CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
MEMBERS of the community fondly call him ‘Commander’.Stephen Mulenga aka Bashi Boyd is standing beside his black, non-runner Toyota Mark II car in front of his house in Kitwe’s St Anthony Settlement opposite Mukuba Secondary School football ground.
Commander pulls back the black plastic sheet protecting the vehicle from the sun and dust, exposing a shattered front windshield.
“Criminals came to my house one night and smashed the vehicle’s windscreen to try to intimidate me, but I’ve remained strong,” he says.
For the last 18 years Commander, also known as Bashi Boyd, has been protecting his community from criminals at great risk as chairman of the neighbourhood security watch under the Zambia Police Service’s Community Crime Prevention Initiative.
The neighbourhood watch is responsible for providing and maintaining security in the crime-prone community.
Mr Mulenga owns several businesses on the roadside, opposite Chachacha township, which are vulnerable to raids by thieves from St Anthony, Twibukishe and Kandabwe.
St Anthony nestles between Chachacha and Twibukishe townships, and has remained a crime hotspot for decades.
Working with volunteers within the community Commander Mulenga has at least kept residents, their property as well as itinerant charcoal traders from Lufwanyama and Chibuluma safe.
It is a dangerous job, which even energetic youths have been shunning.
But the Zambia Police Service needs the help of, and should recognise, such patriotic citizens to fulfil its mandate of keeping communities safe from criminals.
Residents hold Commander Mulenga in high esteem for his sacrifices.
“I have lived in St Anthony since 1979, and have been chairman of the neighbourhood watch for 18 years,” he said in an interview at one of his shops in St Anthony recently.
Commander Mulenga said in the year 2000 he had a small business, but criminals had taken control of the community at the time, mugging residents, beating people and breaking into businesses and houses with impunity.
“My small business was not safe. So, I called a meeting one day to discuss the state of insecurity the criminals had created. The community resolved to form a neighbourhood watch and elected me as the chairman,” he said.
“I selected 60 courageous men and youths, and we worked closely with Kitwe Central Police Station for one year.
“But because of the high risk of being attacked and lack of incentives, 40 dropped out. They were saying ‘we are being taken to courts on allegations of assaulting suspects when we do not get paid for the dangerous work.”
Over time Commander remained with only two faithful members, Shi Emma Lupiya and a Mr Kashimoto.
By 2002, the thieves were again holding St Anthony hostage.
“They [bandits] even burnt my bar one night. To make matters worse, those we apprehended were given light sentences by the courts. After being released, they would come back with force,” Commander Mulenga said.
But he was undaunted. With the help of a member of the anti-robbery squad, a Mr Musumali, he underwent a rigorous fitness training programme.
This gave him the motivation and courage to face the thugs. He has since been maintaining security in the community, sometimes patrolling at night alone.
Commander Mulenga says his motivation is the community’s open appreciation of his selfless service.
“The community is very supportive, except those whose children are members of the criminal gangs. I am also grateful to the officer-in-charge at Kitwe Central police station, Mr Kauseni, the CIO [criminal investigations officer], Mr Phiri, and the anti-robbery squad for their support,” he said.
The beneficiaries of his sacrifices are grateful.
Jennifer Chibowa, a charcoal trader from Lufwanyama who has been trading at the market since 2007, describes Mr Mulenga as a courageous man who is ready to lay down his life for others.
“Bashi Boyd has been our protector here. Otherwise we would have been at the mercy of criminals,” Mrs Chibowa said in an interview.
“When we call him in the night, he comes alone without fear. Sometimes he manages to apprehend at least one or two criminals. He guards us and our charcoal at night free of charge. We don’t even pay him,” she said.
“But he needs more people to work with him.”
Another charcoal trader from Chibuluma, James Chibulwe, says the traders depend on Commander Mulenga for security, especially in the rainy season.
Mr Chibulwe said, “They [criminals] have even damaged his vehicle. We have heard that they want to remove him from the chairmanship because of his advanced age, but that will only bring problems.
“He is the only one the criminals fear here. It will take time to find a replacement.”
Edmond Chabula, who owns two shops at the market, said he sometimes accompanies Commander Mulenga on night patrols.
“I join him once in a while because those who used to work with him stepped out. As an individual, he cannot manage to maintain security for the whole community. Recently criminals burnt his bar,” Mr Chabula said.
He attributed the area’s susceptibility to crime to the absence of a police post.
Mr Chabula said it is dangerous to take suspects to Kitwe Central police station on foot.
“Sometimes fellow criminals attack the members of the neighbourhood watch on the way to the police station and set free their friends,” he said. “When I am around, I offer my vehicle to transport the suspects, but that is also dangerous for me and my family.”
Mr Chabula is appealing to the Zambia Police Service, through Copperbelt Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga, to put up a police post in St Anthony as it has done in Kandabwe.
“Once we have a police post here, many of us are ready to join Bashi Boyd in providing security,” he said.
In the meantime, Stephen Mulenga, the selfless and courageous Commander, will have to bear the community’s cross alone on his ageing shoulders.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka