Friday, November 9, 2012

Malawian slum conditions need attention or...

Rose Robert is only 20 but she already has sired three children, she is unqualified ad relies on a husband that sells chicken parts. She sits home all day waiting on her husband’s return. 

She sits in a mass of flies and right next to her toilet and her dump site. Her bathroom is a shack of strewn paper only just cordoning off would-be onlookers. The water that flows from the bath-shack is channelled into a pit that she doubles as a refuse pit.

The water plus the refuse join forces to produce sewage-like stench. It however does not bother her; she sits comfortably with her friend eating away from plastic plates placed on the dusty ground. The said ground in covered in feathers; feathers from the chicken her husbands slays.
Bin, Bathroom, Toilet, Playground - All in one place for Robert and neighbors

Her friend and neighbour, clasps a naked baby drapped in traditional bangles. She is herself is naked from waist up revealing her plus sized breasts. As she turns to pick up things, her breasts bang about in the October heat.

Robert’s house is about seven by five metres, it only has one bedroom. Electricity is out of the question, after all it is in Mtandire, one of the biggest slum ares in Lilongwe falling along the ranks of some areas of Kachere, Ndirande and Mbayani in Blntyre and Salisbury in Mzuzu.

To get to Robert’s house one has to negotiate tricky mazes, passages sandwiched by concrete and straw walls. Passages passing between drinking dens, toilets, in some cases one has to sift through clothes on drying lines and jump over water flowing from bathrooms.

It is like the Brazilian favelas, Mexican barrios and the Zinc ridden ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. Many new comers to Lilongwe are told that areas like Mtandire house the city’s hardcore criminals and that the residents are violent by nature.

“It’s hard living here, the children sleep on the sitting room and we cannot afford visitors because we have no room. Water is hard to come by here, like in the last four days it hasn’t been flowing so we have been going to Area 47 to look for it,” said Robert.

Robert said the water question sometimes makes them wake up at three in the morning, just to fetch for it.
Her rubbish pit only has the fair garbage: feathers paper bags and some vegetable stems. The rest of the refuse is stacked in a sack and later thrown into Lingadzi River since no refuse collection services exist anywhere near Mtandire. 
Robert (Left) with her neighbour

The children of Mtandire happily play in the dust; innocently mingle with the red-eyed elders who have a thing for every drink achoholic. Many pubs in Mtandire are extensions of houses and thus a sizeable amount of  children are growing up with beer.

Their pals just a 20 minute walk away in Area 47 cannot find dust to play with even if they looked for it. All they have is tarred roads, sofas and Play Stations to play with. Their water system rarely dries up and garbage collectors from the City Council know the neighbourhood like their wives. 

The houses are bigger in 47 and the people in it richer. At the far end of Area 47 there are high walls obviously to keep out Mtandire residents, ,there are no through roads and the wall is almost standard like they agreed and as if they read about the Israeli wall that keeps out Palestinians.

Secretary of the Informal Settlement Network, Tony Golliati said living in the slums in this age is like living in Nyasaland, the pre-Independence Malawi.

“We have no water, no proper housing, when the rains fall it’s a mud puddle here and you can see how thin the byways are, when there is a funeral its hell to move a coffin out of this place, we wish we lived better lives. We hear government allocates money to people like us but we never see such money,” said Golliati.

He said there are about 18,000 people in Mtandire but with only one primary school, no secondary school a setup he feared is desinged to keep the poor forever poor.

Nation Publications Limited Chief Executive Officer, Mbumba Achuthan, who also attended the meeting and toured the slums could not hide her shock at the therein.

“Its amazing how just a road can divide people. The conditions here are appaling, no sewer system and I understand just across the river there is a bush but because rich people are building houses there, there will soon be electricity, water and good road networks,” said Achuthan.

As a media person, Achuthan said media should play an affective interactive role in the fight for slum dwellers.

“We need to take an interactive angle, where we take issues from the ground to the people who can tackle them and from people who can tackle them to the grassroots…also projects where we are not just reporting on what we see but also include the people’s voice into our products on radio and things like that,” she said.

Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) Executive Director Siku Phiri said unless Malawi starts adressing the issue now the future looks scary. She bemoaned the lack of funding and planning to check slums from spiraling out of control.

“Look at a town like Kasungu, it gets two million Kwacha from government what can a town with 50 thousand people do with two million?...but there is hope, we are not yet at the level of other countries like Kenya’s Kibera slums or South Africa.

Siku Nkhoma: We better plan
“We still have space to plan and we do not need big funding to do it, but there is no urgency to solve the problem,” said Nkhoma.

She said CCODE will continue negotiating government and helping the people in their quest to upgrade heir slums. 

Bizwick Gomba, 35 left Mazinga village in Madisi, Dowa this very year, he told Nation on Sunday that his pork business was sketchy in Dowa where unless Tobacco sold well, people did not buy enough to sustain him.

Gomba says in Mtandire life is better: he rakes in moneys daily from the pork; he lives in an iron-sheet house and says his children will grow up in town and know more things than in the village.

Until he arrived in town, Gomba was part of the 80 percent Malawians that live in the rural areas and figures indicate that by 2030, the trend will reverse, only 20 percent will be in the villages, the rest will be urban areas which are attractive in the way Lilongwe attracted Gomba.

The problem is, with no skills and no starting capital, will everyone sell pork? The answer is of course the makeshift homes like Mtandire, which depite standing for 50 years, has nothing standing that was built that long ago. 

Seven out of every ten people one meets in Malawi’s urban areas reside in informal settlements; that is about 1.7 Million Malawians living in Mtandire-type of settlemts, according to the Ministry of Lands and Housing.

Well, it seems there is a wind whispering concious voices in the favelas and shanty ghettos, on Wednesday slum dwellers from almost all districts in the country met at Mtandire and agreed that they are tired, not only of living in the concrete jungles but also of waiting on politicians to solve their problems.

The slum dwellers have since established a “Slum Upgrading Fund” to benefit the country’s urban poor.  The slum dwellers have engaged CCODE to use its expertise to be the fund’s secretariat but government representatives, the slum dwellers themselves and other interested partners will manage the fund.

“This fund will be capitalised through community contributions, funding partners, Malawians of goodwill; and government contributions. 

“We feel that demonstration our potency by starting off this fund should help us leverage more resources from other stake-holders and that we will have greater say on our priotities if we have a community driven fund and decisions are taken by ourselves,” reads a communique that the slum dwellers released at the end of their meeting.

The ‘slum’ dwellers will have to contribute 10 percent of the funding for the development project they want.
Nkhoma warned that the effects of ignoring the slums will later catch up with the rest of the city who only think that slums are full of vice and to be ignored.

Already there was no government representative at the Slum dwellers Indaba despite being invited and right now another Bizwick Gomba might be preparing to come to town and if the country continues ignoring them, we might as well buy that newcomer a gun because crime and vice may be his only way out.

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