Chawama: The ‘nice’ township

CHAWAMA market.

THE Soko family has lived in Chawama township for so long that there is actually a popular spot named after them. For anyone who has been resident in Chawama long enough, Soko is among the township’s memorable landmarks.
Duniya Soko-Katongo tells me the story of how her parents settled in the Chawama ward two area many years ago.
Her father, Greyford Soko, is originally from the Eastern Province and moved to Chawama in the early 1960s where he bought a small piece of land and started running a business called Tigwilizane Shuwa Grocery.
In the early 90s, she says, her father started buying other plots within the same location to extend the original plot of land he had bought.
He also opened a tavern and bottle store called Tigwilizane Shuwa Tavern and Bottle Store.
In early 2000, the bottle store business began dwindling and her parents decided to open up a school called Gremas School.
“What I remember is that we had a lot of taverns which have now been converted into churches and others into schools,” she says.
The school started by her father is one such example of a tavern which has been turned into a school.
Duniya currently runs the school while her father has returned to Eastern Province and resettled there.
“What I know about Chawama is that it has developed because I was born in Chawama and I have lived in Chawama for much of my life,” she says. She is not only one who has all her life here.
I meet Shadreck Liche at the Chawama Youth Project facility. Mr Liche, originally from Zimbabwe, has lived in Chawama since 1964.
“This is the first place my family settled upon arrival in Zambia. Back then, it was just a small area with no electricity and went by the name of Robert’s compound,” he says.
He also recalls that some economic activities involved stone crushing in the area where Ngwenya dam is currently located. A prominent firm called Murphy Construction was in the business of stone crushing.
“Back then, everyone knew everyone. We had Misisi, Frank, Kuku, Jack and John Howard townhips all located close to each other. Residents knew each other and it was really a combination of village and town life,” he says.
At the time the houses still had thatched roofs and because there was no electricity, it was common for families to use kerosene lamps or what would locally be called ‘koloboi’.
Families dug shallow wells to access water until the early seventies when the township started receiving water supplied through the Lusaka City Council (LCC).
Also at that time there were no schools in Chawama, those who were lucky found places at the nearest schools such as Kamwala Primary School. Mr Liche’s school was in Matero.
This was until Chawama Primary School was built in the early 70s and later Chimwemwe Primary School was constructed in the township.
Transport too was a challenge in Chawama and people often relied on bicycles or their two feet unless they really needed to use a car, then they hopped on open vans to travel out of the township.
He is amazed that nowadays, people would even book a taxi to get to Kamwala.
“There was a road passing through Kuku up to Kafue roundabout. We used vans and unregistered taxis to move about. There were a few registered taxis though,” recollects Mr Liche.
He tells me life then was simpler and people managed to have three meals a day.
As a little boy he would sell vegetables like rape and tomatoes in Chawama which he sourced from either Kamwala or town centre.
“Vans would park close to the old town centre bus stop and that’s where I would go as a child. I was a young boy but it was common to sell vegetables and help my parents this way. We took turns doing chores like washing dishes and fetching water from shallow wells,” he shares.
Back then the township had recreational facilities like welfare halls and produced footballers like Stanley Phiri, who played for Schoolboy International, and Elphas Malunga, who was a goalkeeper for Lusaka Tigers under the then National Football League.
Mr Liche also tells me that in his youthful days, schools like Kamwala Secondary School offered all kinds of sports. Kamwala was by then called Prince Phillip and offered sports such as rugby, squash and football.
Little by little Mr Liche witnessed the township change. Eventually residents were connected to the national power grid and roads were built in the area.
In the same vicinity as the Chawama Youth Project office is the Chawama Community School.
There I am introduced to the school administrator, Kelvin Munengo, who was born in 1960 at the then European Hospital, Northern Rhodesia, and today teaches at the very place where he began his schooling.
Mr Munengo tells me his father worked as a cook for a white man who resided close to what is today the official residence of the Zambian President, State House. Because his father was a polygamist, Mr Munengo’s mother was sent to Robert’s Compound (Chawama) while his father’s second wife remained with him.
“My mother came to stay here in Chawama, which by then was called Robert’s Compound and I started school in 1969 here at Chawama Primary School,” he says.
Back then, he says, there was a headmaster called Mr Chalabesa who owned a Fiat car and who Mr Munengo says was a very good and learned man.
He remembers that as a child he would be given five ngwee for school break by his mother which he would use to buy milk for three ngwee and buns for two ngwee.
