Thursday, 7 June 2018

Iconic E.W. Tarry building gets facelift



The first top picture shows the E.W. Tarry building in the 1950s and, below, the building now undergoing reconstruction.
 
Iconic E.W. Tarry building gets facelift 

JACK ZIMBA

BEFORE there were glitzy banks, multi-storey office blocks, popular restaurants and shops on Lusaka’s Cairo Road, there was E.W. Tarry.
Built in the 1920s as a farm stall selling agriculture machinery and fertilisers, this single-storey building was the first shop on Cairo Road (or at least one of the first), according to Kagosi Mwamulowe, who is regional director for the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHC).
E.W. Tarry Limited Company was established as a machine distributor by Edward Wallace Tarry in South Africa in the late 19th century.
Years later, the company had grown and extended its tentacles northwards, opening shops in Bulawayo and Salisbury (Harare) in then Southern Rhodesia, and then the newly established settlement at Lusaka in 1927.
The company had become the largest importer of machinery on the mining fields in South Africa, and boasted of having entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes on its board of directors.
In 1881, Mr Tarry was listed as one of the richest merchants with a net worth of £150,000, according to Robert Vicat Turrell in a book titled “Capital and Labour on the Kimberley Diamond Fields, 1871-1890”.
Nine decades later, the building Mr Tarry built on Cairo Road still stands and is a declared heritage site.
According to the National Heritage Act, anything built before January 1, 1924 is considered a heritage site and is protected by law.
There are a few other buildings in its vicinity built within that era that are protected by law, including the railway station, the old Lusaka Boys School on Dedan Kimathi Road, the old Barclays Bank and Lusaka Hotel, which was built in 1914.
Over the years, the building has changed hands. After independence in 1964, it was owned by a company called Zambia National Holdings Limited, which was owned by the United National Independence Party (UNIP).
Then about 15 years ago, it was sold to Paza Trading Limited, a company which was owned by Mohemmed Ginwala.
After Mr Ginwala died in 2014, his nephew Irshad Ginwalla took over the running of the business, including the E.W. Tarry building.
But after so many years, the building had become deplorable and is now undergoing major reconstruction works to preserve it.
Today, this iconic building is hidden behind metal barricades, its roof stripped, exposing the wooden beams that have held the roof for 91 years.
Irshad’s company is spending US$430,000 (about K4.4 million) to restore the building with the works expected to be completed in November.
The company carrying out the reconstruction works is experienced in restoring heritage sites.
A few years ago, Swissco Construction Limited was engaged to restore the house in Lusaka where Oliver Tambo once lived during the apartheid era.
“We want to take a conservative approach, so that the community benefits,” bubbles Irshad. “I want the public, the tourists to be aware of this place.”
Young and trendy-looking with a love for fancy motorbikes, Irshad does not look much of a lover of anything old-fashioned, but he exudes passion as he talks about the old building allthough five years ago, he did not even know the building was a heritage site. 
He says when some of his colleagues saw him breaking down the building, they had suggested that he puts up something different, maybe a double-storey building, but he refused.
“I’m not greedy for money,” he says. “I value this property for what it is from a heritage aspect.” 
He says having the building listed as a heritage site is a bonus.
Irshad now wants to reconstruct the building to its original state complete with its original colours – white walls with a green corrugated roof, plus the small black metal plate bearing the words “Tarry’s Corner”, which over-hangs the corridor and has become pretty much an insignia of the building.
“What we are trying to do here with the help of the National Heritage Conservation Commission is to make the building look the way it did in the 70s,” he says.
Irshad has images of the building taken in the 1950s and 1970s on his smartphone.
He shows me the images as he holds them like a stencil against the building being reconstructed.
When the barricades go down in November, he wants the iconic building to look exactly the way it used to decades ago.
“When the contractor told us that we could maintain some of the things, we were very happy because I’m very passionate about this property which is of heritage value,” he says.
Leon Sauter of Swissco Construction company reckons that about 70 percent of the original structure will be saved.
Much of the wall structure and columns have been left standing.
In fact, Leon thinks the columns were built to accommodate a second storey in future.
He says the size of the columns is abnormal for a single-storey building.
Leon is more impressed with the masonry of the old structure than the one built years later using blocks.
“They went cheaper on this side,” he says, pointing to the other building which now lies in a pile of rubble.
That part of the building will be built up completely, with the new structure matching the old one.
The reconstruction works are closely monitored by the NHC.
According to Mr Mwamulowe, the NHC has three options for conservation rehabilitation, reconstruction and interpretation.
“E.W. Tarry’s is significant to us because it tells the story about the development of Lusaka as a city from the agriculture point of view and from the commercial point of view,” he says.
He calls it sustainable development.
“We have allowed the renovations to take place while at the same time preserving the history of that place. The print of E.W. Tarry is going to be there for many years to come,” he says.
“I know some people will say it is not the original texture, but at least the visual impact will be there,” he says.
For Leon, it is a delicate task trying to reconstruct the building.
“It’s very delicate. I’m also quite passionate about such works. When we originally took the contract, the contract was to demolish the whole building because it was assumed that the entire building was structurally compromised, but then from the demolitions you can see we have taken care to preserve as much of it as we can,” he says.
Even some of the original wooden beams which formed the roof structure will be reused.
Leon says the works are now two weeks behind schedule because of the care going into preserving the old structure.
But this is not just another construction job for the young Swiss.
He has a personal attachment to the building.
Leon’s grandparents came from Switzerland and settled in what was then Northern Rhodesia in the 1950s and they came to buy stuff from this building.
“There is pride in having to be involved in something which your grandparents have some connection to,” he says.
Irshad, too, has connection to the building.
“My grandfather, my great grandfather used to come here. In fact I got some of the old photos from my grandfather and his friends,” he says.
Irshad says a relative of Mr Tarry who lives in Canada recently contacted him wanting to find out about the building.
“But I was out of the country at the time,” he says.
E.W. Tarry building is not just a building; it is a depository of history.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Maina Soko: The mystery, intrigue, conspiracy

