The future looks bleak for over 60 tenants who run small businesses at the Francistown Central Market after being evicted from the premises by Francistown City Council (FCC).
They have since been ordered to vacate the market premises to give in for new developments. The tenants, who are mostly vendors, have however vowed that they will not go down without a fight. They feel that the city council is heartless and insensitive for not providing them with an alternative of where they will operate their businesses from.
Their businesses include among others, tailors, technicians, agricultural produce sellers and food catering businesses. The popular central market which has been in existence for almost a century forms part of the history of Francistown.
In an interview with the Sunday Standard last week, Oduetse Mogomotsi Moleele who is the Tenants chairperson and also their spokesperson accused the city council of taking them for granted and making unilateral decisions without consultation.
“We simply received a notice to vacate the premises. They never even consulted us to hear our side of the story. I think they are truly insensitive and heartless. Most tenants here earn a living out of these businesses. Where are we going from here,” he wondered.
“They should at least provide or allocate us a place for us to continue our businesses. Our businesses here are legitimate and we earn a living through them. We are not going anywhere if they do not assist us,” he emphasized.
The Sunday Standard is in a possession of the notice of vacation letter written by the Francistown City Council (FCC) Deputy Town Clerk (Finance), Lawrence Mazinyane on the 4th of May 2021 demanding that the tenants should move out of the premises. In the letter, the city council announced that “with the growth of the city and demand for large scale commercial development and seemingly threadbare looking market area that failed to match the upcoming development area, there has been some interests from the private developers to uplift the market and the core of the city being the Central Business District.
According to the city council, the envisioned re-development of the market took a positive leap when FCC and a private company Amasa Civils (Pty) Ltd embarked on signing a Ground Lease Agreement of the subject Plot on the 23nd of April 2021 which will make the developments.
The tenants were first given time from the 29th of April 2021 to the 31st May 2021. All tenants according to the letter are expected to bear the costs of removing all of their belongings upon vacation of each stall. The tenants are expected to disconnect all of their utilities or services from their stalls and clear all the accrued bills that may be outstanding and submit proof to their Association Chairperson who shall in turn submit the proofs to the city council.
The city council states in the same letter that the re-development of the place entails demolishing existing structures at any time from the lapse of the date in the notice. The city council also warns that any other belonging that will not be removed from the premises will not be salvaged.
Responding to the City Council through a letter on the 14th of May 2021, the Chairperson of the Tenants Association Moleele said that that they have occupied the market for a long time and their reputation is of great standards. He said if they are removed from the market they will surely loose business in the competitive market.
“The market place is a well known place that is occupied by Batswana and carries a lot of history,he said in the letter. We also want to know how the company was awarded the project? Will the developments executed in the market area benefit us in anyway? Will we be involved or given the opportunity to conduct business after the developments?” the tenants ask in the letter.
They have demanded the city council to provide them with a gazette that advertised the plot for development, they are also among others seeking the lease agreement. There are maintaining that if there is no arrangement that will cater for them as Batswana, they will not vacate the market premises.
“Your office is aware that Francistown is made up of mainly high density low income areas whose dwellers are mostly informal sector traders and constitute a larger percentage of the buying power. My office is not against developing the Central Market place but before evicting tenants, your office must find an alternative market they can operate from,” the chairperson said in conclusion.
Responding to their concerns in a letter dated 25 of May 2021 seen by the Sunday Standard, Francistown City Clerk Lopang Pule has since maintained that on the 18th of May in 2004 the city council considered and approved a proposal to re-develop the Central Market plot and entered into a ground Lease agreement with Equality Properties (Pty)Ltd on the 13th of September 2004 to redevelop the plot into a modern scale commercial development around it. He however said Equality Properties Pty (Ltd) was terminated due to failure to meet its obligations.
“Prior to signing the Ground Agreement with Equality Properties Pty (Ltd) in 2004, the tenants were relocated to other council owned market stalls such as the Bus Rank, Airport, Somerset and others to pave way to Equality Properties Pty Ltd to commence the re-developmen project. Upon termination of Equality Properties on 2018, council then realized that there were some tenants who occupied the markets illegally and were consulted through their association on the envisioned council development,” he maintained
The city council also maintains that a tender was floated subsequent to termination of the contract with Equality Properties and was awarded to Amasa Civils Pty (Ltd) where a lease agreement was signed on the 23 of April 2021. He said the request from the tenants is a non-starter due to the fact that a resolution that a resolution and an award had long been made and what the council is currently doing is execution of the project.
“This correspondence serves as a warning to yourselves that there is a contract that binds parties and any breach by yourselves may result in litigation at your account,” Pule stated in the response letter.
On behalf of the tenants, Moleele last week Friday maintained that they will not go anywhere and will face the city council head on. At the time of going to press, the Sunday Standard was still waiting for a response from FCC spokesperson Mandla Hlabano to find out if there are any new developments regarding the issue.