Zambia’s election voices

In the run up to Zambia’s presidential and parliamentary elections, we asked people what they think about their country and what they want from their politicians.

Florence Miti
Kanyama is only a few kilometres from the centre of Lusaka but the dust and poverty one can find there makes it feel like it is a different world. After navigating a narrow windy route through a covered market we arrived at the start of Kanyama’s houses, which are right next to an opening where people trade charcoal. A thick black film hangs heavy in the air and our feet crunched on a carpet of crushed charcoal as we walk surrounded by tiny barefoot grubby-faced children in torn and blackened clothes.

Florence Miti has lived in Kanyama for three decades, moving from Livingstone to Lusaka when she got married.

Her husband died 13 years ago but she remains in their one-bedroom marital home which she now shares with one daughter, one grandson and a tenant. She has three other children who live elsewhere in Zambia (two more have died) and 12 grandchildren.

Miti’s house has no water supply or electricity and she uses a neighbour’s tap and a pit latrine.

“I manage, I suppose, but I can’t get everything I want,” she said. “There is a long list of things I can’t afford. Sometimes there is no mealie meal, or if I have mealie meal, then there is no paraffin for the cooking.”

The 53-year-old, who has no job but collects scrap metal for cash, does have a bottle of paraffin on the day we visit, its oppressive smell filling her tiny front room and making my eyes sting.

Miti says the area’s clinic is good but laments the fact it rarely has medicines.

“How can I be buying medicine when I have no money?” she asks, adding that she also had no money to send her children to high school, which resulted in them struggling to find work.

Irene Luvila
Miti’s 22-year-old daughter Irene Luvila said she’d only made it as far as Grade 11 and could not get a job.

“I was back at school last year but because of money I had to drop out again and now I am doing nothing, just staying at home,” she sighed.

“It’s hard to get work in Zambia when you have not completed school. I really want to go back to complete my education and then I can run a business.”

Her two-year-old son Raymond releases a deep chesty cough, his eyes red from the coal dust and his nose streaming. In the corner of the room a low table holds several bottles of cough syrups, although Luvila shrugs and says the family has got used to the coal dust, they’d been living there for long enough.

She said the government tried to move the charcoal sellers but they had refused and so continued to sell there despite their proximity to the houses.

Both Luvila and Miti say that in the upcoming election they’ll be voting for the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) which has ruled Zambia for 20 years.

“I will vote for the MMD because under them we are free and there are no wars,” Luvila said. I asked if she thought there was more the government could do to improve her life, and she replied: “There’s nothing they can bring and I think it’s better to stay with the same person.”

She said she had heard Michael Sata, the leader of the main opposition party the Patriotic Front (PF) talking about clearing Kanyama and removing all the people.

“He says people here who don’t have jobs should go back to their villages, so I don’t want to vote for him for that reason.”

Luvila’s mother added: “I don’t want any confusion so I’ll be voting for the ruling party so that we continue to have peace.”

She laughed and said: “What ever candidate wins, it doesn’t matter they are all Zambian aren’t they?”

Dando Nkoma
Dando Nkoma is a taxi driver in Lusaka.

The 28-year-old, who lives in the neighbourhood of Chirenge with his wife and two-year-old son, says he wants to end Rupiah Banda’s presidency.

“We can’t have him anymore, we have suffered enough already,” he said. “As you can see, I am driving a taxi when I should be working and doing a proper job. I’m saving up just now to do a course to be a mechanic but my wages are low and the courses are expensive.”

He added: “At the end of the day driving, I have just enough to buy my lunch and some bread for my kid. I am able to feed my family and pay the rent on my house.

“We have a two-roomed house which is 400 000 kwachas a month (about R560) but my wife is not working so we don’t have much.”

Nkoma says he’ll be voting for the opposition party Patriotic Front (PF).

“Michael Sata is different. He works very hard, he’s a man of action,” he told me, as we made our way through the traffic on Lusaka’s main commercial drag Cairo Road.

“He says he will put money in our pockets. We are tired of the MMD, it’s been too long, they are just getting rich and it’s all the same people,” he added, although the PF had a big following, he thought it was unlikely they would win.

“The problem is,” he said, “You can vote for PF but they’ll still rig the election and make sure the government win, that’s just how it is.”

Edson Nkhata
Edson Nkhata works at the Anti-Voter Apathy Project (Avap) kiosk on Cairo Road, in the heart of Lusaka’s city centre.

The 36-year-old’s job is to give people information about the elections and encourage them to vote.

He admits they only had two manifestos “in stock”, both rather out of date (one of the candidates having died a few months before) and he makes no attempt to hide his allegiance to the ruling party, the MMD.

Nkhata, who moved to Lusaka six years ago to find work, said: “I think the ruling party is the best choice to maintain peace.

“We have also seen lots of development in terms of new infrastructure, lots of new school and hospitals, and so many good things have been happening.

“Their policies about agriculture have allowed us to have a bumper harvest. It’s not just the rains, it’s also the seeds and fertilisers they have provided.”

He added: “When people complain about the government I think they are only doing that because they’re bitter.”

Euziah Bwalya
Thirty-three-year-old Euziah Bwalya is a driver for a Lusaka-based distribution company and lives in the woodlands area of the city.

He is concerned that Zambians are not making the most out of the country’s economic growth.

“Most investment is not owned by Zambians but foreign businesses instead, so the profits are externalised,” he explained. “I don’t think we’re getting good value for money for our resources.

“One of the worst things is that we export primary products like raw copper and then import finished goods for more than twice the price.”

He added: “Zambia has a lot of potential but Zambians themselves are not managing businesses very well. We are mostly a trading company for other people. I think the government needs to address these issues. Zambians need to be employed first.”

However, despite these views Bwalya says he will still be voting for Rupiah Banda and the ruling MMD.

