Friday, 31 August 2007


By Gershom Ndhlovu

Last week when I read a story of an 11 year-old who was defiled for over a year in a Ndola grave yard HIV/AIDS ritual in the online version of the Times, and that the woman who pushed the child into it was released by police while the girl ended up getting infected, I could not help feeling a sense of anger towards the police.
This case reminded me of one of my then 15 year-old niece who was defiled by a 29 year old man last year. The girl did not only fall pregnant, but she also contracted HIV/AIDS but the culprit is still roaming the streets and has obviously infected even more hapless girls and women he is able to lure into his nefarious lair.
At some point the police were demanding transport from the family for them to travel to travel to the area just outside one of the Copperbelt towns which could not be provided because of the financial circumstances the family is in. In the process, the case just fell through because those who were pushing it gave up.
There are obviously a lot of similar cases that do not go any where for reasons cited above and also ignorance of the law that many people find themselves in. There is also an element where families of victims enter into compromise deals with culprits.
A few weeks ago, I listened to Zambia Police’s Dr Solomon Jere on a Nyanja programme on ZNBC radio one streamed on the internet, on which he talked about the need to preserve evidence of a rape such as not disturbing the scene of the “ndendeule” as he called it, keeping torn pants if they are any and not bathing until a medical examination has been carried out.
This is very obvious but evidence as well as statements from sex crimes such as defilement, rape and incest should be treated rather differently because there could have been threats accompanying the act as well as the stigma attached to it that could have forced victims into silence for a long time.
We have stories of how victims were told they would be killed if they told anyone about the abuse especially that involving minors or in some instances they were promised or given sweets to but their silence.
Sex crime is not like one stealing a TV set which the police may find and present before court, there is also a psychological aspect should be taken into account.
The Zambian police and judiciary could learn a thing or two from their counterparts in the UK where culprits are jailed years after the offence was committed on the strength of a victim’s statement on the alleged abuse. There are of course safeguards against false statements to settle scores against people one does not like and the sanctions are equally harsh.
In this way, many sex offenders in the UK have been jailed and made to sign a sex offenders' register which proscribes from working with children and other vulnerable groups on their release from jail.
What is needed is also stiffening the punishment that culprits get on conviction to deter other would be offenders. The starting point should be making sex crime offences non-bailable if the case of the Ndola woman who subjected the poor girl to defilement is anything to go by.
And on the question of rituals to “cure” HIV/AIDS, every genuine traditional healer and any HIV/AIDS advocate will agree with me, the best rituals are abstinence in the first place, being faithful and the use of condoms. When these rituals fail, the next best ritual is taking ARVs. In fact, we should count ourselves lucky that these are now freely available unlike a few years ago when they were a preserve of the rich.
Anything else, such as the act of defiling children or virgins as a way of “chasing” HIV/AIDS demons like in the Ndola case, is as misplaced as it is illusory.

Friday, 24 August 2007


By Gershom Ndhlovu

Before Zambia chooses which regional organisation to stick to between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which has just had a successful summit in Lusaka, and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) whose headquarters are in the same city, it would be important to examine the objectives of the two bodies.
Some of the objectives of the 15 nation member SADC are to achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration; evolve common political values, systems and institutions and promote self-sustaining development on the basis of collective self-reliance, and the interdependence of Member States.
Others are to promote and maximise productive employment and utilisation of resources of the region and achieve sustainable utilisation of natural resources and effective protection of the environment and achieve complementarity between national and regional strategies and programmes.
The following are some of the 19 member nation COMESA’s objectives: to attain sustainable growth and development of member states by promoting a more balanced and harmonious development of production and marketing structures and to promote joint development in all fields of economic activity and the joint adoption of macro-economic policies and programmes to raise the standard of living of its peoples and to foster closer relationship among member states.
Others are to co-operate in the creation of an enabling environment of foreign, cross-border and domestic investment including the joint promotion of research and adoption of science and technology and to contribute towards the establishment, progress and the realisation of the objectives of the African Economic Community.
The countries whose membership overlaps between the two regional bodies are Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Seychelles which has just been re-admitted to SADC.
On the other hand, COMESA has 19 member countries which include Libya, Egypt and Sudan, among others. Tanzania pulled out of COMESA sometime back to concentrate on its SADC membership.
Zambian President and current SADC chairman Levy Mwanawasa could not have put it any better.
"We have a big challenge as Zambia. We are members of COMESA and we host COMESA… We are also members of SADC and presently I am the chairman. So it becomes a very difficult problem for us to choose which organisation we should go to.”"But our priority should not be deciding to which regional body we should belong. Our problem must be to work hard to try and harmonise the decisions in both organisations so that if we have common customs union, perhaps in the end it will not be necessary to decide where we should belong… The economists will advise me."
It is indeed a difficult choice for Zambia which immensely contributed to the formation of the two regional groupings.
The case for sticking with COMESA cannot be overstated. First and foremost, we accommodate its headquarters from which we benefit in terms of employment opportunities it has created for our citizens, but also from the spending power of foreign nationals working at COMESA.
In the case of Zambia, if it came to choosing the regional body to stick with, COMESA would, in my view, be a better option because of its wider membership which stretches up to Libya and Egypt rather than on SADC which is obviously anchored on the stronger economy of South Africa.
In terms of the grassroots, ordinary Zambians would easily relate to COMESA whose “benefits” they are able to see by the trade going on at the “COMESA” market in Lusaka whether or not it has any official connection with the COMESA headquarters. The ease with which people are able to conduct small-scale cross-border trade makes it all the more attractive compared to the harassment they get from some SADC countries where they are treated like criminals.Or maybe, the smaller SADC should merge with the larger COMESA?