Maina Soko's granddaughter, Maina Soko, wants to know where her grandmother was buried.

A street in Ndola City named after Maina Soko.

Brig-Gen. Malyangu says there are no written records about Maina Soko.


JACK ZIMBA

Lusaka

 

SINCE independence, one name has stood out, yet not much is known about the person behind that name.
Maina Soko’s legacy is immortalised in a military hospital named after her.
Maina Soko Military Hospital was initially a maternity annex for the University Teaching Hospital, built in the 1960s.
Then in 1979, it was converted into a military hospital to take care of military casualties of the liberation war.
When the army were looking for a name to name the hospital, Maina Soko was suggested.
To many today, Maina Soko is nothing more than a military hospital located on Ash Road in Woodlands in Lusaka.
This is largely because little is known about Maina Soko; who she really was and what she did has for four decades been shrouded in intrigue.
After her death decades ago, Maina Soko’s story simply faded and whenever it is told, it lacks distinction, with so many grey areas. What remains are questions about her true identity and the role she played in the liberation struggle.
There are different conspiracy theories surrounding Maina Soko.
And perhaps that is what makes her story intriguing.
The Zambia Army portrays Maina Soko as a hero of the liberation war simply because of the way she died.
According to Brigadier-General Evans Malyangu, who is the commandant of Maina Soko Hospital, Maina Soko was a woman who lived in Chiawa in the 1970s.
And on a date unknown, but around the mid-1970s, Maina Soko fell ill and decided to travel from Chiawa to Chirundu to seek medical care.
She was travelling by canoe down the Zambezi River. The canoe was peddled by a male.
But when Southern Rhodesian soldiers spotted the canoe on the river, they fired on it.
“The Rhodesian troops were suspicious of these two people on the river, and therefore they decided to open fire and Maina Soko was hit, but she did not die on the spot,” says Gen. Malyangu.
The male she was with was unhurt and he peddled on until they reached Chirundu.
“Maina Soko was taken to a clinic in Chirundu where she was treated. The incident was reported to the Zambia Army troops who were operating along the border,” he says.
Maina Soko was later repatriated to UTH, where she died of her wounds and was buried at Chingwere cemetery.
But even the general has to admit there is little known about Maina Soko.
“We don’t know much about her because I suppose there was not much written about her, and over the years, we started losing details about Maina Soko,” he says.
“There are quite a number of versions concerning Maina Soko,” adds the general.
The Army version of the story, according to the general, is based on information passed from Maina Soko’s cousin about two years ago.
The general says Maina Soko was considered a war hero because of the way she died.
“The government recognised the contribution she made, she was killed because of the liberation war in Southern Africa, therefore she was in actual fact a war hero,” says Gen. Malyangu.
But there are many civilians who were killed as a result of the liberation war for Southern Rhodesia, why Maina Soko was singled out by the government and military for such honours raises questions about who she really was and what she possibly did.
One man who has tried to discover Maina Soko is film-maker Abdon Yezi.
“What led us to start getting interested into this [Maina Soko story], is that apart from the military hospital, there is a lot of symbolism around her,” he says.
A major road in the city of Ndola, a road in Livingstone and Chipata and a council ward in Mufulira are also named after her.
“Whoever was behind raising the name from a civilian to a military establishment had the desire that this name should not go down,” says Mr Yezi.
He raises a fundamental question: “If Maina Soko was a civilian, how does she become much related to a military establishment, particularly the hospital?”
A few years ago, Mr Yezi began researching into Maina Soko, with the aim of making a film titled “The Intrigue of Maina Soko”.
At the beginning of his quest, which took him to Chiawa and Luangwa district, he did not even know whether Maina Soko was male or female.
The film-maker’s version also talks about a shooting incident on the river, corroborating the army version.
“What I didn’t get is whether she died immediately after being shot,” he says.
What he thinks he knows as a fact is that Maina Soko was a middle-aged female who had a disability caused by leprosy.
She possibly walked with a limp.
The presence of a disabled woman traveling in a canoe down the river would have hardly alarmed the Rhodesian troops.
He also questions whether Maina Soko was taken advantage of because of her disability and used as a human shield.
There are hardly any written records about Maina Soko, even in the newspapers of that period.
“Unfortunately enough when we get into our archives trying to get a bit more of information, it doesn’t seem to come out. I spent quite some time in the National Archives to try and see whether the Daily Mail or Times or any other media had captured the story, unfortunately I couldn’t trace that,” he says.
Mr Yezi says the only reference he came across was by journalist Robby Makai who had covered the story when he worked for the Times of Zambia in the 1970s.
Lastly, I contacted Maina Soko’s granddaughter, who bears the same name as her grandmother, but she was reluctant to make any comment.
When we finally met, the young lady introduced me to a man called Martin Chipakata, and the story of Maina Soko took a new twist.
Martin Chipakata claims to be the custodian of the Maina Soko story.
He has researched into her story and has written a soon-to-be-published book titled “Maina Soko in the Shadow of Kenneth David Kaunda, Belligerence Intelligence”. 
According to Mr Chipakata, Maina Soko was a spy who passed information from the British colonial government to Dr Kenneth Kaunda and the freedom fighters before independence.
Mr Chipakata describes Maina Soko as “an invisible spy” who was very good in espionage.
Maina Soko Kaliza was born in Chiawa and got married to a man called Paul Chipalupalu, who worked as a cook for a man called Peter Cliff.
Mr Cliff is described as a right-hand man to Sir Evelyn Hone, the last governor under the colonial government.
Maina Soko is thus believed to have had access to secret information about the colonial government, which she passed on to the freedom fighters.
“She could give them precise information which she obtained from her husband and it was very helpful,” he says.
After independence, Maina Soko’s husband was offered a job as a driver by Mr Cliff who had resettled in Southern Rhodesia.
Maina Soko should have joined her husband later, but by then she had also become a target for the colonialists in Southern Rhodesia.
“They knew that if she joined her husband, she would continue passing information,” he says.
Sometime in 1965, Maina Soko is said to have suffered from leprosy and decided to seek medical care at a clinic called Mtendere in Chirundu.
“She went very early in the morning with a kid sometime in April. She was in a boat trying to get to the other side when bullets landed,” says Mr Chipakata.
Maina Soko died shortly after of her wounds and President Kaunda is said to have sent a plane to fetch her body.
Mr Chipakata says Maina Soko was 67 years old when she died.
He thinks her death helped to spark the second Chimurenga war, an insurrection against white rule in Southern Rhodesia.
Mr Yezi says the theories of Maina Soko being involved in covert military activities cannot completely be dismissed.
“Maina Soko would be a very good symbol, even with the little information that is there around the role women played particularly in the liberation struggle,” he says.
“We need to start building around that symbolism, whether she was involved in covert activities or not, look at it in terms of what role she played,” he says.
He says since the army has patented the name, they need to raise it up a bit by documenting the story of Maina Soko.
Her granddaughter thinks her grandmother has not been honoured enough for what she did.
And she wants to know where she is buried.
Actually she thinks she is the reincarnation of her grandmother who sees things in the spirit.

