by Glory Mushinge
In a developing country like Zambia, one million and five hundred Zambian Kwachas, or roughly three hundred and fifty dollars, is enough to feed a family for 350 days.
So, when Liness Mwale, a 69 year old widow taking care of about four orphans, decided to save almost double that amount of money in order to buy a plot in Lusaka’s Kalale area and build a two-room house, where she could take her family and cut down on the cost of rentals, it was like further reducing the family’s food intake. But Mwale made the choice to live on less than half a dollar for over three years just so she could have a place she could call home.
Today, she is still living in somebody else’s house and when the owner decides to come back, she will live in dire straits as her money will have gone to the wind. This is because Mwale, who is unemployed, has no income or equity; the two room house she had invested all her money in has been razed by the government through the City Council.
The action followed a directive by the Local Government Minister, Ms. Silvia Masebo, because the plot where Mwale built her house was an illegal one, just like 100 plus other plots in that area, which have equally been brought down.
The place, which is next to a low-income area called Kalikiliki, is said to belong to a Zambian businessman of Indian origin. He is alleged to have complained that squatters had encroached in his land, compelling the government to intervene. Therefore, the Ministry of Local Government, under which the City Council falls, had warned that owners of the illegal plots needed to leave the premises, but they did not give heed. In fact, they had vowed to fight back.
But the story is different now because the City Council visited the area and demolished the houses a few days ago, on 10th March.
According to some onlookers in the nearby compound, the council police started the demolition exercise immediately after midnight and by around 3 AM, all the houses had been crushed. Most of the owners of theses mainly unfinished buildings woke up to a rude shock when they found their buildings reduced to broken blocks.
Mwale was tipped off by a relative and she rushed to the site only to find that her dream of ever owning a house had been completely shattered.
The visibly disappointed Mwale said in an interview that she doesn’t know what she will do next, as all her money has gone to waste and that her already difficult life was now next to impossible.
“I am very poor such that it’s difficult to find food for the orphans that I'm keeping, so I thought building a house would help because I would not have to worry about rent money, but once I had shelter, I would only concentrate on looking for food,” she said in Nyanja, the local language.
She wondered why the government had decided to support the Indian man, who seemingly had no use for the land, as evidenced by the number of years the land had been left undeveloped, at the expense of the many poor indigenous families.
“This place was undeveloped, in fact it was a bush and most of the time people were murdered and dead bodies were usually found here, so people thought, it was better to clear the area and build structures. It’s even too big a land for one person,” she said.
This was echoed by Mary Tembo, another woman who has been affected by this development.
“Where will I stay? I am sick and because of my illness, I stopped working as a cleaner at ‘Birds Field’ School in Roma township and all the money I was given as my pension was spent on buying a plot at K1.5million and the rest was spent on building the house, which has since been demolished,” said Tembo. “Why did they let us build the houses and then come and destroy them? They should have stopped us before we started building then we would not have wasted our money.” She added that the plots were sold to them and other people by members of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).
But MMD youth Secretary for the Valley View, an area in Kalikiliki, opposed the claims, saying they had known from the on-set that the plots were illegal. He added that the same chairperson they alleged had sold them the plots had himself warned them, but the youth MMD cadres who were demarcating the plots had threatened to kill whoever tried to stop them, saying that by being cadres of the ruling party, they had the right to give away plots.
He was however quick to point out that the government should have just legalized the plots like they had done with other compounds that were initially illegal.
Other people present concurred, saying the government needed to empower its own people and that with this kind of behavior, they wondered whether they would vote for the MMD again.
“This government, under president Levy Mwanawasa, has ruled for a term of five years already and is in the second term; the first term was concentrated on dealing with former president Fredrick Chiluba’s corruption cases, this term they have decided to concentrate on dealing with illegal plots. When will we concentrate on developing our country?” they wondered.
“President Chiluba was able to empower people with shelter by selling houses at give away prices,” they complained. “What will President Mwanawasa leave us?”