PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has said the government “will leave no stone unturned” in finding out the cause of fire breakouts in some parts of the country.
And the Head of State says the fire that has gutted Lusaka’s Comesa market has left him heartbroken.
Meanwhile, UPND president Hakainde Hichilema has called for the establishment of a Marketeers Support Fund and advised the PF government to prioritise spending on economic projects than using millions on overseas travel.
President Lungu arrived at COMESA market yesterday at 11:50 hours and went through some of the trading area’s passages to see the ruin caused by the fire.
With fire engines still on site and many apparently worn-out traders hanging around, smoke from burnt shops could be seen streaming into the air.
The ambience was largely covered with fabric and polythene-like smoke but the Head of State paid no attention to that, it seemed.
He described the inferno as “a bad occurrence” that left him in anguish.
“Ifichitike tafiweme (what has happened isn’t good). A few days ago, masoshi futi ku Mufulira kwali umulilo (the day before yesterday, there was another fire in Mufulira), mailo kuno (yesterday it was here). Ala I can only say that I’m heartbroken myself. Ndiwachililishi sana sana (I’m extremely devastated). I have no words to describe the agony that I feel,” President Lungu said.
“A lot of people here are affected – it means that a lot of families are affected and we are all affected. But let me assure you that the government will leave no stone unturned in finding out the cause of these fires and also trying to learn from the fires so that in future, we avoid this kind of loss. I’m asking the provincial minister Honourable Lusambo to work with local government minister Honourable Vincent Mwale and Lusaka City Council to find an alternative place for these people immediately where we can temporarily arrange that these people can go and start trading. Minister, that is the directive – let’s get working.”
He said there was need to learn from the COMESA market fire “so that the markets that we are constructing are going to be fire proof, fire resistant and accessible”.
“…because ichalenga kuti ubwafya buchitike ifi ba Fire Brigade balifilwa ukufika ukwali umulilo (what has made this fire problem to worsen like this is that the Fire Brigade failed to reach where the fire was). It took a lot of effort to break and destroy buildings to reach where the fire was coming from. So, those things should be lessons, tusambililepo chimo (let’s learn a thing),” President Lungu said.
He further stressed that he was very disappointed at the fire incident.
“I’m very grieved; I don’t even know what to say because I was following this event from 21:00 hours when I was alerted up to 04:00 this morning (Friday morning) and may the soul of the late dear lady who has passed on rest in peace. It’s time to work!” said President Lungu.
“Emashiwi nkwetefye ayo yene nokumikoseleshafye ati tafipwile iyo (those are the only words I have as well as encouraging you that not all is lost), twalabombela pamo (we will work together). From this tragedy we have learnt our lesson [and] we will come out stronger. Lesa engatupela amaka nokutukoselesha (may God give us strength and indeed strengthen us.) God bless you all.”
President Lungu was accompanied by Minister in the Office of the Vice-president Sylvia Chalikosa, home affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo, presidential affairs minister Freedom Sikazwe, Mwale, Lusambo, his political advisor Kaizar Zulu and press aide Amos Chanda.
Some PF officials were also present.
According to University Teaching Hospital (UTH) public relations officer Natalie Mashikolo a woman identified as Kissa Wison Mwakasiyah from Kanyama in Lusaka was recorded as a Brought In Dead around 23:00 hours at the UTH after suffering severe burns from the COMESA market inferno.
“Her body is currently in UTH mortuary and has been identified by her relatives,” stated Mashikolo.
And Hichilema, in a statement, sympathized with Comesa and Mufulira marketeers who lost goods in separate fires that gutted the two markets.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to our brothers and sisters who operate from Buteko Market in Mufulira and Comesa Market in Lusaka who have now lost their goods, business capital and opportunities to earn an income to support their families. Times are already hard enough in Zambia because of the way the PF’s failed and corrupt government has mismanaged and gutted the economy,” Hichilema stated. “The PF promised to implement a fire policy, but to date, they have failed to deliver the policy…
The PF government should desist from its habit of finger-pointing and blaming political opponents like was the case last year when City Market was gutted. They control all the public law enforcement and investigative arms in Zambia, and has all the power and influence to decisively and conclusively stem the now frequent occurrence of market fires. Instead of playing this immoral blame-game, they should focus on protecting our markets and alleviate the suffering of marketeers.”
He further advised the PF to prioritise spending on what benefits ordinary citizens.
“It is interesting to note that in the first three months of this year (2018), the PF government spent ZK163 millions of national resources on Overseas Allowances for travelling abroad, which was above the ZK158 million allocated for spending in that quarter. Conversely, the PF spent only ZK91.7 million on social cash transfers against a budget allocation of ZK180.3 million, meaning underspending by 49%. It is immoral for the PF to keep spending this way, on lavish travels abroad, while our brothers and sisters in the markets are wallowing in misery and despair,” stated Hichilema who has also suggested the establishment of a Marketeers’ Support Fund to offer immediate relief to those who have lost goods in fires.
“This fund should help affected marketeers across the country. Surely, if the Government can plan to spend ZK627 million on overseas allowances for PF government officials in 2018 alone, it can afford to set aside similar amounts of money to assist those less fortunate in our country. As a party that stands for the poor and vulnerable, the UPND condemns, in the strongest terms, the PF’s callous and debauched behaviour…A non-priority item, like party officials travelling abroad, should not take priority over our downtrodden marketeers who are eking out an existence on meagre earnings.”
And Vice-President Inonge Wina has said it is too early to predict the source of the fire at COMESA market.
During the Vice-President’s question time in Parliament yesterday, Vice-President Wina said the government was still waiting for investigations to be conducted by investigative wings.
Mazabuka member of parliament Gary Nkombo asked Vice-President Wina to inform the house whether she knew who were behind the fire.
“Sir, I would like to find out from Her honour the Vice-President…first of all, I offer my [sympathy] to people who lost merchandise in the COMESA market fire last night. I would like to find out from Her honour the Vice-President whether she has visited that place, whether it is any different from the fire at City Market last year and what comments she can now give and whether she knows who the perpetrators of the fire are,” asked Nkombo.
But Vice-President Wina said there was need for the public to wait for the investigative wings to ascertain the cause of the fire at COMESA market.
“On the COMESA market, it’s too early to predict the outcome of the fire. We will wait for the investigations by the Police and other investigative wings to ascertain the cause of the fire and the damage to the property of the marketeers before we can make statements,” Vice-President Wina said.
“However, the Head of State, His Excellecy Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, will be visiting COMESA market this morning. It’s after the police has determined the extent of the damage and also the motives behind the cause of the fire that statements will be issued to the public.”
And local government minister Vincent Mwale informed the house that one trader, from Tanzania, died in the inferno while trying to salvage some of her goods.
“The fire started around 19:30 hours. Initially the number of fire tenders was adequate but the challenge was accessibility to the source of the fire and the distance to the scene to the fire hydrants for recharge purposes. I would like to inform the house that it is very unfortunate that there was one casualty, a Tanzanian by the name of mama Kishara, may her soul rest in peace,” said Mwale.
Looting, wailing, evident disbelief and obvious pain prevailed as a huge fire ravaged COMESA market in Lusaka’s central business district on Thursday 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. However, The Mast, estimated the lost property to be in millions of kwacha as the facility is a hub for all sorts of valuable cross-border merchandise.
When this reporter arrived at the scene 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.