By Yankho Phiri
As some people find it amusing to remain in bed till dawn, between 3 and 6 am, dry fish vendors converge on Devil’s Street in Lilongwe to catch the earliest customers.
But for years, the fish vendors have been in conflict with shop owners on the street who use the same ‘marketplace’ as a car park.
The two groups were both sanctioned by Lilongwe City Council to be using the area at specific times.
Proper schedule by the council is that the fish vendors should conduct their business from 3 to around 9 am while shop owners have to park their cars and start business at 9 am.
However, the fish business goes beyond 9 am. Why should business start as early as 3 am?
Fish vendors from lakeshore districts of Nkhotakota and Salima come with dried fish in bulk for wholesale to others who purchase for resale in various parts of the capital city.
Vehicles that ferry the wholesalers from the lake arrive at the place as early as 2 am hence the business with retailers starting at such an odd hour.
But fish vendors’ chairperson Khobe Mhango says their allocated time from 3 to 9 am is not enough and conducive to the type of their business.
“We start selling our fish from around 3 am to make more sales. But most customers come during the last two hours, the same time shop owners start parking their cars, which gives us pressure,” he says.
A shop owner (name withheld), describes the situation as chaotic because the fish vendors usually go beyond their allocated time which affects business in the nearby shops.
“Every shop owner wants to be early for business. Opening shops around 9:30 am is not ideal.
“The fish vendors sometimes reach up to 11 o’clock which is too late for us to keep waiting for them,” she says.
She adds that there are too many fish vendors at the place in that some lay the fish on the shops’ edges.
“The place is too small for the vendors and some end up laying the fish very close to our shops. This inconveniences our potential customers and negatively affects sales,” she says.
Lyson Kanjoka is one of the city cleaners who sweep the street and says the chaotic situation disturbs their work.
“We find it hard to clean the whole area as both vending and parking of vehicles happen at the same time.
“We are required to start our work at around 6 am but, by that time, the street is already occupied and congested,” Kanjoka says.
The inconvenience makes Kanjoka to work on the same place twice a day as he is supposed to come back around 11 am after fish vendors have completed their sales.
“But this time [11 am] the place is fully parked with cars and owners refuse to shift them for us to work properly,” Kanjoka says.
It is for this reason that the area always looks dirty with unbearable stench, sometimes.
Mayamiko Chayera, a businessman, says the uncleanness in the Devil Street is a health hazard to people as some foodstuffs are also sold there.
“The city council should relocate one party to another area to give space to its workers to effectively clean the place,” Chayera suggests.
As if this is not enough, the site is also used as a bus terminus for some international and local buses that ferry people from Lilongwe to Karonga and Dar es Salaam, among other destinations.
Devil’s Street is a narrow road with no sidewalks but always with streams of people bustling about on both sides as loudspeakers blare from bars.
There are trinket and clothing shops, airtime kiosks and food vendors. Some of the shops are owned by foreigners from different parts of Africa such as Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Lilongwe City Council Public Relations Officer Tamara Chafunya says the council is aware of the situation at the Devil’s Street but downplays that it is always unclean.
She says council workers clean the area after the fish vendors have completed their business.
“The fish vendors and car owners are both allowed to use the place and they all pay a fee to the council.
“Specific time for fish vendors is from 3 to 9 am but, currently, we are looking for an alternative place to relocate them,” she says.MANA