Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
LAST week, Lusaka Mayor Wilson Kalumba was in the news for a noble cause. Mr Kalumba was launching a community programme called ‘Know your neighbour initiative’.
The purpose of this initiative is to fight crime in the communities and also change people’s mindsets towards waste management.
Mr Kalumba said the concept of ‘Know your neighbour’ was for people and local authorities to work together to safeguard lives.
This initiative will culminate in the formation of anti-crime and garbage collection groups at community level to supplement efforts by the relevant authorities.
The spate of crime in Lusaka, the mayor pointed out, is worrisome and people are now leaving in fear.
What struck me about this initiative is its potential to break the communication barriers created by wall fences, social classes or the mere anti-social attitudes of people across different social strata.
To make this community initiative work, people will be required to know who their neighbours are or probably create relationships with people in the vicinity.
Right now the situation in our communities, especially the low density townships, is so bad that people do not know who their neighbours are. At worst, people care less about what happens to their neighbours or they are simply not in talking terms.
The excuse by many is that they are too busy and have no time to get together with their neighbours. Or that they work late and only get home in the night and have no chance for chibeleshi (associating) with neighbours.
Even when a bereavement occurs in the neighbourhood, very few would be courteous enough to attend a funeral or visit a neighbour’s child in hospital.
Apparently, gone are the days when a neighbour was considered a sister or brother from ‘another mother’ who, in the day of trouble, would tend to your need before your relatives come.
I grew up in a neighbourhood where housing units were only separated by wire fences and a distress call from a troubled household was first answered by neighbours.
Every morning, we had no choice but to say good morning to our neighbours because between us was only a thin perimeter wall.
When a community member was admitted to hospital, we would know it the same day through the mwashibukeni, mwatandaleni, mwabombeni, or chungulopo mukwai greetings across our wire fences in the Kitwe township of Chimwemwe.
A sick person in the community would be visited not only by church mates, but neighbours too.
A thief in the neighbourhood was considered everyone’s enemy, and collective efforts were made to make the community peaceful and crime-free.
When the area chairperson called for a public meeting, a good number of residents would attend to air grievances on pressing community needs.
But over the years, we have seen this spirit of camaraderie slowly dying in the lower middle-income Zambia as more people build houses in the upmarket and erect wall fences around them.
Ideally, a fence is a security feature or boundary marker, but now it is taking away the good rapport that previously existed in our communities.
A gesture of welcoming a new family in the neighbourhood is one simple step of breaking the barriers of friendship in our communities.
But how many people would be magnanimous enough to make such a move? And how many would be receptive if a new neighbour popped in to introduce themselves?
Surprisingly, people now take pride in not knowing their neighbours and some actually brag that ‘I don’t do chibeleshi with neighbours, I just mind my own business’.
Because we, the so-called civilised people, want to mind our own business, we care less about the wellness and welfare of neighbours.
The criminals among us know about this spirit of disunity which they capitalise on to terrorise our communities.
This is why criminals would raid a family, but very few people in the community would care to answer a distress call, even by merely phoning the police.
A few years ago, a young woman was heard crying for help in the night at her house in Ibex Hill and no one in the neighboured bothered to alert the police.
It was after her body was discovered in a manhole that a neighbour said, ‘I heard her screaming in the night.’
Perhaps, had the people in the community been more alert, they could have either thwarted the murder of the 26-year-old or alerted police early enough.
Imagine, a dying woman was heard screaming by neighbours but no one went to check on her the following morning.
I hope the ‘Know your neighbour initiative’ will knit communities together and help them to fight common crimes such as gender-based violence (GBV), child defilement, rape, assault on children and burglary.
Currently, victims of GBV and child abuse suffer quietly because people who could help them to seek justice are non-committal.
For instance, all that an abused child needs is an alert neighbour to notify police.
Equally, some of the victims of GBV need the support of a neighbour or community leaders to seek justice against their abusive spouses.
Talking of burglary, sometimes we allow the outlaws to establish reigns of terror in our communities because the apamwambas opt to stay aloof.
Time and again, police have appealed to us to form crime prevention committees, but this has proved difficult in some communities because people don’t know their neighbours.
Normally, meetings for neighbourhood watch committees are poorly attended because of lack of camaraderie with our neighbours.
Women are the worst culprits in shunning community policing initiatives, yet they are the most vulnerable to GBV, spouse battery and sexual assault.
From the little that I know, policing is about the community partnering with law enforcers to ensure that law and order prevails.
But if neighbours can’t relate with one another, they will not see the value of being one another’s keeper, let alone joining hands to fight crime.
In a nutshell, I’m saying that the ‘Know your neighbour initiative’ is good. I hope it will be successfully implemented, and women will join hands with their male counterparts to fight crime in the communities.
The mayor and his team should make it work and also ensure that it is replicated in all townships of Lusaka.
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