FRANCISTOWN: Public backlash appears to have forced the Francistown City Council (FCC) to make a quick U-turn over plans to stop to photographers who operate in the informal sector within the city’s Central Business District (CBD).
Tuesday this week, in a meeting with the police and the representatives of the photographers, the council said that it has since decided that the photographers should stop taking pictures because there is no licence that governs informal sector photography.
The meeting that was held at the council chambers was convened to address recent incidents where the police in the city clashed with informal sector photographers. The Photographers operating in the informal sector have become a regular feature within the city’s main CBD especially near Nswazwi mall.
Initially, it was said that the photographers were being arrested for operating illegally. The police would later say that they are being arrested for breaching COVID-19 prevention protocols and the Road Traffic Act.
At the said meeting, a senior council official Kakanyo Botoka said the photographers should cease taking pictures while the FCC in collaboration with the Ministry of Investment Trade and Industry work on modalities to govern how they can operate in the informal sector.
“After engagements with the city clerk and other council officers, we have now reconsidered our position. We have rethought our approach and the photographers will be allowed to continue operating informally as this will enable them to earn a living. There is nowhere they will go if they are prevented from operating,” Francistown Mayor Godisang Radisigo said in an interview yesterday.
He said that the council would soon start working on strategies as to how the photographers operating in the informal sector could be licensed.
One of the representatives of the photographers, Augustus Phillemon confirmed that he has received a call from the Mayor indicating that they should continue running their businesses informally.
Since their battles with the police started last week, the photographers have attracted much support from the public.
With unemployment in the country continuing to rise, sympathisers believe that it is not logical to prevent the photographers from trading informally within the main CBD. In addition, members of the public have been very critical of the police and the council’s approach to deal with the street photographers.
During their meeting with the police and council officials, the photographers strongly denied breaching COVID-19 protocols.
“ Last week we were arrested several times by the police. They accused us of not observing COVID-19 regulations. However, when we arrested the police loaded us in a van without considering the COVID-19 prevention regulations. They are the same people who breach the same regulations they claim to be enforcing,” said an unrelenting Phillemon.
Phillemon was reacting to Botswana Police Service Divisional Commander (North), Cynthia Setilo who earlier on emphasised that the photographers were being arrested for breaching COVID-19 protocols.
The young photographer added that he suspects witch-hunt from the police.
“We are being accused of failing to adhere to COVID-19 prevention regulations something which we believe is not true. We sanitise our customers and keep social distancing at all times,” he said.
He noted that they are convinced that some established studio operators in the city are responsible for reporting them to the police. According to him, some studio operators might be afraid of informal sector competition hence the fight with the police.
At the meeting with council officials, Phillemon also expressed concern that banning the photographers from operating informally might turn out to be a recipe for disaster.
He explained that such a decision would ultimately mean that some of those who will be prevented from taking pictures would resort to crime in a bid to eke out a living.
“There are those who engaged in criminal activities prior to venturing into photography (in the informal sector) for survival. However, since they started their operations they have been leading a clean life. We have even received support and positive feedback from their parents. Chances are that they will resort to crime again in a bid to survive if they are stopped from operating or constantly receive threats from the police,” he said.
He further pointed out that he has been unemployed since graduating from tertiary school in 2012. He indicated that through the money he earns from his photography business, he has been able to sufficiently cater for the needs of his two children.