Reports about Lusaka City Council police routinely beating up street vendors, grabbing their goods and even destroying it, during operations to force them off the streets, is sad news.
Some street vendors have actually disclosed that, apart from seizing their goods, the council police also extort bribes from them by threatening them with imprisonment, and sometimes with arrest.
We have also witnessed how the baton wielding council police, with support from armed state police officers, carry out operations to try to remove the street vendors from the streets. They will approach them suddenly and then chase them through the city streets, hitting them and seizing their goods.
Women, children, disabled persons are beaten with batons and other objects, kicked and slapped, most times resulting in injuries, and then thrown into waiting police vans together with their merchandise.
Journalists, passersby and other witnesses who try to intervene, complain, or document the abuses, also face harassment at the hands of and beatings at the hands of police.
We understand the council’s frustration and disappointment that some people choose to defy, with impunity, the law banning street vending, even when it is in fact intended for their own good – to safeguard their lives against epidemics like cholera and other fatal water-born diseases.
We also understand the urgency of the local authority in trying to clean up the city streets of filth, and maintain acceptable hygiene standards in the city by getting rid of street vendors.
But we are also aware, and probably need to also remind the council police, that street vendors are human beings too and therefore need to be treated as such. They are in fact our own mothers, grandmothers, aunties, uncles, sons, daughters etc. These are the very people we live with in the compounds and share with our everyday miseries and happiness.
We are also are that, by defying the law against street vending, these people ultimately commit a crime and are liable to be prosecuted if caught. But that does not give the council police, or anyone, the right to mistreat them or be violent to them.
Criminals are human beings too. They have human rights and deserve to be treated with some level of respect.
The question is, why should the council police assault, maim or destroy the street vendors’ goods in the name of trying to remove them from the streets? Is their action or conduct in any way justified against the street vendors who are in most cases unarmed and non-violent? The answer is obvious.
We are happy that the major, Mr. Miles Sampa has come to know about the violence being perpetrated against the street vendors and has, to this effect, even issued a warning to the council police against this behaviour.
The council police, when dealing with street vendors, need to keep in mind that they are in fact also dealing with human beings, and that even in the event of these people breaking the law, or committing an offence, they do not deserve to be harassed, intimidated or assaulted at all. Their goods or merchandise need not be destroyed at all. The police need to bear in mind that violence on anyone, whether a street vendor or anyone, is equally an offence for which they could be prosecuted too.