Life in George Compound – By Sydney Mungala

IMG_0309Me (Derek) driving into George Compound in August, 2013

The Post Newspapers

By Sydney Mungala

“THE seven water tanks that float majestically above Lusaka’s George Compound are more than just a source of water to its 168,000 inhabitants. Residents hold them more than just aerial markers to first time visitors.

They represent the pride of a community that daily fights hard to stay on its feet. Shedding off the stigma of crime, prostitution, alcohol abuse, unemployment and disease among others is part of the routine in a typical day in George Compound.

Even in the midst of these challenges, it is every bit a bullish compound that knows no sleep. As early as 03:30 hours, the community roars into life with traders taking to Tambalale Market hoping to catch the freshest vegetables coming from nearby Lusaka West Farm area. In fact, the market is renowned for stocking the freshest vegetables in Lusaka. The bulk of the women that make their way to the market acquire enough for resale to traders at Soweto Market.

As the market begins to buzz with morning traffic, nearby bars cash in on the occasional early morning wanderers unsure of the day’s offerings. At least that is the impression the patrons at nearby Choncho Bar seem to give on an early Wednesday morning.

Snooping around the market, we learn that it takes little persuasion to draw the youths into the bars in the morning given the high unemployment levels. Francis Zulu, a resident sums up the situation in a rather poetic way: “With no recreation and sports facilities to talk about, youths are left to just drink. Employment levels are desperately low. That is what you get.”

The mounds of garbage piling up a few metres from the market appear to concern no one. Surprisingly, an open area food market thrives as carefree residents go about making orders for their favourite dishes without worrying about the stash of garbage that dominates the back view of the market.

We wander deep into the area lost in the maze of streets that we have no hope of remembering and stare into the glaring realities of some parts of George Compound.

Even our guide’s misguided allegiance to the community is not enough to blind us to the hazardous sanitation situation.

It is difficult to imagine how anyone can be upbeat about the prospect of four families condemned to using a plastic covered pit latrine that doubles as a bathroom. Some toilets hang dangerously on rocky foundations generously spilling a bit of sewer into the yard.

Children go about their usual business, oblivious to how close they are to disease.

For fear of antagonizing our hosts, we respectfully keep our mouths shut. But not for long! A young girl perched on a tree next door breaks the eerie silence. A visitor next door asks for the whereabouts of the tenants of the house and the girl shouts whilst pointing towards the open roofed toilet abo baliumu (there he is!) So much for George Compound toilets. We move on after an uncomfortable moment.

We catch up with Philemon Mwape who has witnessed the township transform from a shanty compound to a robust compound.

Mwape is Lima Ward Councillor and has lived in George Compound for 36 years.

“George has risen from just a shanty compound to a relatively modern township. In 1977 the World Bank upgraded this area, you can see even the houses have changed,” he says with a tinge of pride.

Mwape says the erection of the imposing water tanks by the Japanese International Cooperation Aid (JICA) in 1997 marked a rapid transformation of the area.

“George has overcome sanitation problems because our water system here is first class as we have closed a number of shallow wells. We had a problem of water but since 1996 when JICA moved in to help us, we no longer have such problem,” he says.

Mwape says the water project has helped raise the profile of the community.

“The water project here was very successful. It is a model for other compounds,” he says.

While the water project is a shining success, the compound has little to show for development in the road network.

Even a 4×4 vehicle has to struggle to negotiate its way through George Compound. The vehicle struggles for space as the roads appear designed (if at all they are) for backpackers.

Inevitably, crime is a challenge but Mwape says over time, the problem has been contained through an alert neighbourhood watch system.

“Crime was a big problem in the past but with time we decided to set up neighbourhood watch associations to lessen the problems. It has so far worked well,” he says.

While grand crime may be on the low, petty crime thrives propelled by the mass of unemployed youths as Zulu says.

“Drinking has a lot of outcomes like sex and theft. Because for one who is unemployed to drink they need resources, hence resorting to stealing and for youths it is petty theft they resort to. So if you don’t work, (and) you want to drink, what do you do? You steal of course,” he says solemnly.

“Bars really thrive here as the market is ready. There are more bars than churches here and also compared to schools.”

With the loud music blaring from the nearby popular night spot Lovely Kabinga, it is difficult to dismiss Zulu’s sentiments.

Just a few metres away a group of youths gather to savour the midday hospitality of Lovely Kabinga Bar.

Zulu bemoans the operation hours of bars in the area.

“You know bars open at 06:00 hours until the following day, leaving the youths little time to spend their time productively,” he says.

In the area of health and education, the compound is overwhelmed with a populace that scrambles for the little facilities available.

The clinic caters not only for George Compound but also the nearby communities as far as Lusaka West.

“One clinic for this population is not enough. You see this caters for three wards that is Kapwepwe, Mambilima and also ours. In a day, a doctor sees maybe 200 patients which is a bit too much,” Mwape says.

When we stray into the clinic, the streaming population vindicates Mwape.

With only one basic school and no high school, education eludes most children.

“We only have one basic school here leaving the children to depend on nearby areas to access education,” says the area councillor.

“Plans to build a high school are underway as we have already identified a piece of land.”

Few organisations like Children International have strong presence in George Compound stepping to provide health and education facilities to underprivileged children.

“Here we provide education, health and social services to Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs),” says coordinator Wise Mukumba.

The centre is one of only three in Lusaka run by Children International and is a major treasure for the children of George Compound.

It has a play park, library, clinic and conference room – a rare treat for the community.

George Compound may grapple daily with challenges of a modern day township but there are no dull moments.”

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