Archive | February 2012

Mzedi city landfill a decade past expiration date

Nsogoja villagers tell of life amid rubbish

Less than ten kilometres east of Blantyre the Mzedi city landfill stands dilapidated and overflowing, having out-lived its lifespan by approximately ten years, expired like the unsorted refuse it no longer has the capacity to contain.

The humid air burps with odour and buzzes with the sound of thousands of flies.  Scavengers – man and animal – can be spotted sifting through the rubbish for items to re-sell.

Just 200 metres from the dump’s unenclosed walls, the people of Nsogoja Village, one of four villages surrounding the site, are still waiting for local government to address the problems that the landfill is causing.

“The landfill brings us a lot of problems,” said Joyce Sathawa of Nsogoja.  “Flies are everywhere as you can see which is not healthy, and the stench is just unpleasant.”

Sathawa said day to day life is uncomfortable because the flies can’t be avoided, especially when cooking and eating.

Nsogoja villager Janet Grant and her child sit amongst fly-covered serving plates - commonplace for communities located near the dilapidated Mzedi dump site. Photo by Karissa Gall

Another villager, Janet Grant, said she wished the landfill would be moved to prevent people from collecting and re-selling food and other items that are dumped there.

“Although some people benefit from [the landfill] by selling what they get from there, us who live close see it as a bad practice.  Those things are wastes and are meant to be destroyed and not consumed or used by people.

“The same people who come to collect food and other items from the landfill are the ones who roam around and steal from the villagers,” said Grant.

According to the villagers people have come to rely on the landfill for re-selling dumped items which are meant to be destroyed – items that are expired and unfit for human consumption or use.

The villagers also said accidents have occurred due to squabbling for items at the landfill.

“Some children recently got burnt when trying to collect items that were set on fire at the landfill,” said Grant, adding that some children have stopped going to school because they spend most of their time waiting for dump trucks at the landfill.

Grant fetches water from the nearest water source - a pipe-fed stream routinely contaminated by dump site scavengers. Photo by Karissa Gall

Village Headman Nsogoja worried for the health of the people especially during the rainy season.

“When it is raining water from the landfill drains into streams which are used for drinking and we do not have reliable boreholes,” he said.

The headman said they reported to their Member of Parliament on their desire to have the landfill moved and are waiting for action to be taken.

According to Director of Town Planning Costly Chanza, the city planning and engineering departments are currently working to create a new landfill as part of an integrated land use development on government-owned land south of Blantyre in Chigumula.

Chanza said the Chigumula development will include 500 residential plots, a commercial area and a new landfill with a fence and a separate entry point.

However, citing financial and planning issues, he said it will be another five years until the new landfill is operational.

“We should have relocated [the landfill] by now,” said Chanza.  “But the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the road plans we are doing, the infrastructure, everything costs a lot of money.”

In the meantime, Chanza said the engineering department will be digging pits and compacting garbage at the active landfill site.

Director of Health and Social Services Dr. Kanjunjunju echoed Chanza by saying that city council is doing “periodic collecting and compacting of waste into the proper site,” but said that “on the problem of the flies and scavengers we are not actively doing anything.”

He said the city hires a private company to “doze” or cover the garbage at the landfill with earth twice a year as a way to mitigate flies and the smell, “which is far from the best practice.”

“We cannot afford to doze more frequently because it’s a very big cost to hire that machinery,” he said, estimating that the city spends 10 million mK just to doze bi-annually.

Without the funds to doze more frequently, Kanjunjunju said the city had been considering installing a “fly trap” in the area.  However, he said, rains interfered with testing the box-like trap in October of 2011.  There has been no action taken to re-test the trap.

To address the problem of the scavengers polluting the local water source and putting themselves at risk, Kanjunjunju said the city could consider civic education in the future.

“Maybe [the scavengers] can choose representatives and we can sit here and try to make them understand what damage they are doing to the surrounding community,” he said.  “But we have not planned yet for such kind of a meeting.

“It’s unfortunate that maybe we have been carried away by other challenges, fuel issues,” he said.  “We have put much focus on trying to get fuel, trying to get transportation to collect garbage from the city.

“Addressing the issue of the landfill suffered.  The attention that we gave was not that good.  But we started the process so I feel that maybe we can cover attention to that problem.  The problem will be addressed.”

With files from the Sunday Times‘ Ruth Mputeni


Justice Adjourned

Judiciary strike congests police cells, prisons

As the first-ever judiciary strike in Malawi enters its fourth week, the doors to over 200 courts remain closed and justice has generally disappeared from the docket.

The industrial action began Jan. 9 when judiciary staff themselves became claimants, calling for the realization of the higher rate of pay and better working conditions promised by parliament in 2006.

The breach – K1.2 billion from July 2006 when parliament approved the salary increases to December 2011 according to a judiciary salary analysis document from the treasury – is being criticized as a violation of labour rights.

The case has an important caveat – each day that the judiciary strike for labour rights continues the rights of hundreds of detainees and prisoners to access the courts in furtherance of civil or criminal justice, to an effective remedy and to economic activity are also being ignored.

National Police Public Relations Officer Assistant Commissioner of Police Davie Chingwalu described the effects of the labour dispute as simply “uncontrollable.”

“As police the courts are our main disposal of suspects,” said Chingwalu.  “At the moment with the judiciary strike our hands are tied and the national picture as regards to handling of suspects is very difficult. We are forced to send those suspects with bigger offenses to prison although we are aware that there is congestion. What else can we do?”

Blantyre Police Station Assistant Public Relations Officer Sgt. Lameck Thembachako echoed Chingwalu’s concern, saying that in the commercial city-centre overcrowding has “reached the climax.”

