BOYD PHIRI, Lusaka
“IF YOU have not visited Matero, you have not been to Lusaka.” This is how Lusaka residents and visitors alike depicted the popularity of the township in the 70s and 80s.
The same adage holds true today as Matero has over the years given birth to other adjoining residential areas like Matero East and Emmasdale Site and Service, well known for its Devil Street, with all the temptations it holds.
The township also has one new additional residential area, Matero North, which stretches from the Humanism Hill down to Chingwere Cemetery.
It is located north-west of the capital city, Lusaka, covering an area of 6.92 square kilometres.
Matero is now home to 55,629 people, with 11,688 households, according to the Central Statistical Office Zambia 2010 Census of Population and Housing.
There are more females than males in the township. Out of the population, 50.57 percent are females while 49.43 percent are males.
With the population increasing, the township requires 11 million litres of water per day, according to Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) public relations manager Patson Phiri.
Mr Phiri says Matero draws its water from Lumumba reservoir situated at the corner of Lumumba and Mumbwa roads on the periphery of Lusaka’s central business district.
In the past the township drew its water from reservoirs perched on Humanism Hill in Matero overlooking Independence Stadium.
“The tanks on humanism hill are no longer in use. We now supply water to Matero using Lumumba reservoir,” Mr Phiri says.
Matero Member of Parliament Lloyd Kaziya says there is need for additional water supply to the township, which is receiving water only for four hours in a day.
“We hope to have increased water supply to Matero through the Millennium Challenge project. The water tanks on Humanism Hill used to supply water to a population of 35,000 people. But with the increase in the population, they proved to have less capacity. The Millennium Challenge project will bring 50,000 cubic metres of additional water supply per day into Lusaka, of which Matero will be a beneficiary,” Mr Kaziya says.
Most houses which belonged to Lusaka City Council have seen a drastic transformation since they were sold to sitting tenants in 1996 at a subsidised price of K10 by the MMD government of President Frederick Chiluba.
Before the houses were sold, rentals ranged from K5 to K7 depending on the size of the house.
When compared to rentals today, one would say accommodation was cheap then. But still some families were being evicted from the houses by the council for non-payment of rent.
Today housing costs in the township have gone up with a one-room house costing K500. A two-room house costs K1,000 while renting a full house with a bedroom, a sitting room and a kitchen costs K1,500 and more depending on the size.
To maximise on the profits, a number of new landlords have extended their houses to accommodate more tenants, a thing which the council did not allow when it owned the houses.
However, Matero’s neighbourhoods are as diverse as its people – from house number one on Salima Road to house number 2942 on Banja Road – Chibalo in Chingwere to an area once called Matongwe near Buseko Market – Shadreck to Saiga Daka – Hillside to Kasamba.
In some parts of the township, localities like Maiteneke form a unique blend of interdependent sections Matero is known for. This is where there are two-room houses with a kitchen attached on the outside.
According to some residents, the name Maiteneke is a Bemba word depicting the simple process the prefabricated walls were connected together with great force when building the houses.
“The word maiteneke came about because of the process of slamming the prefabricated walls into their positions when building those houses. It comes from a Bemba term ukuiteneka,” one of the residents, Mr Gabriel Inambao, says.
Maiteneke localities are found in four places of the township, namely Salima Road, Shadreck, Chingwere and another one next to Matero Level-1 Hospital.
The rest of Matero consists of regular houses made of cement and blocks built in different sizes.
The structures in the township were maintained by Lusaka City Council’s Maintenance Department near Matero Hall before the office was damaged during the 1990 food riots during President Kenneth Kaunda’s reign.
However, Matero will soon become a municipality as Government is embarking on construction of a sub-civic centre behind the community hall.
The security concerns in the township are overseen by Matero Police Station located in a police camp at the junction of Lumumba and Commonwealth roads. There are also police posts dotted across the township.
However, Mr Alfred Nawa, a resident of Matero since 1964, was able to draw the map of the township using names of prominent roads and some places in the area.
“Mzilikazi Road marks the border of Matero with the heavy industrial area on the south. To the east you have Lumumba Road. Coming down to the west there is a stream, just after a place called Shadreck and Chitanda separating Matero from other townships like George, Lilanda, Desai and Chunga,” Mr Nawa says.