“I remember my mother would give me 20 ngwee to go and buy bread for 13 ngwee, and milk for seven ngwee, so the 20 ngwee was enough for our breakfast. My mother used to drink a bit. Sometimes she would ask me to go and buy her ‘Chibuku’ from a place called Chakanga tavern,” he recalls.
While living with his brother who was working for the Office of the President, he began teaching as an untrained teacher at Kizito primary School in Matero and later taught briefly at Chawama primary School.
At some point he also tried to enrol in college but was unsuccessful and left teaching. He then joined the American Embassy instead as a security officer where he worked until 1997.
In 1997, General Benjamin Mibenge, once Commander of the combined Zambia Defence Force comprising the Zambia Army, Zambia Air Force and Zambia National Service, approached Mr Munengo and informed him that he had developed a programme for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).
By then there were no community schools in Chawama. That’s how he sold the idea to start it as an NGO. He had a number of them which he called Aid Orphan Child of Zambia,” he shares.
The school still stands today and continues to educate OVCs in Chawama and contributes to the well-being of the community.
Justin Somi is the executive director of the Chawama Youth Project that started in 2001 and became fully functional in 2004.
He and other friends at the time identified that there was no skills training centre for the youth in Chawama, so they approached the Lusaka City Council (LCC) who offered them premises in Chawama from where to run the projects.
They approached churches and different organisations which encouraged them to start the project.
Thereafter, Justin went for training as a youth worker under the sponsorship of the Commonwealth.
At some point Justin nearly gave up his dream of a youth skills project and joined the police service but after a few years, his friends urged him to continue the project.
Today the centre offers training in power electrical, house wiring, automotive mechanics, food production, cutting and designing and tailoring.
On average, around 200 youths from the township are taught skills each year that enable them to either become employed or create employment.
In, research for the Lusaka City Council (LCC) research unit titled A Profile of Unplanned Settlements in Lusaka, Mulimba Yasini states that Chawama is a Nyanja word for ‘Nice’, depicting the happiness of squatters when the white man left the land where they were squatting.
“Chawama started as a workers’ compound for farm workers and stone mining company. It was called Robert’s Compound, the name of the white man who owned the land. Robert Howard lived at a house which is now Chawama Police Station. The settlement started growing when the workers started inviting relatives and friends from rural areas to come and stay with them. The immigrants later started invading the land,” Yasini explains.
The invasion was a source of conflict between the landlord and the squatters as the housing structures for squatters were constantly demolished.
However, with the impending independence, the white man was forced to abandon the land. The workers assumed responsibility and started allocating the land to friends and relatives. Later after independence the politicians assumed responsibility for land allocation.
Yasini also shares that the housing structures were very poor; the houses were made of mud bricks and grass-thatched roofs. People could not build better houses because they feared that the council would demolish their structures.
Only a few courageous individuals built better houses with cast-off roofing sheets. The toilet facilities were makeshift pit latrines, but the majority of the squatters used the bush.
“The settlement did not have a school: pupils went to schools at Burma Primary School in Kabwata, Kamwala Primary School (now Kamwala High School) and Libala Primary school (now Libala High School).
‘‘The first school to be established in the area was Chawama Primary School. The settlement also did not have a health facility: most people relied on traditional medicine. The first health facility (clinic) was only established in 1966 in the now Kuku Settlement (house number 375). The clinic was very small and only catered for under-five children and antenatal. However, the clinic did not last long. In 1968 Chawama clinic was opened which provided more services,” Yasini notes further.
Chawama had a graveyard which was situated at an area around Chingwere market. The graveyard catered for all the squatter settlements in Lusaka. The first market for Chawama was situated on the area where Snow White Bar is located.
The major source of water was a deep well. Squatters also got their water from shallow wells. Later the government started bringing clean water in mobile tanks and people formed long queues to get the water.
Upgrading of the settlement started in 1977 and was sponsored by the World Bank. Upgrading meant densification of the area, and relocation of residents for infrastructure improvement such as roads and water system.
Duniya recalls that one of Chawama’s main tarred roads called Chifundo Road did not exist while she was growing up.
There was only one small clinic, she says, which was made of iron sheets off Chifundo Road and has grown into Chawama First Level Hospital today.

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