According to Thembachako, Blantyre police cells are already accommodating more than 25 detainees per cell instead of the recommended maximum of 14 – and the number is increasing daily.

In an attempt to cope he said the Malawi Police Service (MPS) has been transferring detainees from overcrowded Blantyre cells to substations at Soche, Milare, Ndirande, Chilomoni and Chilobwe.

Now that even the substation cells are full, he said the MPS is planning to create “other buildings,” specifying an unused warehouse on the parent station grounds.

“The cells are now full.  They are not comfortable, they are under panic, even ventilation is not that good,” Thembachako said, adding that he expects overcrowding will have negative long-term effects on the health of detainees.

“If police have to keep you for more than two months or four months without facing justice, anything can happen to your health,” he said.  “Just sitting in a small room without getting sunshine or without proper ventilation – I think that by the end of the strike you will find two or three suspects suffering with TB or other diseases.”

At Zomba, Chichiri and Chikwawa prisons in the southern region they are also experiencing a serious shortage of space and other resources.

An inmate at Zomba Maximum Security Prison who asked to remain anonymous said, “the problem is that police have started bringing people here on remand almost every day.  People are staying here in prison on remand with small cases that the police could easily give bail for, but they are just keeping them here, and because of that nobody is going out unless their sentence expires.”

According to the inmate the overcrowding has resulted in food rations being cut in half, with prisoners receiving only one meal per day and portion sizes being reduced to an estimated 9 grams of nsima and one small cup of beans.

The inmate also said the number of inmates has increased during the judiciary strike from 1,791 on December 18, 2011 to 2,132 on February 2, 2012.

He said this means that 249 new remandees have been brought to the prison since the strike began on January 9.

With judiciary staff showing no signs of returning to work without a settlement, the onus is on the executive to negotiate a plan of repayment and answer the appeals of the hundreds of detainees and prisoners who are suffering silently as a result of the arrears.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

With files from Malawi News’ Archibald Kasakura.

Nsima Feast

A twist on the traditional Malawian dish.

As a vegetarian accustomed to North American cuisine (read: Subway), meal time in Malawi can be tricky.  Admittedly the mangos here are the best I have ever tasted, but you can’t live on mango alone.

Lettuce is in short supply, and raw fruits and vegetables without a peel are generally advised against for health reasons.  Add to that the fact that the nearest grocery store is a minimum 30 minute walk and you can’t go out after 6 p.m. unless you pay a driver, a fully-stocked fridge and pantry are things I’m learning to live without.  So when my JHR colleague Mara asks me what I’m making for dinner I may feign indecision for my own amusement, but we both know the answer: beans or rice, or beans and rice.

I’ve perfected the recipe.  I’ve contemplated the subtle smell, taste and textural characteristics of the dish.  And when I don’t want beans or rice, I pretend it’s something else.

For the past few days this particular coping mechanism has been reminding me of a scene in the movie Hook where Robin Williams’ Peter Pan and the Lost Boys imagine a colourful food banquet.

Inspired, I tracked down some food colouring and bought a big bag of corn flour, the one and only ingredient required to make nsima, the staple starchy food in Malawi.

Feast your eyes:

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The Antisocial Commentator

Daliso Chaponda @ Robins Park Hall 01.28.12

Music has always been integrated into every aspect of African society, but there were some traditional professional artists who specialised in the production of political artistry.  These professionals were called ‘izimbongi’. 

Acting as both praise singer and critic, the traditional role of the izimbongi was to mediate between the people and the chief – at times melodic, at times melancholic, the izimbongi enjoyed the poetic licence to orate on any perceived abuse of power with impunity.

But what of the “modern-day izimbongi”?  I interviewed four politically-minded Malawian performers to find out if they are articulating adulations or lamentations as of late, and if the impunity that the traditional izimbongi enjoyed still safeguards the crucial courtly genre.

The Witticist – Daliso Chaponda

Malawian-born Daliso Chaponda has been performing comedy since 2000 as an open-mic amateur in Canada, performing material “mostly about sex and being an African in North America. He gradually began doing more comedic social and political commentary as he became more confident, and launched a one man show called “Westerners Calm Down” in 2008 to address issues such as the global financial crisis.

It is when criticizing the king that the izimbongi found the greatest scope for his wit – an essential quality for finding the balance between verisimilitude and vulgarity.

Malawian-born UK- based comedian Daliso Chaponda walked that line on Jan. 28 when he performed at Robins Park Hall in Blantyre as part of his “Antisocial Commentator” comedy tour, titled such “because to a lot of people the role of an artist is to be a social commentator.  I often talk about subjects that make people uncomfortable, hence ‘antisocial’.”

In his set Chaponda compared the public stripping of women to trying to fix a leaky roof by taking the whole roof off, and addressed shortages of fuel and forex, domestic abuse, the deportation of the British ambassador, gay rights abuses, strikes, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, radical religious beliefs, molestation and even a letter he had received from the Malawi Censorship Board (MCB) warning against a bit on the change of the national flag or “flag 2.0.”

“We were a rising nation, we were an emerging nation, hence, we were a rising sun.  And now we have established ourselves on the world stage, so now we are a full sun.  And I was just thinking, that with all the fuel shortages and all the power cuts from ESCOM, we should replace it with an eclipse,” he joked despite the MCB dispatch.

While Chaponda said he was initially worried after receiving the MCB letter, he added that “after a few moments [he] was extremely amused.”

He said limits to freedom of expression do exist in Malawi, but that “years of performing have given [him] the confidence that [he] can talk about sensitive issues in exactly the right way that [he] amuse[s] but [doesn’t] offend.”

“As long as the joke is actually funny, I think comedians can talk about anything,” he said.

“When you laugh at a monster, you defang it.  I think laughter is the healthiest way to respond to problems.”

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