Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Poverty underscores Zambia poll

Zambian tailor Lovemore Zulu picked out the stitching of a broken zipper, bobbing his head to the tunes blasting from an opposition election campaign parade.

He lives in a small cement brick house with no running water in front of the United Party for National Development’s (UPND’s) office in Matero, a densely populated suburb of the capital, Lusaka.

The UPND, the main rival to the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), is eager to tap into mounting disillusionment in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, where dissent has grown since the last 2016 poll. 

Young party activists in red berets and T-shirts piled into the back of a decorated pickup truck as a motorcade set off into Matero, one of their final shows to woo votes ahead of Thursday’s general election. They were accompanied by balaclava-clad “protectors” armed with machetes.

Despite a ban on mass rallies, it took less than an hour for hundreds of people to join the parade, jogging alongside the vehicles as they shouted “faka (pressure) for change”.

Like most Zambians, Matero residents have suffered during the sharp economic decline under President Edgar Lungu.

“The price of material has increased so much,” said Zulu. “In more than five years, there has been no improvement,” he said, pointing to the second-hand manual sewing machine he is saving up to replace.

But with daily revenue almost halved since he started, the same year Lungu took power, Zulu has lost hope in the PF.

“People have less money,” he said. “Everyone is complaining.”

The UPND’s presidential candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, a sixth-time runner, has already lost twice to Lungu since he was first elected in 2015. Their next stand-off is expected to be particularly tight.

Campaigning has been limited by coronavirus restrictions and marred by violent clashes between PF and UPND supporters, prompting Lungu to deploy the army.

Opposition voters are generally keeping a low profile in Lusaka, a PF stronghold. 

In Matero, a man walks up to an AFP photographer and pulls off his white sweater to show blood-crusted scabs on his right shoulder.

He introduces himself as Jonathan Mulala. He says PF “cadres” attacked him with a bottle the previous evening when, wearing a UPND T-shirt, he went to fetch his sister from a bar where she was having drinks with friends.

The party’s parliamentary candidate for Matero, Tom Michelo, said he had reported at least 40 similar incidents to the police since campaigning started in May.

“This is why we are holding bigger rallies,” he said, because a three-people limit on door-to-door campaigning is “not safe” and leaves people vulnerable to attacks.

Children fought over flyers as women came out of brick and corrugated iron homes, imitating the UPND’s “way forward” gesture: an extended hand with the thumb pointing up.

Michelo stopped at a food market, where he was almost overtaken by the crowd pushing and shoving for regalia. A vegetable vendor reached out to protect his carefully balanced display of potatoes as three women left the scene, disappointed at not getting a T-shirt.

“Our greatest campaign … has been lack of employment,” Michelo said before setting off with a pile of freebies. “The economy is biting.”

PF supporters later clashed with the convoy, injuring about 20 people before soldiers intervened, UPND spokesman Bryan Chafwila said on Tuesday. 

“It’s going to get bloody as we get closer to voting day,” he warned. — AFP

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Sofia Christensen
Guest Author

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

R350 social relief grant not enough to live on

Nearly half of the population in South Africa — one of the most unequal countries in the world — is considered chronically poor.

More top stories

Officials implicated in arts council mismanagement will be brought to...

The National Arts Council vows that every cent from the sector’s Covid-19-relief programme will be disbursed to artists, after auditors uncover maladministration

Covid-19 vaccine mandates: a constitutional balancing act

South Africa’s laws allow the government to implement mandatory Covid vaccinations but, if it chooses this path, it must do so responsibly

Popularity will not guarantee mayoral selection — Ramaphosa

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has promised a more rigorous mayoral selection process, which will involve the party’s top six

Nowhere to turn for abused bakery workers

After being chased away for asking for minimum wage, Gqeberha bakers who endured racism turned first to the CCMA, then to a political party, then to a union. None helped

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…