Friday, 17 August 2007


By Gershom Ndhlovu

“Thanks for bringing the spotlight on some for the forgotten dangers lurking in the Zambian environment,” wrote someone signing himself as Nice E on my blog.
“As you've rightly pointed out, the pollutants stretch right across the board, from asbestos to Zinc, with a bit of Lead, sulphur dioxide fumes, etc, in between. While these toxins are mainly under control in the West, they continue sending people to their early graves on a daily basis in places like Zambia. And nowadays, many unexplained or complicated ailments are simply dismissed as HIV-related.“You are right in suggesting that "in the spirit of Keep Zambia Clean issues such as these raised here are holistically addressed, laws and regulations strengthened and those that transgress them are punished.“However, to begin with GRZ seems to be in denial over past and present pollution from the mining industry in particular. For example, GRZ dismissed the report that placed the former mining (and glorious) town of Kabwe as being in the top 10 of most polluted places in the entire world!
“Also, GRZ did not act in a tough and decisive manner when fish in the Kafue River around Chingola died mysteriously and the local population's drinking water turned green. That's only sometime last year or there about. How can such criminal negligence go unpunished?”
Indeed, as a follow up to last week’s article, I did a bit of research in the dangers of the use of leaded paint which I suspect is very much in use in Zambia and the rest of Africa.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission website at, lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can also affect adults.
“In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical development and reduce attention span. It can also retard foetal development even at extremely low levels of lead. In adults, it can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves controlling the body. Lead poisoning may also cause problems with reproduction (such as a decreased sperm count). It may also increase blood pressure. Thus, young children, foetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead.”“Because the early symptoms of lead poisoning are easy to confuse with other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose lead poisoning without medical testing. Early symptoms may include persistent tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat children in the early stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage,” says the CPSC document.
Recently, most countries in the West had to withdraw a particular type of toy imported from China from the shops because of excessive levels of lead in the paint on the product.
Unfortunately, these are issues which are never raised in our part of the world where anything goes. Unregulated products with unknown chemical make up easily enter the market and consumed with fatal consequences as is the case with leaded paint cited above.
It is not by accident that people in the West are healthy and safe from environmental hazards; it is simply because authorities there have strengthened laws, rules and regulations of how both corporate and individual citizens should conduct themselves and penalizing those that ignore them.
In the case of Zambia and the rest of Africa, self-interest by public servants and appeasement for those with economic interests has over the years led to a situation where health and safety issues are seriously compromised.
For instance, it is not by mere coincidence that Konkola Copper Mines was not prosecuted when it polluted the Kafue River in Chingola last year, but rather historical because Nchanga Consolidated Copper Mines and Roan Copper Mines, the forerunners of the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, were exempted by law from prosecution for pollution.
I would not be surprised if such a proviso still exists in our statute books giving mining companies licence to pollute.

