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Misisi: Township where a Mrs Edwards hailed

WHEELBARROWS are used to wheel sacks of charcoal bought from ‘Pa Malasha’.

NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
ONE of Lusaka’s poorest townships is Misisi, situated about three kilometres south of the CBD, along the Kafue Road, and is surrounded by Chawama to the south, John Laing to the east, Kamwala to the north and Kamwala South to the west.
Mr Sangulukani Shawa is a genial man in his sixties with a slight lean to his right. He came to Misisi area in 1965 and offers me a seat in his small sitting room full of dusty wooden furniture while there is a nature programme on the television providing background sound during our chat.
He says Misisi was a bush when he arrived but started growing slowly. He doesn’t remember much during our chat, except for how small in size the township was.
“Misisi was how they referred to a white woman in the area who owned a quarry where a lot of lime was bought,” he says.
He came to Misisi to live with his older brother and as the township grew, he got a job with the International Carton and Packaging Company in Lusaka.
He worked there for 27 years. Between 1969 and 1975, he lived for a brief period in George township and later in Kabwata, returning to Misisi in 1975.
He married Eunice Shawa, on October 24, 1964, Zambia’s Independence Day and became widowed in June, this year.
When he shows me his green National Registration Card (NRC), it only bears the year of his birth. The specific day and month is left blank on the card.
Mr Shawa tells me he left employment in 1998 and in 2000 joined the Lusaka City Council (LCC) where he worked for three and a half years in security.
But at his elderly age of 75, he is still working as a security guard to keep himself active.
Before I take a picture of him, he insists he changes into something different from his casual house clothes.
He disappears behind a light, narrow curtain sheet, hanging down with the help of two wooden pegs clipped onto a string.
He takes a reasonable amount of time in his bedroom before finally emerging in a suit, ready for his picture to be taken.
A few undefined streets up from Mr Shawa’s, I find myself in the company of Watson Njobvu, who settled in Misisi in 1966 after leaving his village in Lundazi to work for white bosses in Lusaka.
He says Misisi was a small township with tiny mud houses when he arrived. He also remembers the company Duly Motors using a ground within the township for sporting activities.
“Today it’s different now. The ground has houses and people now play football from a place called Katwishi,” he says.
He also tells me when he arrived in Misisi water supply was a big problem and people queued up to collect water from a council water tank that would come by the area.
The people of the township mobilised themselves to counter the crisis and eventually convinced the authorities to work on the problem until supply improved.
Chrisford Zimba was in Chinsali before moving to Misisi as a security officer in 1981. Before this, he had worked as a police officer with his last base in Kabwe until his resignation in 1981.
Like Mr Shawa and Mr Njobvu, what he recollects is that Misisi was a bush when he first got there.
By the time he arrived however, the white woman who had inspired the name ‘Misisi’ was no longer living there.
Like many residents of the area, Mr Zimba is unemployed and has been since 1991. He has 17 children and is living with all of them as if on a farm.
A popular feature in Misisi is an area called ‘Pa Malasha’ where charcoal is sold in large quantities. Grass brooms are also made in the area from scratch.
Many Lusaka dwellers who drive through Misisi on their way to other parts of the town often stop by the area to purchase charcoal.
Misisi is one of the townships that has been listed by the National Housing Authority (NHA) for an urban-renewal project where about 50,000 slum dwellers who are currently occupying 230 hectares of prime land will be grouped and re-housed in multi-storey accommodation (12,500) units complete with requisite amenities on 40 hectares.
The authority says that this will free 190 hectares of prime land for commercial and industrial use.
The freed land will then be serviced and sold on the open market to recover the development cost applied.
The authority has designed the project in recognition that most of Lusaka’s population is living in unplanned settlements without basic social amenities.
They have no security of tenure, exploited with rental accommodation. The settlements are prone to flooding, making residents susceptible to diseases, hence leading to lower productivity.
The official version of how Misisi came to be is told by Mulimba Yasini for the Lusaka City Council (LCC) in a research called A Profile of Unplanned Settlements in Lusaka.
