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Zambia - A day in the life of a vendor

 INSP 17 December 2019

Bookmakers and casinos all over Lusaka must be relieved Kezina Malambo never took to gambling. Otherwise, the 20-year old with a shy smile would now be the scourge of every gambling overlord in the Zambian capital. (2721 Words) - By Joe Opio

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Malambo's determined but still unsuccessful efforts to hook a buyer are mirrored by her step-mother who sells at the same pitch location. Photo: Sharon Wibabara

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Malambo's day gets off to a disastrous but familiar start as her first potential customer tells her to get lost. Photo: Sharon Wibabara

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Malambo has managed to get the attention of her potential customers but is yet to convert their interest into a sale. Photo: Sharon Wibabara

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Finally, Malambo's diligence and tireless efforts reap dividends as she makes her first sale of the day. Photo: Sharon Wibabara

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In the evening, mother and daughter retire and take a long trek home after a hard day selling. Photo: Sharon Wibabara

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There's an impromptu family reunion as mother and daughter meet their family members on the way

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Malambo thereafter helps an elderly neighbour fill his jerrycan as well at the communal borehole. Photo: Sharon Wibabara

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Mother and daughter approach their modest home with bucket of water in tow. Photo: Sharon Wibibara

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Kezina Malambo poses with the two children she bore during her forced marriage. Photo: Sharon WIbibara

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Baby Dorcus, Kezina Malambo's young half-sister, who is living with HIV. Photo: Sharon Wibabara


Name: Kezina Malambo

Street paper: The Big Issue Zambia

City: Lusaka, Zambia

Age: 20

You see Malambo, a Big Issue vendor in Lusaka, has a knack for defying the odds, however insurmountable they might seem.

Born in the Copperbelt Province capital of Ndola, Malambo was dealt a harsh hand by fate from the onset. Her mother left her and some of her siblings behind, desperate to try her luck at economic emancipation via the rural-urban migration route to Zambia's main city, Lusaka.

Malambo was then raised by her auntie in Ndola while her absentee mother worked in Lusaka and sent financial help whenever she saved enough money to do so.

Then, Malambo turned 14 and her auntie resolved that she had better things to do than attend academic lessons each day.

Cue a series of events that would have left many a feminist, nay human being, foaming at the mouth!

Malambo's auntie, having decided that her niece had come of age, hauled her out of school and started forcing her into sexual relations with a local businessman she had identified as marriage material for her.

"I was both confused and petrified," Malambo recalls in a mixture of halting English and her native Nyanja dialect. "One day, I was in class with my age mates, the next I was sleeping with a man who I was told was my husband. I didn't have anyone to turn to since my mother was away in Lusaka and my auntie, my guardian, was the person who was making me do all this."

Forced marriages involving underage girls aren't rare in far flung parts of Zambia.

But what made Malambo's plight even more lamentable was the fact that the man she was forced into sex with was 18 years her senior and already married twice.

"He already had two wives and a number of children," Malambo deadpans.

Malambo was to formally become wife No. 3 when she conceived her first child at 15.

"That's when it really sank in that I would not be going to school again," she recollects. "Initially, I had retained some hope that I would go back to school but when I became pregnant, I could no longer lie to myself."

Malambo's first born was a son.

Resigned to her fate, she had her second child, a girl, three years thereafter.

But by then, she was fed up by her marital situation. Her husband had predictably become abusive and negligent towards Malambo and her offspring.

"The verbal and physical assaults began after a year," Malambo confides. "He stopped contributing towards the upkeep of the family and when I would raise the issue, he would become violent. It wasn't unusual for him to beat me when I was pregnant with my second child and that's when I realized I had to start looking for ways to fend for myself."

Malambo deserted her husband soon after giving birth; and following in her mother's footsteps, she left Ndola and hightailed it for Lusaka.

Mother and daughter were reunited but sadly, that reunion proved short-lived.

Malambo's mother died after she had moved to Lusaka, leaving Malambo…this time for good.

"I named my daughter in her memory but it still saddens me that we spent such a little time together."

With her mother's demise, Malambo could have been forgiven if she had decided to return to Ndola. But instead, she made up her mind to sever all ties with her old life.

"I resolved not to go back to Ndola. I thought I would give my children a better chance at life if I stayed in Lusaka and found a job to cater for them. I could have gone back to Ndola but for what? If I had gone back, their father would still not have helped out in caring for them."

Not that fate was about to collude and give her a much-deserved break.

Stuck with two kids, Malambo's immediate plans were derailed the moment she realized earning a living in a big city was much harder than she had anticipated.

Having lost her biological mother, she was living with her step-mother, who already was burdened with caring for a large family that included an HIV-positive last-born.

Her step-mom bore her responsibilities with fortitude but that very benevolence intensified the pressure on Malambo to share and relieve her of some of her burdens.