Friday, 10 August 2007


By Gershom Ndhlovu

The health effects of small-scale stone crushing in Zambia have never been seriously addressed, Chitaku G. Mucheleng’anga reminded me after he read last week’s column, The Roof of Death.
“Your article on asbestos is very good and I would like you to also look at the other/various environmental issues such as silica dust from stone crushing, etc. Indeed asbestos is very dangerous especially in dust form. Groundnuts on an asbestos roof may be difficult to ascertain as the cause of Asbestosis since the mineral comes bound with cement except where/when it (sheet of asbestos) breaks, etc,” Mucheleng’anga wrote on my on-line version of the column. “Silicosis,” he said “results from inhalation of silica dust from any source especially stone quarrying and nothing much is being said or done about it especially in your country!”
Yes indeed, from the mid-1970s and early 1980s after local authorities abandoned large scale construction of houses and people started building their own houses mostly in uncontrolled locations in Lusaka such as Mandevu, Chaisa, Kanyama, Chawama and Chipata compounds, equally uncontrolled stone-crushing and sand quarrying in nearby streams boomed.
Environment effects of such activities are now very visible as the areas in which they were carried out (and still are) such as the area between Chinika and Zambia Breweries, the area east of Chawama and south of Kamwala are scarred with huge and unsightly pits and exposed stones which they keep crushing using crude methods of burning tyres on the rocks to soften them.
As the negative environmental and aesthetic effects were not enough, it is the health of those men, women and children that spend days on end, reducing boulders to 28mm stones for use in construction and the filling up of the lorries that ferry sand from Kabanana, Chikumbi and Mungule areas to the north of the capital city, by young men using shovels with no protection at all that should worry health and environmental authorities.
According to the website,, silicon concentrates in no particular organ of the body but is found mainly in connective tissues and skin. Silicon is non-toxic as the element and in all its natural forms, namely silica and silicates, which are the most abundant.
“Elemental silicon is an inert material, which appears to lack the property of causing fibrosis in lung tissue. However, slight pulmonary lesions have been reported in laboratory animals from intratracheal injections of silicon dust. Silicon dust has little adverse affect on lungs and does not appear to produce significant organic disease or toxic effects when exposures are kept beneath exposure limits. Silicon may cause chronic respiratory effects.
“Silicon crystalline irritates the skin and eyes on contact. Inhalation will cause irritation to the lungs and mucus membrane. Irritation to the eyes will cause watering and redness. Reddening, scaling, and itching are characteristics of skin inflammation,” the website says.
Minimal exposure is harmless, according to the above passage, but think of people that have been crushing stones and loading sand on lorries for years and because of their challenged economic status, also have poor access to medical facilities.
Unless things have changed a lot in the last few years, visiting some of our townships exposes one to people who are in chronically poor health from unknown causes.
It is not by accident that ZCCM, and I hope new investors, used to take its employees for regular medical check ups at the Occupation Health Centre in Kitwe which we used to call Silicosis. Those that failed the medical examinations were either retired or redeployed to areas where they were not exposed to dust.
I would like to suggest that in the spirit of Keep Zambia Clean issues such as these raised here are holistically addressed, laws and regulations strengthened and those that transgress them are punished. I have come to believe that developed countries are not only clean but also healthy because of the strict enforcement of the laws in all areas.

Thursday, 2 August 2007


By Gershom Ndhlovu

When there was an explosion on a New York street a couple of weeks ago and the authorities ruled out terrorism, their immediate concern was whether there was asbestos in the debris that was strewn over a good portion of the affected area.
In the UK, there are adverts in the papers calling the attention of those who may have come into contact with asbestos at any time in their lives for treatment and, in most cases, for possible compensation.
There was a story in one of the UK papers how a child, now an adult, was infected with the effects of asbestos by merely sitting on her grandfather’s laps each time he knocked off from work where he worked with the product.
With the burgeoning building industry in Zambia where almost everybody is building a house, even on illegally obtained plots, the use of asbestos for roofing goes on without being checked by the authorities.
The problem, though, is that this is a product we have lived with for our roofing needs in the country for decades. I remember in the part of Kwacha in Kitwe where I grew up, almost all the houses except a few which had iron sheets, had asbestos roofs on which families dried groundnuts and maize from their fields in the winter months of May, June and July which were then removed for consumption later in the year. Incidentally, the story is similar in almost all parts of the country.
I also remember as young boys during the construction of Kwacha East township how we used to play with damaged asbestos sheets either as “shooting” targets with catapults or otherwise used to make play houses. The consequences of that innocent childhood activity of long ago are too ghastly to contemplate.
According to a BBC news report of February 8, 2003, asbestos diseases are caused by inhaling asbestos dust, a mineral commonly used in the construction industry until the 1970s. The main diseases caused by asbestos inhalation are asbestosis - the scarring of lung tissue, lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the chest and lungs) and pleural disease. Pleural disease includes calcification of the lungs and pleural effusion (fluid on the lungs).
“Over 3,000 people a year die of the disease in the UK and numbers are predicted to rise to 10,000 a year by 2020. Those infected are mainly builders, plumbers and shipyard workers, but teachers, children and nurses are believed to have been put at risk since asbestos was used in the construction of several schools and hospitals.
“Families of those who work with asbestos can also be infected if asbestos particles are brought into the home on clothes. It can take up to 40 years for symptoms to show,” says the BBC news report.
The main symptoms, according to the news report, include shortness of breath on exertion, a persistent cough, chest pain or tightening of the chest, nail abnormalities and thickening of the fingers and toes.
Is it any wonder then that a lot of older people and those of my generation now between 40 and 45 years have been dying like locusts in the last two decades, mostly from unknown diseases which have been difficult to diagnose at our local hospitals?
The victims are queried for TB and other ailments unrelated to asbestos which come out negative. Maybe this should call for a change of approach in the way medical examinations are done to include possible exposure to asbestos.
People building houses in Kamwala South and all over Lusaka, flock to hardware shops on Cha Cha Cha Road to buy asbestos in bulk. This is also the case all over the country and when the “project” is complete they celebrate not knowing that they have brought death in the home.Government should, as a matter of urgency, set up a policy on the future usage, and more importantly, the disposal, of asbestos.