APHIUS KAPUTULA, Kitwe
IT HAS not been established what Charity Banda of Chisamba wanted to do with the sweet potatoes planted on top of the rubbish pit where she allegedly buried her step-daughter, whom she had murdered.
But the vegetable growers in Kitwe who were watering their vegetables with sewer had a clear objective, and that is to make vegetables look green and healthy and appealing to customers.
Oh, and as a bonus, it reduces the costs of paying water bills.
One of those involved is Mary Mubanga, 45, a resident of Ndeke township. Mrs Mubanga grows assorted vegetables that include cabbage, rape, sweet potato leaves (kalembula) and bean leaves, which she sells to traders, who later sell the vegetables to unsuspecting residents in various townships in Kitwe.
Her day begins early, around 05:00 hours, when she starts selling vegetables to traders from various markets in Kitwe that trek to the site where a number of Kitwe residents have been growing vegetables watered with raw sewer from vandalised Nkana Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) pipes.
The growing of vegetables and maize watered with raw sewer is rampant in Ndeke township, in the area where there is a vast land reserved for high voltage electricity pylons for the Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC).
Those involved vandalise the main sewer line passing through this area and deviate raw sewer into their gardens. They then craftily block the sewer with plastics at a point of heavy flow that is exposed to the surface. The blockage results in raw sewer water spilling over to the surface.
From where it spills, the sewer water is channelled into the fields using a canal system. A main furrow is dug from where smaller furrows branch off into the segmented blossoming fields of maize, pumpkins, kalembula, beans and many other crops.
Although Mrs Mubanga knows the health risks associated with growing vegetables using raw sewer, she justifies the practice. She says it is her only source of income.
Mrs Mubanga has employed some young men to help her in the field.
Apart from looking green, leafy and healthy, the vegetables grown using sewer water, according to her, are cost-effective as there are no water bills or transport costs involved.
“We do not pay anything for water and we do not have to take the product to the market. The traders themselves come here to buy from us and take the vegetables to the market,” she says.
Mrs Mubanga is not the only one involved, they are many.
Another one is Mainess Zulu.
Her story is not too different from that of Mrs Mubanga.
“This is our source of income. It puts food on our tables and sends our children to school,” Mrs Zulu says. “That is why we do this.”
And true to form, the Sunday Mail found two traders from Chisokone market buying vegetables in bulk. The traders narrated that they buy kalembula from the gardens for as much as K100 per portion and they later take it to the market for sale.
“We come here because the supply of vegetables is constant and we buy in bulk,” Agnes Kayongo said.
But one resident of Ndeke East knows that these green, leafy vegetables are not as good as they look.
Gertrude Mwamfweni says she does not buy vegetables from the market because she knows where the majority of people in the markets buy them from. She says traders in their numbers flock to the site early in the morning on a daily basis and buy assorted vegetables, which they later sell at different markets.
“What these people do is very bad,” Mrs Mwamfweni says. “They put the health of so many people at risk by watering their vegetables with raw sewer. That is why for me, I do not buy vegetables from markets.”
But Patience Mukosa, a regular buyer of vegetables at Chisokone market, is only now learning that some residents have been growing vegetables watered with raw sewer and selling them to unsuspecting people.
“The authorities should be more vigilant and ensure such people pay for their misdeeds,” Ms Mukosa says. “It is disheartening to learn that we’ve probably been eating these contaminated vegetables for many years.”
Well, the authorities have reacted to Ms Mukosa’s sentiments.
Last week, the Kitwe City Council (KCC) slashed the vegetable fields of the farmers that are using raw sewer to water their produce.
Council assistant public relations manager Beauty Undi says the vegetable farmers have used about nine hectares of land for their activities.
When the council officers went to slash the fields around mid-morning, most of those found on the site disappeared into the fields, leaving children and farming tools behind.
When approached, the children expressed ignorance over the source of water for the crops and claimed that they were casual workers who knew nothing.
But Ms Undi says the local authority has on several occasions advised residents on the dangers of growing vegetables using raw sewer as it poses a health danger to both the perpetrators and society at large as the vegetables end up on local markets such as Chisokone.
“We have warned them several times but we will not wait for them to stop,” he says. “Instead, we will use our powers as a local authority to stop them.”
Ms Undi says Ndeke township has the largest hectare of sewer gardens where vegetables are cultivated using raw sewer.
KCC acting assistant health director Fred Nkonde says growing vegetables using raw sewer is a danger to human health as the faecal matter comes with a lot of bacteria and chemicals from industries and homes that cause a lot of diseases.
Mr Nkonde, however, says diagnosing diseases which may have occurred as a result of eating vegetables that are cultivated using raw sewer is always a challenge.
“Some diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea can be transmitted from both eating contaminated vegetables and drinking dirty water,” he says. “[But] Members of the public should take keen interest in the source of the products they buy, be it vegetables or maize.”
He advised people wishing to take up farming activities to approach the council or the Ministry of Agriculture so that they can be allocated land for farming that is safe in all aspects.
NWSC public relations manager Bivan Saluseki is saddened by the continued blocking of sewer lines by residents in various townships in Kitwe, which has resulted in the company losing a lot of money unblocking the sewer system.
“For instance, in Nkana East, we employed someone to watch over the sewer lines during the day, but these people work overnight, hence this situation, and we will look into all these issues with seriousness,” Mr Saluseki says.