To her consternation, Malambo realized that in Lusaka, job openings for school drop-outs were few and far between. And even among the available ones, wages were meagre, working hours long and the conditions ill-suited for a breastfeeding mother of two infants.

For months, Malambo hit the streets of Lusaka, trying to eke out a living with scant success.

Then, on the brink of declaring her cause lost, The Big Issue Magazine dealt Malambo her first ever break in life.

"It was my step-mom who told me about it," Malambo reminisces. "The concept sounded attractive and simple enough. Unlike other jobs, I would basically be employing myself. My earnings would depend on how proactive a seller I was. I thought it was definitely better than anything else I had received thus far and decided to give it a shot."

The rest, as they say, should be history.

But in this case, it actually can't be allowed to be.

Malambo has been selling The Big Issue magazine for just six months but she has already made quite the impression.

"She's been our best seller ever since she came in. She's very motivated and works hard," Catherine Mulenga-Mwanza, the Vendor Coordinator for The Big Issue-Zambia states.

Like its global cousins, The Big Issue-Zambia employs a revolutionary approach to magazine vending that gives the vendors 50% of the earnings.

It's a two-pronged approach that seeks to empower the vendors while also providing them with a launch pad to do something positive with their lives.

Malambo, passionate and resourceful, has broken sales record after sales record in her six-month tenure at The Big Issue and actually earned the financial independence she so desperately craved.

"The Big Issue has helped a lot. Since I started here, I have managed to find my own place to stay and also managed to look after my two kids. Meantime, I'm also saving each coin I can spare so I can maybe have enough to start a business or go back to school and acquire some vocational skills."

Watching Malambo selling The Big Issue alongside her step-mother is quite a revealing exercise.

Her one-minute pitch to any potential customer could have been ripped out of a professional marketing manual. She chats up, laughs, explains and coaxes till she makes a sale.

Malambo's formula doesn't work with everyone though.

Some of the male customers she approaches are more interested in flirting with her than buying the magazine but she refuses to get discouraged.

"The Big Issue gave me a great opportunity and from the beginning, I intended to grab it with both hands. Since I keep 50% of all my sales, I'm motivated to sell as much as I can. Each magazine sold means more money earned. So, even when I have sold 20 magazines, I always seek to sell the 21st."

Malambo's average day starts at 7:30am when she makes a beeline for her selling pitch in order to exploit the early morning rush hour. She sells and sells till the flood of customers turns into a trickle in the mid-morning. She then hangs around to tap the occasional customer while waiting for the afternoon onrush.

In between consumer-enforced breaks, Malambo helps her step-mother tend to her young HIV-positive half-sister, Dorcus.

"Since Dorcus is HIV-positive and on ARVs, my mom has to carry her along when we're selling the papers. Dorcus needs 24-hour attention and my mom can't afford to leave her behind at home. I'm lucky in that I leave my two children with my elder sister so when I get time, I help out with Dorcus."

Malambo and her mom normally retire at 5pm, before repeating the same routine the next day.

Malambo's triumph in the face of adversity is a tribute to the inherent strength of women.

Nonetheless, she remains so grateful for the chance afforded her by The Big Issue that she actually looks up to Samba Yonga, the magazine's editor in Zambia as her role model.

"She's so confident, accomplished, enterprising and kind-hearted. I would want to end up like her. I really am indebted to her and The Big Issue," Malambo intimates.

And so she should!

After all it was Yonga and the visionary concept behind the Big Issue that lent Malambo a helping hand when she was resigned to hoisting the white flag in her lifelong battle against fate.

Zambians adopt the "United We Stand" approach

WHEN Zambia became the first Women's Homeless World Cup Champions in December 2008, the triumphant team was granted a red carpet reception on its return home worthy of its newly-acquired status. Yet, while Zambia's victory over Liberia in Melbourne was creditable, the resultant celebrations had a hollow ring to them.

The simple truth is, as global titles go, winning the Homeless World Cup is one that always comes tinged with a bit of regret.

Nevertheless, while participating in one is an admission of the prevalence of homelessness, Zambia's win in Australia helped focus some more attention on the issue itself.

And, be under no illusions, homelessness in Zambia is an issue that can happily do with any attention it can command.

To show how welcome that extra publicity was,  Edinasha Mambwe, one of the triumphant players, commented: "Lots of media companies have gotten in touch with us to find out our opinions and experiences of the whole Homeless World Cup event, and of the results and the matter of homelessness itself."

Their World Cup heroics might have turned the Zambian women's team into the most visible ambassadors of homelessness but it would be foolhardy to think that they are the only victims.

In fact, while homelessness is an indiscriminate predator, the high numbers of destitute kids on Zambian streets proves that minors seem to be its preferred victims.

