Vendors from the Stabroek Market area whose stalls were dismantled following the explosion on Wednesday morning staged protests at various government ministries and City Hall yesterday.
More than 60 vendors started their march outside the Stabroek Market and at 10 am they were gathered outside the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security demanding that the subject ministers listen to their woes as workers and as humans with families to support.
City Constables, vendor Charmine Dowding told Stabroek News, ordered them to dismantle their stalls hours after the explosion at Brickdam and Cornhill Street; just outside the Stabroek Market area at the No. 31 minibus park. The explosion left one man dead and 18 injured.
“We thought this was a temporary thing,” Dowding said. “We didn’t realize it was a permanent thing.”
When vendors showed up at their usual spots yesterday morning it was to face heavily armed policemen and city constables who told them that they could no longer vend at the location. Later, vendors were told that the demolition spree around the city was sparked by orders which came from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.
“If they think we going to sit and take this easy they lie,” Dowding stated.
After spending more than 10 minutes outside the Labour and Human Services ministries the protesters then marched along Brickdam to the Ministry of Home Affairs. “Honourable Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee come out and speak with the vendors…do not peep through the window we want you to come out,” vendors shouted at Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee at his office.
During a press conference held on Wednesday evening in the wake of the explosion Rohee noted that for some time now he had been speaking about numerous illegal activities in and around the Stabroek Market. There are several reports of daylight robberies, Rohee had said, and sources indicated that there are at least 15 of these daily. The lawless activities in the area, he had further noted, include the operation of illegal rumshops, trafficking in narcotics and small amounts of ammunition and the vending of raw gold by unlicensed dealers.
These “shady” activities, Dowding and other vendors said, cannot be blamed on the vendors. They are out there making their daily bread and would not jeopardize their main source of income to support illegal activities or those persons conducting those activities, Dowding stated.
Last September, the woman explained, they had been advised by the Mayor and City Council that arrangements were being made to relocate them to Stelling View also called “Donkey City” behind the Stabroek Market area. However, not all the affected vendors were offered spots at Stelling View.
Stelling View, Dowding explained, is a very small area and only 50 or so of the more than 300 affected vendors managed to secure spots at the location. When the idea was first introduced to vendors, the woman said, they were all invited to apply. Following the processing of the applications they were then invited in to pull stall numbers from a bag.
“When they ran out of stall numbers that part of the process end and that was it. Who didn’t get a space at Donkey City had to stay without it and don’t have no where to move to,” Dowding told this newspaper.
Many of the vendors involved in the protest yesterday are single mothers who have been part of the trade for more than a decade. Moving, the women told this newspaper, is not a problem but it has to be a well-organized process.
Juliet Barrow, 50, has been vending clothes at her Croal Street stall for more than 15 years. The woman said that it is her main source of income and she is responsible for supporting her three children. Although Stelling View is not the ideal vending spot, Barrow said, she has already started to build her stall there.
“I already spend more than $300,000 on that stall in Donkey City and I still got to buy the shutters for it and those cost more than $130,000 so I have to sell and save and if I can’t sell then I don’t know how I getting this money,” she said.
This is the plight of other women vendors like Joan Bess, a single mother of four children, who has been selling at the location for almost 23 years. For Kota Thornhill, a single mother of 9, the vending trade has been her entire life.
Thornhill said that she started selling newspapers at the Stabroek Market and other areas as a little girl. At the age of 11, the woman said, her mother was murdered and she was forced to survive on public assistance for a while and then vending became her life.
“This is all I know you know and if I can’t do this then I don’t know wha I going to do,” Thornhill lamented. “…and they telling us that they moving us to reduce the crime but what are they sending us to do…if they leave people without work wha they think going to happen?”
Other vendors like Lester Duff and Albert Barrington are upset at how they have been treated by the authorities. Duff and Barrington told Stabroek News that police and city constables have been treating vendors like “terrorists”.
“When we come to sell this morning is guns we get in we face,” another vendor stated.
Duff and Barrington further noted that when they were asked to move to Stelling View they were told by City Hall that vendors would have to invest in building their own structures. “Even when we build our own stalls they tell us that we would also have to pay them rent when we start operating there…tell me something man you think this is fair?” Barrington questioned.
Throughout downtown Georgetown vendors were ordered to move. Following the protest action by the vendors, Minister of Public Works and Transport Robeson Benn and Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Kellawan Lall met with senior officials, including engineers, from City Hall.
Just before 4 pm yesterday the two ministers and city hall officials, escorted by a lone police officer for a stretch of the journey, walked along Water Street, the area in front the Stabroek Market, Longden Street and nearby areas. The aim of the walk, Benn said, was to identify the areas which needed clearing.
As Benn moved along Water Street he stopped occasionally to tell a vendor that they would have to move. While many listened and nodded to the minister others were more expressive. “If I stop sell here how I going to feed meh children eh? I gonna bring dem by you house,” one disgruntled vendor shouted to Benn.
“The demolition has started,” Benn stated, “and it will continue.”
Benn said that vendors who are operating at illegal locations or who have illegal structures on state property should be warned that they will be moved. The process, Benn stressed, has been started and will continue until everything is as it should be.
The Local Government and Public Works ministries, the minister said, have been working on moving these illegal vendors for quite some time now but there has been much resistance. Benn, referring to the statements made by Home Affairs Minister Rohee about the illegal activities at the market area, said that the general “atmosphere encourages crime”.
Benn also said that the government is willing to listen to those vendors who are willing to visit the relevant ministries and discuss the matter “rationally”. A meeting has since been scheduled at the Local Government Ministry for tomorrow at 10 am. Benn and Lall have committed to meeting with interested vendors to discuss their concerns and problems.
Despite this promise vendors said that if their concerns are not satisfactorily addressed they will take to the streets and protest continuously.
Meanwhile, City Hall Public Relations Officer Royston King has since said that the demolition is being carried out with the full support of these ministries. He added that vendors who were allowed temporary permission to sell during the Christmas season had been given a January 5 deadline.