Hundreds of Zambians have been made homeless after their Lusaka slum was cleared to make way for a maize mill, highlighting the country’s struggle to balance economic growth with rights for the poor.
The inhabitants of the 100 homes in Chinika township became losers when the court ordered their homes to be razed to make way for a food processing company’s maize mill.
“This house was built by my husband who died 10 years ago,” 58-year-old mother of eight Sara Mwale said, fighting back tears.
Her house, a three-roomed building without electricity and running water, has now been destroyed along with merchandise that would have been sold to keep the family in food.
Like many others in the settlement, the family depends on hawking goods on Lusaka’s streets to make ends meet.
Now Mwale and her 27-year-old son Lazarus are camped out at the site, standing guard over what few household goods survived amid the debris of CDs, men’s belts and other merchandise.
“This is not what I voted for, we were promised more money and proper accommodation but now people come as early as 02:00 hours in the morning and start demolishing houses while are still asleep,” said Lazarus.
“This is not right and President (Michael) Sata should do something about this.”
During the last election campaign, Sata had appealed to Zambians’ desire for improved wealth and better housing.
Now some residents are considering legal action against the authorities they once backed.
“We are putting up money so that we can engage a lawyer but for the time being, we are going to build our structures using plastics,” he told AFP.
Other residents, however, are throwing in the towel.
Joe Bwalya, who is single and makes a living with carpentry, said he would now have to move to his parents’ home in Kanyama, another Lusaka slum.
Bwalya said he could not keep sleeping out in the chilly open air.
“I can’t continue staying like this, I have to go back to Kanyama and stay with my father. All I will need are my equipment and I will be able to start another life,” the 21-year-old said.
Local government minister Emmerine Kabanshi said that as much as her government promised Zambians decent accommodation, they could not allow lawlessness.
“We want order in the townships and we can’t allow people to be building anywhere. What kind of a country are we going to have if people even build on sewer lines?”
According to Henry Machina, executive director of the Zambia Land Alliance, this is far from an isolated incident, and it is one that is likely to be repeated without legal changes.
“This country does not have a real land policy,” he said. “We have had this problem for many years and we believed that it would sort itself out, but this is not the case.”
“If we have a land policy, it would tell us how land will be administered, we should be able to know who will give out land and who should buy. Not the way it is being done, where land can be given out even by political party cadres.”