JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
IT WAS popularly known as Dallas City back in the 1980s, with neat housing blocks and streets, but years of neglect had turned Kabwata Estates into a place akin to an abandoned residential.
Kabwata Estates was built by the National Housing Authority (NHA) in the 1970s as a place for a young middle-class population, and yes, many famous people had addresses here – celebrities and politicians alike.
The legendary Paul Ngozi and Ackim Simukonda once lived in Kabwata Estates.
By and large, Kabwata had become both famous and notorious. It was usually said then that if you had not lived in Kabwata, then you had not lived in Lusaka.
Kennedy Sakala was born in Kabwata Estates in 1978 and has lived there since. He calls himself a Kabwatan.
He reminisces about a beautiful Kabwata Estates with well-lit streets.
“This place was well-maintained and very beautiful,” he says.
But then came the 90s and frenzy for home ownership, and hundreds of Kabwata Estates housing units were sold to individuals.
Inevitably, the NHA turned the responsibility of maintaining the houses to the new landlords.
But the new landlords had no plan of maintaining their newly-acquired property, especially on the outside.
What followed was dilapidation of the houses, especially the high-rise blocks of flats.
Most of them did not receive a fresh coat of paint in almost 30 years.
The once beautiful Kabwata Estates had become an eyesore.
But thanks to several private companies, the four-storey blocks of flats are now receiving a fresh coat of paint, transforming the housing estates.
The painting started at the beginning of the year when the mobile phone company Huawei painted one of the blocks on Burma Road, then, many other companies saw an opportunity to turn the blocks of flats into billboards.
Today, there is a clash of corporate colours as several companies go block by block with a paint brush, almost like in a contest.
TopStar chief executive Leo Liao says the company was happy to have been offered by residents of the flats to put the pay-TV company colours on their homes.
“TopStar was very happy to meet with the representatives from Kabwata who felt that their flats would benefit from the branding,” Mr Liao said.
The residents themselves are happy with the facelift.
Most of them say they were too embarrassed to say they lived in the block of flats because they were too dirty.
“Before I moved here, I used to tell myself that I can never live in these flats but because of circumstances I found myself here,” says Alex Chanda, a tenant at one of the flats.
His block is now being painted a deep blue and orange by TopStar.
Rachel Siachobe who owns a flat in the same block says she cannot remember when the flats were last painted – probably 30 years ago, she reckons.
Mrs Siachobe has lived in her flat since 1991.
She says she felt embarrassed living in the flats.
“It was like in a Chibolya-type of settlement,” she says.
Mrs Siachobe likes the blue paint that her block is receiving.
“It is the colour that I wanted,” she says.
But not everyone is happy with some of the corporate colours their flats are adorning.
Margaret Mwamba’s block is being painted in a striking red and yellow, corporate colours of a Chinese company.
She says she would have preferred green, instead. She also does not like the painting of a dragon on the wall.
“We were praying for green paint, but they said their colours are red and yellow,” said Priscar Daka, who also owns a flat in the same block.
The two women also complain that the paint work looks shoddy and has taken about two months now.
A worker for a company contracted to paint the block of flats says his company was only paid K50,000 to paint two blocks of flats by the Chinese company.
In comparison, he says the company was paid K70,000 for similar work for one block of flats by another company.
The difference in the finishing work between the two flats, which are next to each other, is striking.
The red-and-yellow block of flats is definitely attracting a lot of critique.
And the new-look Kabwata Estates has not gone unnoticed to non-residents, either.
“A drive through Kabwata Estates aka Dallas City was very fascinating. The high-rise block have been given all shades of paint depending on who the ‘sponsor’ is; green, yellow, orange, red, etc. Very soon we will have to christen this location as the ‘Rainbow City’,” commented Kalonje Ndhlovu on his Facebook page.
Residents like Mr Sakala now hope Kabwata Estates will become the beautiful place it once was again.
He now dreams of turning the landscape around his block green by planting a lawn.