Matero also shares its border with Mandevu to the east with the Great North Road being the boundary. To the north there is Old Chingwere Cemetery, which stretches up to Chunga dumpsite.
Though Matero is an independent township, it is a flagship of the entire constituency, which includes Lilanda, George, Chunga, Barlastone, Emmasdale and part of the heavy industrial area.
Former Matero members of Parliament are Mr Felis Lombe Chibesakunda (1973 – 1977, UNIP), Mr Francis Nkhoma (1978 – 1983, UNIP), Mr Felix Dominic Chanda (1983 – 1989, UNIP), Mr Abel Mkandawire (1988 – 1991, UNIP), Mr Samuel Miyanda (1991 – 2001, MMD), Mrs Faustina Sinyangwe (2006 – 2011, FDD) and Mr Miles Sampa (2011 – 2016, PF). The current MP is Mr Lloyd Kaziya (PF).
Once revered as “a city within a city”, Matero drew many people from other townships and cities seeking pleasure at popular nightclubs like Saiga Daka and New Londe Motel in the 70s and 80s.
Some came to Matero to make their visits to Lusaka complete by testing the saying: “If you have not been to Matero, you have not been to Lusaka.”
Independence Stadium, previously the main arena for sports and entertainment activities in Lusaka, made people from other places to keep coming back to Matero township regardless of whether they had money to watch events from the terraces inside or from Humanism Hill outside for free.
Watching football matches, boxing bouts or international musicians from Humanism Hill was rarely interrupted by police on horseback.
The only time fans scampered from their vantage positions at Humanism Hill was when there was a threat of a snake bite, after which they would regroup to continue watching.
In other words, Humanism Hill personified Matero’s welcoming disposition in giving visitors and residents an opportunity to experience what the township had to offer at Independence Stadium regardless of their socio-economic status.
Humanism was borrowed from UNIP’s philosophy which emphasised the importance of human beings as the centre of all activity.
Although suburbs of Kabulonga, Woodlands and other townships like Kabwata, Libala, Northmead, Chilenje and Mandevu had established a reputation of their own, Matero stood out for many reasons.
Apart from the township teeming with social life, which this article will explore in detail in the following paragraphs, Matero also attracted attention because of its role in pre-independence politics.
Many political campaigns by United National Independence Party (UNIP) between 1959 and 1961 were planned in Matero township at house number 3144 B on Chitimukulu Road, which the party used as its headquarters.
The house is now a monument managed by the National Heritage Conservation Commission.
UNIP went on to wrestle power from colonial masters and ruled Zambia under founding President Kenneth Kaunda until 1991 when MMD won the elections.
One cannot ignore the fact that the ceremony to mark Zambia’s attainment of independence from Britain on October 24, 1964 took place in Matero at Independence Stadium, where the Union Jack was replaced by the Zambian flag.
The place now has a new football arena called National Heroes Stadium with the old stadium still standing on the western side.
In the early years of the township, politicians like Mr Mainza Chona, who later served as Vice-President of Zambia from 1970 to 1973 and Prime Minister on two occasions, lived in Matero at house number 53.
Mr Lewis Changufu is another firebrand politician who once called the peri-urban area his home.
President Kenneth Kaunda’s last chief election agent during the1991 general elections, Mr Hazwell Mwale, well known as ‘asogoleli’ (leader), also once lived in Matero township.
The township is also known for the Matero Declaration announced at Matero Hall in 1969, which resulted in the Zambian government acquiring 51 percent shares in the mines owned by Anglo American at the time.
With the political activities long gone, the township would later see some change. By all accounts, the township was and still is full of social activities and a sobriety of religion to go with.
Some town dwellers affectionately call it Matero Barrack, apparently to emphasise its tough-tested reputation and some people’s resilience to deal with challenges.
One of the residents, Mr Siyeni Phiri, says many people have been to Matero, either alive or dead – dead in the sense that the township hosts Chingwere Cemetery where the deceased from within and outside the township are buried.
