FRANCIS LUNGU and EMELDA MWITWA, Lusaka
IF THERE is a residential settlement known for having a mixture of faiths and beliefs, political affiliations and entrepreneurial skills, it is Lusaka’s Mandevu township.
It is one of the most densely populated townships with about 87,730 people and an estimated 13,000 households.
Before entering the cosmopolitan city of Lusaka from the northern part of the country, one will see Mandevu on the left side of the Great North Road.
Mandevu, which means beards in Nyanja, got its name from a Greek businessman.
The township borders four townships – Chaisa on the southern side, Marrapodi on the east, Chipata on the northern border and Matero on the western boundary.
Canisius Banda, 48, who was born and bred in Mandevu, says Mandevu township got its name from a Greek entrepreneur who kept a long beard.
Dr Banda, a former vice-president of the UPND, said the long-bearded man had a brick-making business in Mandevu in partnership with his colleague, a Mr Marrappoddi, in the early 1950s.
Mr Marrapoddi lived in Villa Elizabetha but was doing business in the present-day Mandevu township. His unshaven business partner also lived outside the township but they spent most of their time there at their enterprise.
The block-making firm or kwa mandevu, as some people came to know it, became popular among residents and people from surrounding townships. That’s how the township earned the name Mandevu, while the area around Mr Marrappoddi’s trading area earned the name Marrappoddi, and to date the area is still known by this name.
Dr Banda said Mr Marrappoddi’s block-making firm was situated at the place where the Catholic Holy Family Parish is in Marrappodi township.
The two Greek nationals produced a lot of pan-bricks or burnt red bricks which they also supplied to the Government. Many government buildings in the area were built with pan-bricks from kwa Mandevu.
The administration office for this brick-making company was situated where Mandevu Police Station is, according to Dr Banda, who lived in Mandevu for a long time and attended Mutambe Primary School.
He recalls that Mr Marappoddi’s friend had a long and bushy beard, and was nick-named Mandevu.
“This moniker stuck on him. This is how the settlements earned their respective names as Marrappoddi and Mandevu,” Dr Banda says.
When Mr Marrappoddi died, according to Dr Banda, he was buried in Mandevu near Old Ngoma Market.
“Old Ngoma Market is still there today, near my place of residence. I was a marketeer there in my early years,” says Dr Banda, who once vied for the Mandevu parliamentary seat under the MMD ticket in 2011.
Because Mandevu township also had a lot of Zimbabweans whose men kept long beards, some people believe the township got its name from those immigrants.
The Zimbabwean men and women who were called Mazezulu, and wore long white garments, were among the early settlers in the township.
According to Gladys Zulu, 43, who has lived in Mandevu all her life, so much has changed in the township over the years.
“Being a person who was born in Mandevu and grew up here, I have seen some good development because I remember when we were young, we had no tarred roads,” she recollects in an interview. “We used to wake up early in the morning, walk long distances to go and draw water, but now that is a thing of the past,” Ms Zulu said.
Mandevu has a special place in Zambia’s political space especially during the campaign for the re-introduction of multiparty democracy in the 1990-91 era.
It was at the now famous Mutambe ground in Mandevu where the MMD’s first president Frederick Chiluba held a mammoth rally prior to his landslide victory against President Kenneth Kaunda of UNIP in the October 31, 1991 general elections.
Over the years, Mutambe ground has been hosting critical rallies for major political parties in the run-up to the general elections.
Another version of the township’s history is that Mandevu residents have been politically active since the pre-independence days.
Dr Banda delves into the political history of the township as told to him by his late father. One day officials of the former ruling party, UNIP, were having a strategic meeting in Mandevu in an open ground when hunger struck them.
Everyone was exhausted during deliberations and they needed to take a break. Nshima was to be prepared but the only challenge was that there was no relish.
According to Dr Banda, it was at this moment that his father, Maxwell Protazio Banda, who was in the meeting, offered to provide some well-preserved dried vegetables he had not so long ago brought from his village.
“So he went back to his home, got the vegetables, leaving his bemused but supportive wife, Maria Teresa Phiri, staring at him as he walked back to the meeting clutching the vegetable in his hands,” Dr Banda said.