 

 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Could this be the oldest man alive?

White Tembo retired in 1955 and has been living at his farm in Rufunsa since 1956. Pictures by Jack Zimba.

Juliana died on April 18, 2018. She is believed to have been 108 years old.

White Tembo thinks he still has a few more years to live.

Mr Tembo's third daughter Justina (right) is 82 years old.

 

Could this be the oldest man alive?

JACK ZIMBA

 WHEN White Nyamfukudza Tembo comes out of the small house, he is borne like a toddler in the arms of his teenage grandson, and then his fragile frame is carefully placed in a chair.
His grandchildren and great grandchildren gather around and gaze at him like a relic in a museum. Well, at 114 years old, he is a living relic.
“Get me something warm, it’s cold out here,” demands the old man.
His voice is still strong, but he is hard of hearing and one has to shout when speaking to him.
He can hardly see, but he was able to detect the flashlight from my camera.
“Are they taking pictures of me?” he asks his son, Brian.
Sitting beside the old man is his third child, Justina. At 82, she is the oldest living child of the old man.
And next to her is Materesi Phiri, the old man’s sister-in-law. She is believed to be close to a hundred years old.
They are all here because a few weeks ago, the old man lost his wife, Juliana. She was believed to be 108 years old.
Juliana had a history of hypertension and had suffered a stroke in 1956, then the second stroke hit her on April 10.
Her frail body could not take it. She died on April 18.
The old man is still devastated by Juliana’s death. The two are said to have been inseparable.
“They were like two pigeons,” says Brian.
It is a remarkable love affair that spanned over 80 years.
The old man speaks about Juliana with deep fondness.
“As you see me today, I’m mourning. Where is the woman I have lived with?” he asks, tears running down his wrinkled face.
He wants his Juliana back.
“My God, bring back my wife,” he says. “She left me sleeping on the bed. I felt for her with my hand, but she was not there. Where is my friend?” he laments.
When Juliana died, the family could not immediately break the news to the old man, fearing for his fragile heart.
When the old man asked for his wife, they laid his grandchild next to him instead.
Two days later, they could not keep the secret anymore. The old man could not take the news. He wanted to take his own life.
“He asked for poison to end his own life,” says Brian.
The old man did not attend Juliana’s burial, but the family arranged for him to say goodbye to her at home, a little touch of her face as she lay in her coffin.
The family is now trying to use psychosocial counselling to help the old man cope with the loss of his Juliana.
“It is only now that he is beginning to understand that death is there,” says Brian.
The old man seems to find a lot of comfort in his four surviving children, especially his two sons, Brian and Peter. He is only able to recognise them by their voices.
“You are my only family now,” he tells Brian.
The old man still calls his sons with the prefix “ka”, as if they were little boys.
Brian is the eighth-born child of the old man, born in 1962, and then his younger brother, Peter, was born in 1966.
Juliana was in her 50s when she had her last two children.
“The two of us are products of menopause,” says Brian. “Mum was already in her 50s when we were born. We were lucky to be born.”
Brian says he sucked from his mother’s breast until he was five.
“I remember sometimes I would come back from looking after the animals and then I would ask my mother to kneel so I could suck,” he says.
As for his father, he has always known him as an old man.
“I have never seen him young, I have always known him as an old man,” he says.
The old man is chatty and loves to sing. And although his memory seems to be failing him now, especially after the death of his wife, he sounds very reasonable and likes to express his opinion.
“I hear that when a man impregnates a girl in Lusaka, he is punished, to me that is wrong,” he says, almost out of the blue. “Because when that child is born, do you throw it away?”
He is also inquisitive, asking a lot of questions, some too hard to answer.
“Who is my God?” he demands.
The old man is also amused at the prospect he could be the oldest man alive.
“Someone two days ago told me there is no-one in this country who is as old as me. I was surprised. The whole of this country has no-one as old as me?” he asks.
