January 30, 2012
The privatization of the mines has dealt a huge blow to residents of former mine townships that practically depended on the mining conglomerate for basic services such as water and sanitation.
Prior to the privatization of the mines, the mining conglomerate-Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) maintained water and sanitation facilities in mining townships.
But following privatization, the facilities have not been maintained. In fact, they are not only in a state of disrepair, but have also been subjected to wanton vandalism.
In Kitwe’s sprawling Wusakile Township, the problem of sanitation is so serious that the township has earned itself a notorious vernacular unprintable, in reference to the indiscriminate disposal of human waste.
Dilapidated infrastructures without roofs and doors, complete with maggots are very much part of the communal ablution blocks, commonly known as ichi pub, a corruption for public toilets.
This is what residents of this township have to do with, which not only makes them vulnerable to water borne diseases but also strips them of their dignity.
Left with no option, they squat in the near makeshift toilets even in the glare of daylight and step on maggots spread around the ablution blocks.
Tina Sikombe of Wusakile B2 section recalls the good old days when ZCCM maintained the ablution blocks in the former mine township.
Mrs Sikombe, whose husband is self-employed, now has endured the poor sanitary conditions.
“We have a water problem, so children fail to go into the communal toilets and just squat outside. That is why you can see maggots all over,” she says.
But that is not all. The residents have a litany of problems, including being deprived of their dignity as they are reduced to using dilapidated ablutions.
“We have no option but to use what is available to us. We just put our hands on the door way and the children can see that there is an adult in the toilet,” Mrs Sikombe says.
“Sometimes, we just cough to alert whoever is coming or just cover our heads with chitenge material. This is so embarrassing,” she said.
Mrs Sikombe is not alone in this predicament. Christine Kalunga is chairperson of Wusakile B2 neighborhood group and acknowledges the poor water and sanitation conditions in the township.
“The water pipes are blocked, so we have to walk long distances to draw water from B4 section,” Mrs Kalunga, whose husband is a miner, says.
But she is even more concerned about the poor sanitation.
“Ablution blocks were working well during the ZCCM days but they have been vandalized. There is no water, no roof and no doors,” Mrs. Kalunga says.
“But these are the ablution blocks we have to use and we have big children who know what is going on. It is really embarrassing,” she says.
Mrs Kalunga says women are at the risk of being sexually assaulted as they go out to answer the call of nature, especially in the night.
She says sometimes, men waylay the women using the ablution blocks in the night.
The sanitation woes have even given rise to superstition. Mrs. Kalunga says she saw a ghost while she was in the toilet.
“I ran with pants on my knees,” she says.
But the plight of Mrs. Kalunga and others may soon be history, thanks to Mopani Copper Mines Plc which completed the first phase of its Sanitation Infrastructure project in Wusakile Township last year and announced the start of the second phase of construction.
The project, which involved the construction of 1,379 sanitation units in collaboration with the Zambian Government and Nkana Water and Sewerage Company, commenced in April last year. Each unit consists of a toilet, a shower and a washing basin.
In addition to the sanitation units, Mopani constructed 15.7 kilometers of sewer lines and laid 31.5 kilometers of fresh water pipes. These new facilities and sewer/water networks were constructed at a cost of US$3 million (K15 billion) to service the sanitation infrastructure, which will benefit residents who will now have access to better and more hygienic toilets, showers and clean drinking water.
With the first phase of the project completed on October 15 last year, Mopani has handed over the facilities to Nkana Water and Sewerage Company who have, in turn, handed them over to individual households.
The second phase of the project, which covers two sections in Wusakile township, will have a further total of 288 sanitation units at an estimated cost of US$800,000 (K4 billion).
These works commenced in October last year.
The second phase of construction will bring the total number of units provided by Mopani to 1,667.
Danny Callow, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mopani Copper Mines, says: “We remain committed to our resolve to give back to the community in areas we operate from, and, more so, to enhance health. Furthermore, we support the Government’s policy to improve the general well-being of all Zambians”.
“The completion of the second phase will reduce the incidence of typhoid fever in Wusakile township. The recurrence of typhoid had to be tackled: the community was becoming ill due to the continued use of dilapidated communal toilets which were meant for fewer people than the current number of people using them. This will now be a thing of the past,” he said.
Mercy Mwansa, a widow of Wusakile B4 section is among those who have already benefited from Mopani’s generosity.
Mrs Mwansa, whose husband was a miner, recalls all the problems they encountered before Mopani built the sanitation units.
“We were using communal toilets, without doors. For the bathroom, we were forced to improvise,” she says.
“It was a long and agonizing journey to the ablution, so it was a problem when you have diarrhea. We would even queue with children and in-laws, but now we have some dignity.”
The downside, however, is theft and lack of water.
Cindy Mwansa, a hairdresser of Wusakile Section B4 recalls the prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases before Mopani built the sanitation units.
“There were a lot of waterborne diseases but that is no more, and we now have some dignity,” says Mrs. Mwansa, a mother of five.
“The only problem is theft, so we have removed the cistern and we just pour water manually,” she says.
Her joy is shared by Florence Mwelwa.
“We would have died from diarrhoeal diseases because those ablution blocks were very unhygienic,” Mrs. Mwelwa said.
She is among the few whose households have been spared from the theft of sanitation equipment.
“I don’t know how we have survived. We are among the few,” she says.
Wusakile councilor Francis Miti says the Mopani project is a relief and will help prevent the recurrence of cholera and typhoid.
“I would like to thank Mopani for its gesture to the residents of Wusakile. Now typhoid and cholera will be history,” Mr. Miti, who is also Kitwe deputy mayor, said.
Wusakile member of parliament (MP) Richard Musukwa, while commending Mopani, cautioned the residents against vandalism.
“It is regrettable that while partners like Mopani have contributed significant financial resources to improve sanitation, vandalism has taken a high toll.
Residents of Wusakile should rise to the challenge to fight vandalism,” said Mr. Musukwa, who is also deputy minister of Mines and Natural Resources.
“The step taken by Mopani to upgrade sanitation facilities is commendable, but we need to encourage responsibility among residents, to safeguard these facilities,” he said.
Until she benefits from the benevolence of Mopani Copper Mines, Mrs. Sikombe will always reminisce the past and look to the future with a mixture of despair and hope.
For Mrs. Sikombe and others, the past represents the good old days while the present is a stark reminder of some harsh realities of life.