“The vegetable he brought, which the participants cooked, and ate with a relish to their satisfaction, and subsequently enabled the meeting to continue, was mutambe. At the end, the meeting resolved that the primary school which was to be built in Mandevu township should be called Mutambe Primary School,” he explained.
According to Dr Banda, that is how the learning institution got its name.
Mandevu constituency, comprising Olympia, Olympia extension, Roma, Mandevu, parts of Kalundu, Ng’ombe, Chipata, Chaisa, Chazanga, Marrapodi, Chilulu, Luangwa, Mutonyo, Gabon, Garden, Zani Muone, Kabangwe and Kabanana townships, was named after the politically famous township.
During elections, Mandevu constituency is usually a hot seat which is fiercely contested by political parties.
With a population of 353,807 people in the entire constituency (other townships inclusive) at the last headcount in 2010, Mandevu constituency is a political powerhouse which a political party can only ignore at its own peril.
In terms of registered voters, it has a total of 148 889, as confirmed by Electoral Commission of Zambia Public Relations Manager Margaret Chimanse. Of these, 81,523 are male (53.69%) and 67,366 female (46.31%).
Jean Kapata of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) is the current Mandevu Member of Parliament.
Other notable former parliamentarians who have held the seat include Remmy Mushota, Patricia Nawa, Rodger Chongwe and Professor Nkandu Luo. During the UNIP era, there was Dingiswayo Banda, Ebrushy Phiri and Pencil Phiri.
Kwa Mandevu, as people from other parts of Lusaka refer to the township, you find highly skilful carpenters and craftsmen who fabricate utility tools and household goods such as beds, sofas. pots, braziers, basins and other kitchen utensils.
Mandevu carpenters are famed for producing high quality furniture that favourably competes with imported ones.
Former President Chiluba was among the high-profile persons who appreciated the skill of Mandevu carpenters and is on record of having bought some furniture from there while he was serving as President.
“We have been doing this business with my family. I inherited it from my late father. We have different kinds of customers such as companies, individuals of different races who come to buy our sofas and other furniture,” said Bruno Njovu, who plies his trade around the famous furniture selling spot on Great North Road.
In the township are many small-scale traders, mainly women, who survive on selling second-hand clothes, popularly known as salaula.
Some traders in the township subsist on selling vegetables, fruits and charcoal on the highway near National Heroes Stadium. Some trade in the market and others run grocery stores and restaurants.
The township also has a share of skilled human resources of varied competences such as paramedics, teachers, ICT specialists and bankers, among others.
Like most unplanned townships, housing units in Mandevu vary in size and shape and are owned by different landlords.
Some landlords live in their houses, while others have put the houses on rent.
Ms Zulu, who is vice chairperson of Justin Kabwe Ward 21, says Mandevu has seen considerable development in almost every sphere of life.
Some households have their own water taps, while others draw water from communal taps within close proximity to their homes.
The main road in the township that bisects Mandevu and connects to the Great North Road is Makasa, named after one of the UNIP stalwarts. Makasa is a paved road which facilitates easy passage of buses and other motor vehicles around Mandevu and beyond to Chipata, Kabanana, Mazyopa and Roma townships.
However, other roads in the township are not tarred.
Ms Zulu feels President Edgar Lungu attaches great importance to the development needs of the people of Mandevu.
President Lungu polled 59,239 votes in Mandevu constituency (comprising other townships) in the 2016 general elections, while his closest rival Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND got 19,033 votes.
“He has appreciated us by facilitating for the building of a bigger market. Mandevu has no banks but with the new market facility, it will come along with banks, Shoprite and all these good facilities that will change the face of Mandevu,” Ms Zulu said.
Government has earmarked Mandevu clinic for upgrade to a first-level hospital.
In terms of development status, Mandevu residents have lived to envy the developmental levels in Matero.
“We grew up admiring the tarred roads in Matero, good schools and modern shopping malls. We have no filling station in Mandevu, no shopping mall, but most of these things are also coming to Mandevu,” Ms Zulu said.
Mandevu has three government schools, Mutambe, Justin Kabwe and Mandevu Basic School which all run from grade one to nine.
