the fire.
This was at about 21:50 hours.
The fire, nonetheless, seemed to gain momentum but with time of rounded effort by fire-fighters, a semblance of success began to show.
Upon seeing a prime TV journalist, Kalani Muchima, film them and the market rubble, a horde of traders – others crying – suspected foul-play in the fire.
“Market sure bashoka! Mpaka vamene benze kufuna vachitika (They have burnt the market! Their wish has finally occurred.) Tizakwanisa lyonse ma market yakazipya chifukwa chama politics (Are we going to manage to have our markets catching fire because of politics?) Vizibika ivi, nima politics yonse aya (This is common knowledge; this is politics). Benze bapita ma cadre fulu elo market ibwele ipye (There is a horde of political party cadres that passed here [today] and the next thing is that the market has caught fire!)” some traders’ voices competed in front of a Prime TV camera.
On Lumumba road where fire engines were stationed, hundreds of people stood by as some police officers kept ‘vigil.’
The imposing high-rise Lusaka House that is right in COMESA market, by press time, was not directly affected by the fire – except the ‘fair share’ of a thick shade of smoke that it was exposed to.
And slightly after 22:00 hours, local government minister Vincent Mwale, Lusaka Province minister Bowman Lusambo, Lusaka town clerk Alex Mwansa and Kanyama PF member of parliament Elizabeth Phiri were seen on the scene, with Mwale making frantic phone calls.
Mwale was overheard calling for a grader so that it could be used to enhance fire-fighting – insofar as making access for the fire engines into the market.
As the government officials were ‘busy trying to find a fast-track solution to the fire’, fire-fighters and overwhelmed traders fought tooth and nail to quench the inferno and recover some merchandise respectively.
Phiri told some journalists that: “All I can say is that it’s a situation that no one can explain or manage to express because of the grievances it has caused on the marketeers. This is something that everybody was depending on [and] even us as customers, this was a major market where we could get anything that somebody could think of. It was our London. So, it is something that brings sorrow both to the customer and to the marketeer.”
By 23:20 hours, fire-fighters were still struggling to completely quench the fire.
Around 05:00 hours on July 4 last year, Lusaka’s City Market was burnt down. The government promised to build a modern market in six months to replace the old structure but a year on, no works have commenced.