For a centenarian, the old man has the zest for life.
In fact, he thinks he has a few more years to live.
“I’m still here, you will get tired of giving me Coca Cola,” he tells his sons.
The old man likes to drink Coca Cola, but tea is his favourite.
As we speak, a cup of juice is placed in the old man’s hands. He makes the symbol of the cross the Catholic-way and then gulps the liquid.
The old man has a big appetite, so much so that the people around him have nicknamed him Tembo ku nyopola, which translates “Tembo the glutton”.
The old man likes fish and okra, because he only has three teeth remaining in his mouth.
When asked about his secret to long life, the old man becomes animated.
“Ehee! You want to know my secret? If a person is crooked in his dealings, death is never far away,” he says.
“If you kill people, you cannot live long,” he adds.
The old man also talks about his faith as a Christian.
“I was baptised together with my wife and it is God who keeps me,” he says.
Brian says the old man has also led an active life, except the past two years when his legs could not carry him any longer.
A photo taken five years ago shows the old man standing in gumboots.
Juliana is also said to have been active, making tea for her husband even when she clocked 108 years.
In fact, the family thought the old man would die first because he seemed much more frail.
When he was a young man, the old man had a bad lifestyle. He used to drink alcohol a lot.
“It is something I witnessed. Dad used to drink a lot,” says Brian.
The old man was also a big smoker.
But in the late 60s, the old man was diagnosed with a condition and doctors advised him to stop drinking and smoking. He did.
Now, is old White Tembo really 114 years old?
Without any birth records, it is hard to prove the old man’s age. Even his national registration card is blank on his date of birth.
But the account of the old man’s life by his son Brian is very corroborative.
According to Brian, White Tembo was born in 1904 in Luangwa. The old man’s father was a mail runner, who delivered mail between Salisbury (Harare) in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Feira in Luangwa district.
He married a granddaughter of Chief Mburuma of the Nsenga people in Luangwa district, although he already had three wives in Southern Rhodesia. He would marry two more women in Luangwa district to make a harem of seven.
Between 1910 and 1920, the young White Tembo travelled with his uncle to Lusaka where he worked on a big farm in Kabulongo (present-day Kabulonga).
The farm belonged to a German called Mr Schulz and the young boy’s job was to chase birds from the wheat fields.
But when copper was discovered on the Copperbelt, it opened new prospects for jobs. And White trekked up north to seek employment at the newly-opened Nkana mine. The mine was opened in 1928.
He got a job as a caddie at the golf course belonging to the mine.
And then in 1930, he returned to Luangwa, picked up his wife and went to Southern Rhodesia, where he worked on the mines.
White and Juliana are said to have been engaged long before they were married. They were first cousins. In 1932, they had their first child.
In 1954, Mr Tembo returned to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and worked for J.J. Lowe, a construction company. But he worked for only a year and was retired, probably after attaining the age of 50.
He never wanted to settle in Luangwa, so he bought a large piece of land in Rufunsa, where he settled in 1956, rearing cattle. At one time he had a herd of 2,000 animals.
In 1993 when Chief Mburuma died, the old man should have ascended to the throne, but he refused.
The account of Mr Tembo and his family, his links to the Mburuma chieftaincy are a subject of a book, but the manuscript is still on the shelf of a university in Lusaka.
If White Tembo’s age is proved correct, he may enter the records as the oldest man alive.
On April 10‚ a 112-year-old Masazo Nonaka of Japan was named as the oldest man alive. The record holder for the oldest person ever (male) was also Japanese. Jiroemon Kimura was born on April 19, 1897 and died aged 116 years 54 days, on June 12, 2013.
Last week, there was another contender for the world’s oldest man. He is Fredie Blom of Cape Town in South Africa, who celebrated his 114th birthday on May 8.
However, the all-time record for the oldest person ever is held by Jeanne Louise Calment from France, who lived to an unprecedented 122 years 164 days, from 1875 to 1997.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Gifted hands too

