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Bulawayo flea burns

by Staff reporter
31 Aug 2023 at 06:42hrs | Views
ABOUT 350 traders in Bulawayo have been left stranded after their wares were reduced to ashes by a raging inferno, which engulfed Mutize Flea Market, popularly known as the ‘Little Musina" early yesterday.

Nick-named after South Africa's border town of Musina, where scores of traders order their goods, the flea market is one of the busiest in Bulawayo, offering both wholesale and individual purchases to different buyers from across the city and beyond.

Situated along Lobengula Street opposite Egodini terminus, the facility has more than 200 members, employing at least one worker while dozens more traders operate on open spaces around it and keep their wares at the same flea market.

When the news crew arrived at the scene just after 7am, one of the members, Mrs Dorothy Ndlovu, stood in shock as she helplessly watched what was, just 24 hours earlier, her source of income reduced to rubble.

One of the five fire tenders that battled the fire from 12:30am was still at the scene for a mop-up exercise while other visibly shaken traders were milling around a few metres away, speaking in subdued voices while waiting for instruction to safely inspect their spaces and evaluate the losses.

"Sorry, I don't have the energy to speak," said Mrs Ndlovu as she held back tears.

Mr Samuel Mutize, son of the owner of the flea market said when he arrived the whole place was ablaze and only heard explosion-like sounds from inside.

"We had to break down one of the entry points for the firefighters to gain access and try to extinguish the fire but its force was just too much and it was also windy.

The whole place was on fire making it impossible to even salvage anything," said Mr Mutize.

A somber atmosphere engulfed the scene when the traders were allowed into their stalls and some, especially women, broke down in tears while shaking their heads.

"Some of us had just taken delivery of new stuff just yesterday and this happens, just a few days before schools open when we need to pay school fees and buy uniforms for my kids. Where will I get the money? Why has God forsaken me like this?" said one trader.

Another trader Ms Beaulah Ncube, who has been operating from the place for the past 20 years said she lost goods worth more than 400 000 rands.

"I received a call just after 12 midnight to the effect that this place was on fire and immediately rushed here. I almost collapsed when I saw the place engulfed in fire yet there was nothing I could do," said Ms Ncube.

A committee member of the Mutize Flea Market Traders, Mrs Opper Mataswa, said when she arrived at the scene, the fire was still raging and no one managed to save anything.

"We lost everything here. The fire tender at one time ran out of water while the fire was still blazing. This flea market is mainly operated by widows and grandmothers who will be trying to fend for their families but now there is nothing for them," she said. "Some members had actually received new stock just yesterday (Tuesday) as they were looking at raising money for school fees and now our children will be chased away because of non-payment of school fees," said Mrs Mataswa.

She appealed to the Government to help them rebuild the flea market and start afresh since it was their only source of income.

According to the Bulawayo Fire Brigade, the fire was caused by an electric gadget that was left unattended.

Close sources said the fire started just before midnight on Tuesday and continued until early Wednesday morning when the Bulawayo Fire Brigade, which reacted swiftly after the distress call, finally contained the fire but everything that was inside had been reduced to ashes.

Acting Bulawayo Chief Fire Officer, Mr Linos Phiri, said the fire destroyed several valuable goods such as clothing, groceries, detergents, gas cylinders, stoves, and other unidentified items.

He said the fire was discovered by a cross-border transporter only identified as Victor who was delivering flea market goods from Messina, South Africa.

Victor, said Mr Phiri, did not have fire brigade numbers so he phoned one Trust Chakuchichi who then called the Fire Brigade.

"By the time of fire discovery, the security guard was not on site. The time when Victor discovered the fire was around 23:35 hours. According to the security guard Mr Reborn Ndlovu, he was inside the flea market when the fire started," said Mr Phiri.

"He said the fire started at Mai Fresh's stand. He further said he did not have a cell phone so he had to leave the flea market to seek help from nearby security guards."

Mr Phiri said the fire was not reported promptly resulting in severe damage. Mr Michael Ndiweni of the Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) described the event as a fatal blow to the traders, especially coming at a time when they were trying to get back to their feet following the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2018, another flea market in the city, Unity Village, was gutted by fire with 37 stalls and property worth over $300 000 was destroyed. In January this year, millions of property went up in flames at Mpopoma Outspan Factory, leaving hundreds jobless.

Source - The Chronicle
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