Homelessness of children has become an increasingly desperate issue in Lusaka, with Samba Yonga, The Big Issue editor-Zambia branding the problem "chronic."

"The numbers of children living on the streets grows with each passing day," Yonga says matter-of-factly. "Organisations like The Big Issue try and help alleviate the problem by availing some of the street kids with employment but there's only so much we can do. We can only employ children above 18, but most of the street kids are below the age of majority. Employing such minors to earn a living through selling the Magazine and getting them off the street would, hile well-intentioned, mean a violation of the child labour laws here."

Recent statistics revealed that half a million young Zambians call streets home.

But the gravity of the problem was cast in harsh light recently when a social survey revealed that that drug taking amongst the children was high, with nearly one in four street children over the age of 11 in Lusaka, Livingstone, Kitwe and Ndola admitting to substance abuse.

The blizzard of children littering Lusaka's street might be hard to condone but it's easily understandable. In a country condemned with one of the highest percentages of orphaned children in Africa [over 30% of all children under the age of 15 are orphans while 80% of the people in rural areas live below the poverty line], children are seduced by the allure and rich promise held by the bright lights of the capital city. It's only upon reaching Lusaka that many are awakened to the harsh realities of living in a big town.

A few years back, the government sought to check the problem through a campaign that involved the erection of billboards to educate the public on the negative effects of encouraging street children through alms-giving. It was a campaign high on idealism but short on realism.

Faced with criticism, the government amended its approach to include rounding up the children to engage them in productive ventures while others would be taken to reformatory schools.

"We shall address the root causes that have made children go to the streets mainly through empowering programmes after identifying families where these children are coming from," the minister-in-charge said.

Predictably and in true government style, only lip service was paid to this approach.

Mercifully, faced with hesitant and ineffective government policies, local NGOs have been quick to plug the gap. The Big Issue and similarly inclined NGOs have tried to tackle the problem of homelessness in Lusaka through a variety of inventive ways.

SOS Children is one of the NGOs at the frontline of the struggle and since 1999, the charity has lent succour to the hordes of destitute children by establishing homes around the capital.

Despite its best efforts though, SOS Children has found the numbers so massive that it has, in the intervening years, expanded its scope through a series of outreach projects.

These outreach projects have given birth to the Social Centre, which impacts almost 800 street children each year and provides them with food and information on HIV/AIDS, education and training. While treating the symptom remains its main brief, the Social Centre has also tried to cure the disease by directly facilitating families at risk of losing their children to the streets. Through this initiative, the Social Centre targets orphaned families in the poorest communities, returning children to school and offering life and vocational training to older children who often double as breadwinners.

SOS Children's efforts have been complemented by other proactive NGOs like the People's Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia (PPHPZ) and the Zambia Homeless and Poor People's Federation.

The twosome is a partnership between a people's organisation and an NGO focused on community participation and pooling resources together to fight homelessness, with the provision of land tenure security seen as the first step to fighting urban poverty.

Nelson Ncube, the Country Coordinator for the partnership, observes flaws in the government's policies and insists that encouraging poor communities to pool resources and build houses should be the logical first volley of attack in the crusade against homelessness.

"Our main objective is to empower the urban poor with the capacity to solve their shelter conditions through, among others, finding sustainable solutions to their homelessness and advocacy for pro-poor housing and economic policies," he explains. "The urban poor do not have the necessary resources to develop adequate shelter for their living conditions. Most are living in deplorable conditions prone to disease outbreaks such as tuberculosis (due to poor ventilation, overcrowding and inadequate living space) cholera and diarrhoea due to contaminated water and lack of waste management. Trying to tackle these problems in their individual capacities, the urban poor have been unable to do so. So, it's important that they come together and fight homelessness as a unit by mobilizing through savings."

Ncube adds that unlike most government programmes, the PPHPZ and its alliance Federation seeks to employ the very people it's empowering as the nerve centre in its operations.

"Our campaign is based on the principles that; the poor have to be at the centre of strategies and process that address poverty, that what works for the poorest will work for others and not vice-versa, and that the resources of the poor themselves are a critical component of any strategy for poverty."

The partnership has, through its robust social movement, attracted slum dwellers and successfully lobbied the government and local authorities to support the urban poor with land; acquiring tracts of the same in Kitwe, Kalulushi, Choma, and Livingstone for residential as well as commercial development purposes.

"Our approach also runs counter to that used by most NGOs who perpetuate the 'recipient/beggar' kind of attitude in the poor urban masses by giving handouts for only a projected period of time, PPHPZ seeks to empower these communities by inculcating the spirit of self-reliance, a permanent solution to their poverty and homelessness."

It's a solution that should gradually make inroads and stop homelessness from reaching pandemic levels in this nation of just under 13 million inhabitants.

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