 

Dr Bvulani with one of the Siamese twins named Mapalo.

Dr Bvulani with the twin girls.

Bonding time with the doctor. Pictures by JACK ZIMBA.
 
 
Gifted hands too

 

JACK ZIMBA,

Lusaka


WHEN Bruce Bvulani was a little boy he had a fascination with frogs.
He kept some in the backyard of his parents’ house and, later, when he learned how to stitch cloth at school, he would cut open the frogs and stitch them up again.
Of course, the poor creatures never lived through the gory procedure.
Today, Dr Bvulani’s subjects are not little frogs, but little humans. He is one of only four paediatric surgeons in the country.
With Zambia’s population of children estimated at eight million, it makes him responsible for two million children, theoretically.
And as head of unit neonatal and paediatric surgery at the country’s biggest health facility, the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), Dr Bvulani was the lead surgeon in the operation that separated conjoined twins Mapalo and Bupe on February 2 this year.
When the Siamese twins arrived at UTH in June last year, Dr Bvulani was on leave, but he knew that was his call.
Following the successful operation that lasted over five hours, the surgeon and his 30-some-member team were celebrated as heroes.
Yet hero is not a description that this unassuming surgeon subscribes to.
“There are so many things I do on a regular basis but I don’t think of myself as a hero,” he tells me, as we sit in the locker-room of the main theatre at D-Block.
He still has his scrubs on.
A devout Baptist, Dr Bvulani sees his work as service to God.
“God is the most important thing in my life followed by my family. I think work is just another way of serving God,” he says.
And at UTH, he has performed many complex operations that never even get picked up by the media.
But the Siamese twins had created media frenzy from the day their birth was announced – unsurprisingly.
Although Siamese twins are seldom heard of in Zambia, they are not a very rare occurrence.
Last year, Dr Bvulani came across two cases of conjoined twins. Unfortunately, one pair died on the way to UTH, while another died a few moments after being admitted to the hospital.
“Usually what kills them is that they have so many other congenital abnormalities like in the heart, which are not compatible with life,” explains Dr Bvulani.
For Mapalo and Bupe, they were born joined at the abdomen.
The doctors relied on CT scan images to see what they were going to encounter during the separation to separate them.
When doctors carried out an investigation at three months, they noticed that the twins’ intestines seemed intertwined. They would later discover during surgery that the twins’ intestines were actually joined and they had to separate them by cutting.
The girls’ livers were separate at birth, but seemed to have fused as the twins grew older, according to Dr Bvulani.
The prospect of a shared liver was most worrying to the medical staff, and it raised the question whether the operation should be done locally.
According to Dr Bvulani, there were suggestions to repatriate the twins abroad fearing their case might be too complicated for UTH to handle.
In 1997, when the country was faced with a similar situation – two boys joined at the top of their heads, they were taken to South Africa because UTH was ill-equipped to undertake such an operation.
The twins, Luka and Joseph, were separated by a team of doctors led by renowned American neurosurgeon Ben Carson, assisted by Zambian and South African doctors.
This, plus other “miraculous” operations on Siamese twins became a subject of Dr Carson’s famous book Gifted Hands.
Today, Luka and Joseph are both alive.
Dr Bvulani, himself, had just graduated from medical school when Luka and Joseph were successfully separated. And later when he worked at the D-Block, he met the two when they came for reviews.
Finally a decision was made to operate the girls locally.
Dr Bvulani says a number of equipment had to be bought in order to prepare for the operation.
“Not everything we would have wanted, there are a number of things we would have wanted on our wish-list, but we are grateful for what we got,” he says.
The operation to separate the twins went on smoothly, but there was one unnerving moment during the operation.
Half-way into the operation, one of the twins had lost IV (intravenous) access, meaning fluids and medication had stopped flowing into her body.
“It just stopped running and we had to stop the operation for a while. That was a bit tense for us,” says Dr Bvulani.
The medical team also had to have a plan B; in case the twins shared a vital organ, they would have to unpleasantly decide who gets it.
Luckily for the two girls, none of the organs was shared.
And while the nation celebrated the separation of the twins on February 2, the medical team could not celebrate yet.
“The first two weeks after the operation was a very tense time for all of us,” says Dr Bvulani.
Would the twins live after the separation?
“They have to survive and they have to live. That is when you can say the operation was successful,” says Dr Bvulani.
On February 26, the twins were removed from the intensive care unit and placed in a nursery.
For Dr Bvulani the successful operation has reinforced the importance of teamwork.
“It has made me realise how important team work is,” he says.
Yet he has also had to deal with critics, who have underplayed the complexity of the operation to separate Mapalo and Bupe.
Dr Bvulani says any operation involving conjoined twins can be complex, unless they are only joined by skin.
“That is why anywhere in the world when there is talk of conjoined twins there is always hype around it,” he says.