“I think RB has shown signs of improving things, but you have to remember he has not been in office very long — so I am giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

He admitted there was a lot of pro-opposition feeling in the capital but said: “Zambia is bigger than Lusaka. Lusaka is the cosmopolitan capital where people are open about wanting change, but in the countryside people are comfortable with the current government. They don’t know the differences between the politicians and will just vote for what they know.”

He added: “It’s all very well for Sata to say he will put money in our pockets but he doesn’t say how he will do that.

“I am 99.5% confident that the MMD will win. It was very close last time but this time the opposition won’t do as well because there are so many opposition candidates that the vote will be split, which will work in the MMD’s favour.”

Despite several scuffles at rallies in recent weeks, Bwalya said he did not think there would be any major violence.

“Peace is guaranteed,” he said. “This is Zambia! Even if my wife said she was voting for PF and I was voting for MMD it’s not an issue.

“I have plenty of PF supporters in my family but that does not divide us as a family. People here are very relaxed about political allegiances. It’s only the politicians who try to make threats and stir up problems, ordinary people don’t buy that though.”

Frederick Bwalya
Frederick Bwalya is an immigration officer and HIV campaigner with the organisation called POL (Positive Action for People living with HIV and AIDS).

The 48-year-old wants health and particularly HIV policy to have more profile in the elections.

“I think it should be a central issue in these elections,” he said. “If one political party was to make a slogan about HIV I think it would really boost their chances because the number of people living with HIV is so high.”

Bwalya said there was still a lot stigma about HIV despite the high prevalence rate — Unicef has put this at 13.5 — and that people being in denial was pushing up the death rates.

“In our department alone, we’re losing three or four officers every month,” he explained. “These are skilled people. We don’t have a very big department so that has a big impact on how we run.”

He added that he wanted the government to give more commitment to anti-retroviral (ARV) programmes and not rely so heavily on donor funding.

“Suppose tomorrow these donors pull out,” he said, “What will happen to us who are living with HIV? How are we going to sustain our living? Are we going to access the ARVs?”

Bwalya said he believed a number of senior politicians were HIV positive but was disappointed none of them wanted to announce their status publicly.

“If they came out in the open, they could be role models for our society but they don’t,” he said.

Humphrey Mwango
Humphrey Mwango was born in Kafue, Zambia, and lives there with his wife and two young daughters. He runs a small import business, travelling to South Africa to bring back computer and TV equipment which he sells in local markets.

The 40-year-old said he thought the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) party — in power for two decades since 1991 — had done a reasonable job, but that he would also quite like a change.

He said he was frustrated by the poor quality of the health service and the fact no hospitals seem to have medicines.

“You see health workers from our hospitals taking our medicines and selling them privately in broad daylight,” he said.

“The government is supposed to be doing things to stop it but there is nothing happening. They are just being corrupted. Say [for instance], someone is employed by the drug enforcement agency and they catch me selling drugs illegally, I would just give them some dollars and they go away.”

Corruption, he said, was widespread through the country at all levels and he thought perhaps a new government might change that.

“There is this expression that says opportunity makes a thief,” he explained. “You know when you stay at the same place for a long time, you know all the loop holes, it’s easy for you to steal”.

Mwango said although primary education was free, it was not good quality and basic facilities were lacking.

“We need more books and computers in our schools,” he said. “In Zambia, now i’s the first time we’re really seeing computers, not like in other places where you grew up using computers.

“I have personally never used a computer. I am computer illiterate. I only know what the parts like the keyboard and the mouse are because I sell them. I sell them but I don’t know how to operate them.”

Mulengo Tembo
Mulenga Tembo is a mother of three boys and is supporting an independent female candidate, Miriam Chitalu who is standing for the first time in the constituency of Kafue.

“I signed her nomination because she is a lady and I hope she can help us ladies,” the 33-year-old explained. “You know us women, we are the ones taking care of the children and running the home and I think we need more help.”

Tembo said she dreamed of one day opening a business selling dried fish and then a restaurant where she would employ other women.

Luckier than many, Tembo’s husband works as a land surveyor, and the family shares a two-bedroom apartment in the Kafue communities.

“We manage, we eat, and that’s what matters,” she sighed, “But I would like more.” She explained they could only afford to fund their pre-paid electricity meter for several days out of the week and water in the town was rationed, she said, to only flow between 8pm and 5am.

“This affects the children,” she said, “Because the toilets are in the house — you can get diseases.”

Oswald Chilabwe
Oswald Chilabwe moved to Kafue in 1986 from the copper belt to take up a job at Kafue Textiles of Zambia (KFT). A decade later it was privatised and then closed, leaving Chilabwe and nearly a thousand others out of work.

The 43-year-old has since set up his own small tailoring business, which he runs from a cramped and dark cabin near the shopping precinct in Kafue.

He laughed out loud when I ask him about Zambia’s economic boom.

“That’s definitely not happening here in Kafue,” he sighs, shaking his head. “Here companies are only closed or closing, and in the last two years, it’s been worse than ever.”

Chilabwe said he was able to do ok as he mostly made school uniforms and there was always a demand, but many other small businesses in the town were struggling or had packed up altogether.

His wife Charity has moved to the United States to work as a domestic carer, taking with her their two teenage children.

“She went for a greener pasture,” he said, adding that he hoped to be able to afford to visit next year.

Hinting he may support an opposition party, Chilabwe said: “I think maybe if we change the government, we might have some change in the country.

“I’d like to see the closed factories opened back up. They were the backbone of this town.”

These profiles are part of a larger series on the upcoming elections in Zambia. View our special report for more.

With a booming economy, a vibrant political scene and corruption on the boil, we examine Zambia in the run-up to their national elections in September. For news and multimedia on the elections click here.

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