“Misisi is a Nyanja word for ‘Mrs’ denoting its previous role as farmland for a Mrs Edwards. The name Misisi developed because the residents were failing to pronounce the name Mrs Edwards correctly. The settlement started as a squatter settlement for farm workers after independence. Subsequently they were joined by workers from a nearby quarry mine which was owned by a Mr Morton,” Yasini shares.
Misisi was located on a private land and a small rent payment of K1 was collected by the landlord every month.
The quality of the houses and the surrounding environment was poor. They were shacks made of poles, mud and grass roofs. The area had no clinic, the only nearest clinic where people would go to was Kamwala Clinic.
“The settlement also had no school,” explains Yasini. “Only a few children could attend a makeshift school in Chibolya settlement. The main source of water was shallow wells, but water was also provided by the government through mobile water tanks.”
Misisi settlement is situated in Nkoloma Ward 1 and consists of two areas; Misisi and Frank. The settlement operates under a Ward Development Committee (WDC) whose major role is to facilitate development and implement developmental projects in the area.
The WDC consists of 12 duly elected representatives from each zone and a ward councillor who is an ex-official.
Like most townships, Misisi is divided into six zones according to Yasini and residents from each zone democratically elect 10 people (five male and five female) to form the Zone Development Committee (ZDC).
Two members (male and female) of the ZDC are elected by fellow members to represent the zone on the WDC. The work of the ZDC is basically to identify problems in the zone and forward them to the WDC for action.
According to Yasini, the major political parties that were operating in Misisi were UNIP and ANC. However, after the introduction of the one party state in 1972, UNIP become the sole political party and the settlement was organised under Nkhruma branch and several sections. “The first chairman was Mr Chavula and the secretary was Patrick Mulenga. UNIP also had a notorious youth which helped to maintained law and order in the settlement,” notes Yasini.
Misisi township still has no established school; pupils walk long to neigbouring townships like Chawama where there are schools.
The township also does not have a clinic; patients or expectant mothers go to Kamwala, Kabwata or Chawama for medical attention.
Additionally, it has no recreation facilities for the youth apart from a small football pitch, bars and taverns which are scattered all over it. This has caused high rates of underage drinking in the community and widespread idleness.
Only four years ago, a police post was set up in the township and prior to this, residents experienced high rates of crime in the area.
On the environmental end, Yasini shares that most residents of Misisi still use ordinary pit latrines which are in poor condition.
“There are a few VIP which are in a fair condition. The pit latrines are built very close to houses and shallow wells. Many people are sharing pit latrines with their neighbours. Those who cannot find a toilet just defecate in the open pits or use shakeshake packs. Due to a high water table in the area, the pit latrines overflow during the rainy season and spill off their quantities into the surrounding area and nearby wells,” he writes.
This causes serious contamination to both the soil and water in the shallow wells. The toilets also give off an offensive smell, attract flies and lack water.
Further, a significant amount of garbage is generated daily in Misisi due to the increase in economic activities but as in many townships, there is no policy on how to deal with solid waste.
Residents dump their waste anywhere; on the roadside and in the open pits. They do not dig rubbish pits because of lack of space in their yards.
Yasini also records that sand mining and stone quarrying, historically done in Misisi, has left huge pits which fill up with water permanently and during the rainy season. These pits have become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other diseases carrying bacteria.
Furthermore, residents use the pits as toilets and dumping sites for wastes such as dead bodies, garbage and metals.
The township is also situated on a high water table which makes it prone to seasonal flooding. Misisi residents have been victims of flooding in many past rainy seasons.
Today, Yasini notes, most of the housing structures in Misisi present a danger to the lives of the people because of the poor ventilation and quality of materials. The houses are congested and number of households is also very high.
In addition, most of the houses do not have electricity; residents depend on charcoal and firewood for cooking. These factors make the houses susceptibility to hazards such as fire, poor air quality and collapsing during heavy rains.
The planned NHA urban-renewal project presents hope for a poor and harsh community like Misisi, but it is a question of when the project will take off that remains.

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