It is because of the township’s proximity to the graveyard that at one time tales of some of the dead coming back as ghosts at night to terrorise some drinking places found their way into the reality of life in Matero.
One such story led to the closure of Chingwere tavern owned by the council on the edge of the graveyard on suspicion that ghosts were drinking Chibuku beer when the barman had closed the pub.
But another theory claims that some council workers were the ones who used to go back to decant the beer from tanks misleading authorities that it was the ghosts drinking it at night.
If this was being crafty by some people, Matero was later to be dogged by more serious criminal activities which earned the township’s clandestine activities a pet name, Matero University.
The term Matero University is a characterisation of the sophistication among some people who engage in illegal activities like making fake documents such as school certificates, university degrees and title deeds.
Police have once busted the illegal activities there, but no one knows for certain if the vice has been wiped out completely.
However, though some of the criminal activities betray the good side of Matero, the story of the township can be told from different angles depending on which side brings flashes of memories.
HOW MATERO CAME ABOUT
Before Matero was built in 1952, a sleepy village laid claim to the land, and there was a general perception among urban dwellers that it marked the tail end of Lusaka town.
The impression given to the geographical location of the area resulted in the place being referred to as “kumathelo”, a Nyanja word which means the end part of an area.
Others considered the area to be on a slope, which they referred to as “kumatelo”, a Bemba word meaning slope surface.
However, no one knows exactly which version between the two succeeded in being adopted as the name for the new township.
According to Dr Nawa, the township started at a settlement around the post office where a man called Poison Nyambe lived.
He owned a small shop. His residence was well known as “kubonyambe”, a Lozi word meaning “Mr Nyambe’s residence”.
“He was a businessman by the standards at that time. People went there for anything,” Dr Nawa says.
Dr Nawa says most of the people were later displaced to build a new township which later came to be called Matero.
“Matero was built in 1952 by the government. Most of those who were accommodated in Matero at that time came from Chinika in the industrial area,” Dr Nawa says.
According to another resident, Mr Gabriel Inambao, who came to Matero in 1970, people were relocated from Chinika to Matero to decongest the expanding industrial area.
Chinika is the area situated on Mumbwa Road, west of Lusaka’s central business district.
“But not everyone from Chinika was accommodated in Matero. Those who did not get houses in Matero were given plots in what is now called Chunga. That is why there is a section called Chinika in Chunga. Some people who benefitted from the houses worked for the council, some were civil servants, while others worked for private companies,” he says.
Mr Inambao says in the formative years, Matero area was called Middle Water, and like Dr Nawa, his knowledge of where the name Matero came from is limited to the expressions “kumathelo” (end) and “kumatelo” (slope surface).
However, in the years that followed, Matero saw unprecedented development anchored on the entrepreneurial skills of some residents.
The first businessmen to set up commercial buildings in Matero were Mr Tinto Ngulube and Mr Safeli Chileshe, who later became the first black mayor of Lusaka.
Mr Ngulube built his shop situated on Nsefu Crescent in 1954, the same year that Mr Chileshe erected his.
Mr Ngulube ran a family canteen, a cakeshop and a bottle store called Manjanja. His son Joseph says his father set up the business in Matero after returning from Zimbabwe where he had gone to work.
“My father worked in Zimbabwe just like many other Zambians at that time. When he came back, he lived in Chinika for a while before coming to Matero,” Mr Joseph Ngulube says.
Other earliest people to set up businesses in Matero were Mr Samson Chulu, who owned a place called Kwa ndi Kwe, Mr Mususu Kalenga, owner of Mwinilunga Bar, Mr Saiga Daka and Mr Shadreck Nyankhundi, who owned a commercial property at a place now popularly known as Shadreck.
Mr Nyankhundi also built a structure which once hosted a popular joint called Africa 2000 on the south-end of Matero.
Educationist and politician Tenthani Mwanzah says Africa 2000 was an organisation set up to help the liberation struggle of southern Africa and it was renting the building from Mr Nyankhundi, which it used as a nightclub to raise funds.
He says former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley once visited the nightclub to offer solidarity for the cause of the liberation movement in southern Africa.
The list of businessmen who developed…(To be continued)
BOYD PHIRI, Lusaka