But he admits some conditions are less challenging than others.
“I do agree that there are more complex conjoined twins and there are much simpler conjoined twins where they are just joined by skin,” he says.
“When it involves two individuals who are joined, functioning differently and each one needs an anaesthetic team; and then they are sharing organs and blood is flowing between them, it changes the dynamics of the fact that it is a simple procedure,” he says.
Dr Bvulani’s dream is to better the practice of surgery in the country by having more skilled surgeons, especially in paediatrics, as well as having well-equipped theatres.
“We need a lot of equipment to do surgeries like these and even more complex ones. We hope the government will get us the equipment we need,” he says.
Like many nurses and other support staff taking care of Mapalo and Bupe, Dr Bvulani has grown fond of the twin girls.
He visits them every day, sometimes twice, just to check on how they are doing.
When I visited the twins two days later, they looked active and full of life. When Dr Bvulani lifted Mapalo into his arms and played with her, she laughed and reached for the doctor’s nose and beard.
Dr Bvulani says the most fulfilling thing in his work “is to see people walk home.”
“We are looking forward to seeing the twins grow and go to school,” he says.
DRIVEN BY PASSION
Dr Bvulani is driven by the belief that one has to love and enjoy the job they choose.
“I love what I do and I think I can do it for the rest of my life,” he tells me. “I have no regrets. There has never been a time when I thought that maybe I should have done engineering, not even in my lowest moments.”
And in this job, there can be many low moments. Some of Dr Bvulani’s lowest moments have been seeing life slip through his hands.
“I think when you have done a lot for a particular patient and things are looking up and suddenly things tip and suddenly the patient takes a turn for the worst and dies, those are moments in my career when I really feel bad,” he says.
“And sometimes when you have done a good surgery and the child wakes up but later on you hear the patient has died and you can’t understand why,” he says.
As a Christian, Dr Bvulani has come to accept the fragility of life and the supremacy of God over humans.
“We are not in control of things. At the end of the day, whether these children get well or not is not for us to tell. We ought to just do our best,” he says.
Dr Bvulani is also strongly opposed to termination of pregnancy for medical reasons such as abnormality in the foetus. A couple of times, he has had to excuse himself when such decisions are tabled.
“It is not right for one to choose beforehand that you only want good things. I think even in some of these things that God gives us, there is a lesson for us,” he says.
“I know many people would say it’s unfair because I’m not a woman and I can’t carry a pregnancy, but the point is what does the Bible say?”
EARLY LIFE
Dr Bvulani was born in a fairly comfortable family to Jane Chikasa and Reuben Bvulani in 1970 in Lusaka. He is the fourth born in a family of 12.
His father was a banker who once worked for the central bank.
And it was his father who had the strongest influence on him, pushing him to work hard in school. He attended Woodlands A Primary School and later went to Munali Boys Secondary and Hillcrest Technical School.
During his school days, Dr Bvulani seemed torn between engineering and medicine (he still thinks he would have made a good engineer if you ask him).
So despite his earlier fascination with frogs and what lay beneath their skins, he later became interested in electronics, influenced by his older brothers who were making simple radios and electric circuits.
“When I went to secondary school, I was exposed to technical drawing and metal work so at that point that is what I thought was interesting and I thought I should do mechanical engineering,” he says.
But he would soon gravitate back to medical stuff and biology.
His interest to study medicine came from his older sister who was studying medicine at the time.
In 1989, he went to study medicine at the University of Zambia. He then did his internship at Nchanga Mine Hospital in Chingola, and Kitwe Central Hospital.
He then worked for three years for a mine hospital in Chililabombwe.
But his passion was always to do surgery.
“During my medical school days I was inspired to do surgery. Although I had not rotated through paediatric surgery, this became my heart’s desire. This was especially after I visited the paediatric surgical unit to visit a close family friend’s child who was being nursed in the wards there,” he says.
And so in 2000, he was accepted to study for his Master of Medicine in Surgery at the University of Zambia. When he graduated in 2005, he started working at UTH.
In 2009, Dr Bvulani was offered a one year training fellowship by the African Paediatric Fellowship Programme Fund at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
“The fellowship was very helpful in cementing my paediatric surgical experience and practice, and was an opportunity to interact with paediatric surgical colleagues from around the world who would visit there regularly,” he says.
Dr Bvulani is also a fellow of the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa having undertaken various examinations and fulfilling the necessary qualifications.
Dr Bvulani is married to Margaret Makani and they have three children, Chibale, Mpungasanu and Mpaso, who is the only one of the three children with interest in medicine.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Why aren’t tourists following the wind?