In addition, the township has 17 private schools and 12 community schools. Mandevu has a number of markets, notable ones being Mandevu, Katambalala, Old Ngoma and a market for second-hand clothes called Ku Bridge.
In the past, Mandevu was ill-famed for motor vehicle thefts which were done in a sophisticated manner by suspected Zimbabwean immigrants who were deported from South Africa around 1957.
The criminals had the technical know-how of dismantling motor vehicles.
Dr Banda shared that the deportation of Zimbabweans from South Africa, who were known as Apostles, was necessitated by their shady activities, chief among them being motor vehicle theft.
History has it that when the Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwean) government refused to receive the deported immigrants, the Northern Rhodesia government took them in as refugees. “They came to Zambia as a Christian community of the Apostolic Faith.
They were known as ‘Apostles’, which title they carry to date. This group was settled in Marrapodi,” Dr Banda said.
The foreign settlers would soon start master-minding motor vehicle thefts in Lusaka. They had a secret workshop in Mandevu where they dismantled stolen vehicles.
When a car was stolen in the city, police investigations would not be complete without combing Mandevu.
The car thieves had good driving skills to speed off in stolen cars and were able to quickly dismantle stolen vehicles beyond recognition.
“But that kind of crime is no longer being experienced now. Things have changed. Mandevu is now a peaceful place. There are no serious crimes,” Ms Zulu, another Mandevu resident, said.
Dr Banda adds that ‘Apostles’, commonly called ‘Mazezuru’, were car-loving people.
In those days, the Peugeot 404 was synonymous with them.
Mandevu’s Apostles, or Mapostoli as the locals would call them, often had many wives. But they had a competitor in that regard, a Zambian businessman who was nick-named June July.
“The Apostles believed that ‘pamene paona maso, ngati mtima wakonda, tenga’ (If your heart is pleased with what you set your eyes on, get it). And this was their cultural approach to marriage.
“To this day, they are polygamous and marry six or more wives. Baba Matongo, who had over 50 wives, belonged to this sect,” Dr Banda shares.
June July was a Zambian man from Eastern Province who had lived in Zimbabwe for many years before he returned home and settled near what used to be called the Shell Service Station, across the Great North Road, near Matero East.
He was a panel beater.
“Even in his advanced age, he loved women much younger than him whose company he enjoyed till the end of his days. The ‘Apostles’ and June July never saw eye to eye. This was because June July was a Zambia Police reserve. June July often reported the misdeeds of the ‘Apostles’ to the authorities, which the ‘Apostles’ did not like. This feud between them lasted till June July passed on,” Dr Banda said.
Some of June July’s children from his polygamous marriages are still in Mandevu.
Kwa Sakala is the oldest tavern established by a Mr Sakala in the 1970s. The tavern is still in operation and mainly deals in opaque beer, popularly known as Chibuku.
Faithful patrons have continued to quench their thirst at the joint even during working hours. “I am a retiree and I pass my time here. As old as this place is, it is so peaceful,” said a Mr Kafwankula, who was found sharing some Chibuku with friends.
There is also an equally old drinking place known as D Banda. It is well known among the locals.
Lochi Clinic is one of the old landmark structures. It was the first private clinic in Mandevu, which is now called Gish Clinic.
During the UNIP regime, the African National Congress (ANC) was very strong in Mandevu township. And this worried UNIP.
To assert its dominance, Dr Banda shares that UNIP then began to name the political sections of Mandevu after its leaders such as Kalulu, Mundia and John Miller.
“There is another area of Mandevu called Freedom, whose meaning is just that. Then plots were given to the Catholic Church and the Dutch Reformed Church as a way of winning people’s hearts to UNIP, the provider of the land. It was a tactic, and over time, it worked.
“The very first UNIP councillor in Mandevu compound was a man called Kwezekani Ngoma, whose name still lives today as Old Ngoma Market,” Dr Banda said.
All in all, Mandevu is a place of oozing hope from the entrepreneurial acumen of its people to the political influence that every political party worth its salt wants to associate with.
FRANCIS LUNGU and EMELDA MWITWA, Lusaka