Mr Porro: I'm not running a business, I'm running a passion.

Konkamoya is a picturesque place teeming with game.
Why aren’t tourists following the wind?

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    JACK ZIMBA, Itezhi Tezhi

  • WHEN Andrea Porro got bored running a business as a wildlife photographer and graphic designer in his hometown Milan, Italy, he sold his shares in the company and bought a piece of heaven on the edge of Lake Itezhi Tezhi in the South Kafue National Park called Konkamoya, which literally translates “follow the wind”.
  • Mr Porro is a zoologist specialised in evolutionary biology, but he says he could not find employment in Italy, so he set up a photography and graphic design business which he ran for 20 years with his partner, and then decided to follow the wind.
    “When I reached 46, I decided I can’t spend my life 14 hours before the computer, and when I came here, the owner offered me 50 percent in the lodge, and in one night I decided to sell my shares in my business in Italy and bought shares in Konkamoya,” he says in heavily accented English.
    He now has full ownership of the lodge.
    It is not hard to see why Mr Porro fell in love with this place.
    Konkamoya is a picturesque – a dreamland-of-sorts – place with tented guest rooms cast against still waters of the man-made Lake Itezhi Tezhi with its islands. On a good day, especially in the dry season when many water sources dry up in this wilderness, one can watch large herds of elephant – up to 300 – come to drink from the lake without moving an inch from the bar stool.
    And almost everywhere you look, there are puku grazing lazily. Occasionally, one can see lion and cheetah, hippo and all kinds of birds. The southern part of the Kafue National Park is teeming with wildlife and creates a perfect destination for tourists bringing in the much-needed dollar.
    But Mr Porro is struggling to keep his business afloat. The only thing sustaining this dreamy place is Mr Porro’s passion for wildlife and nature.
    “I’m not running a business here, I’m running a passion,” he tells me as he lights a cigarette.
    Mr Porro’s first visit to Zambia was in the South and North Luangwa National parks, but when he visited this part of the Kafue National Park, he fell in love with it and decided to own part of it.
    “The Kafue is one of the most beautiful national parks in Africa – and I have visited a lot of them. There is biodiversity here that is not equaled anywhere in Africa,” he says.
    Have you visited the Kruger? I ask him.
    “I have never been to the Kruger because there is too many people there, too much traffic and with the tar road and robots and speed traps, that is not a national park, it is a zoo, in my opinion,” he says with sarcasm in his voice.
    But still, bringing in the tourists to this part of the Kafue National Park is not easy.
    “I have to fight to bring tourists here,” says Mr Porro.
    According to the Department of Parks and Wildlife at Ngoma, which oversees this part of the Kafue National Park, international tourist visits to the south Kafue in 2014 were 890, in 2015, 1,124 and in 2016, 1,218 tourists visited the area.
    Although the tally is increasing, it not impressive enough.
    “We are not happy with the tourist numbers, but these could be determined by the number of lodges. We have very few lodges in this area. We need more people to invest in the park because we have a lot to offer in terms of flora and fauna,” says Elliot Kasempa, who is in charge of the park.
    There are only two lodges in an area covering 18,000km/sq. And Konkamoya only has 10 beds in order to keep the overhead costs lower.
    “Our core business is conservation, but we do invite private investors to come and set up lodges,” Mr Kasempa tells me.
    According to Mr Kasempa, the park has identified five sites where investors can set up lodges. But very few people have come forth.
    But why wouldn’t anyone want to invest in the park?
    “The park fees are too high,” complains Mr Porro. “This year I’m going to pay US$44,000 to stay in the park. It means I have to sell 100 bed nights because my rates on average are US$450 per night. Once I have sold 220, then I break even.”
    But his business is affected by many factors he has no control over, such as Brexit.
    Mr Porro says Britain accounts for most of the tourists visiting Konkamoya, but the decision to pull out of the European Union means that many Britons do not have enough money to spend on holidaying.
    Mr Porro now has far fewer bookings from Britain, and is looking to other non-traditional European markets such as The Netherlands.
    And earlier this year, he suffered 20 cancellations when the President declared a state of threatened emergency following acts of violence in the aftermath of the general elections last year.
    And so, he has only sold about 60 bed nights this year.
    Mr Porro says it is hard to compete with the lodges in the game management area on the fringes of the park, because they don’t pay high fees and so can keep their prices lower.
    “That is why there is no investors in the park,” he says.
    He says many investors have shown interest in buying Konkamoya, but they get discouraged when they look at the balance sheet.
    He says a couple from Germany were recently interested in buying the lodge, but when they looked at the account books, they were discouraged.
    Mr Porro says he has lost K7 million in the past seven years.
    He says if nothing changes, he will have to close his business.
    “I will decide in 2020 when my license expires whether I should remain in Zambia or not,” he says.
    The Italian investor also thinks Zambia’s tourism is suffering from poor publicity.
    “Zambia has to invest more to promote the country as a destination, there is not enough money to promote the country,” he says.
    “Every year in Milano where I live, the Botswana tourism agency buys space in the subway to advertise their country as a destination. They don’t advertise the Delta or Moremi or Central Kalahari National Park. They advertise the country and the people in Italy know Botswana as a tourist destination,” he says.
    Mr Porro makes movies using a drone to promote Konkamoya in Europe.
    He says Liuwa National Park is now also famous after Africa Parks and National Geographic produced a documentary on the lone lioness that lived there which was a best seller.
    Mr Porro and other lodge owners have also formed a consortium to try and advertise Zambia as a tourist destination in Europe.
    He spent US$33,000 for marketing in Europe. According to Mr Porro, one of the biggest problems is that the park is little-known.
    Zambia Tourist Agency (ZTA) director of marketing Mwabashike Nkulukusa says the agency this year was given K6 million for both local and international advertising. That is about US$600,000.
    Zambia’s competitors in the region, such as Botswana and Namibia spent between US$8 million and US$12 million.
    “We don’t even want to compare with South Africa which spent between US$80 million and US$200 million,” he says.
    He says 2017 was the worst for the agency in that regard. The ZTA has been allocated K15 million for 2018 (about US$1.5 million).
    But Mr Nkulukusa says the tourist agency needs not less than US$8 million if it has to do catch-up with its competitors in the region.
    And there are other factors making Zambia less competitive with its neighbours.
    “It is a bit more costly to come to Zambia, and this makes our destination less competitive,” says Mr Nkulukusa.
    According to Mr Nkulukusa, the lack of direct flights from market sources is a major factor pushing the price of tourism in Zambia through the roof.
    “Even our local flights are expensive. For one to fly from Lusaka to Livingstone, you have to pay the same fare as if you are going to Johannesburg,” he says.
    The ZTA has now turned to social platforms such as Facebook to market Zambia.
    Mr Nkulukusa says so far, the digital platform has shown a lot of potential, with 35,000 likes on Facebook. If only they can all be transformed from virtual to actuality.
     

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

We’re FBI and happy about it


Mirriam with her friend Alisa say they are happy to be lighter.

We’re FBI and happy about it


JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
MIRRIAM Kaziya and Lilian Kalunga sit bubbly at a restaurant in Lusaka. The two sisters are both wearing heavy make-up and above-the-knee dresses. For Mirriam, her dress is short enough to reveal an elaborate tattoo covering her right thigh.
Both women are light complexioned. But they both have not been light-skinned from birth.
Their new complexion is a result of bleaching.
Though still considered controversial by society, Mirriam and Lillian do not flinch talking about their own transformation through skin bleaching.
They both laugh and giggle as they compare their before-and-after pictures on their phones. Mirriam refers to herself as a FBI (former black individual).
“I used to be really dark. I used to look like that man,” says Mirriam, pointing to a man sitting a few tables away.
Mirriam says she decided to bleach her skin because she usually felt bad whenever she was with her friend who had bleached her skin.
“I looked like her maid because my skin was dirty,” she says.
Then Mirriam decided to buy a bottle of serum. That was the beginning of her transformation journey.
It only took about two weeks for Mirriam to transform herself from a dark-skinned woman into what she is today.
She is very happy about her new skin tone.
“I probably look 10 years younger, when I’m 36,” she says.
Mirriam, who now makes and sells skin products, including lightening creams, says a woman’s confidence comes when she has glowing skin.
Her business is now thriving, with over 5,000 clients, not only in Zambia but in other countries as well. She also streamlines videos via Facebook showing how to use her products called Milly Beauty Products.
Mirriam uses mostly natural oils, kojic acid and steric acid to make her lightening products. She avoids using hydroquinone, saying it is bad for the skin.
When asked how she learned how make her skin care products, Mirriam says: “I read a lot on Google. When I’m home I don’t just sit and watch TV, I read about skin care.”
Mirriam’s dream is to grow her business and become a big name like Oprah Winfrey.
And for Mirriam, the transformation goes beyond her skin.
A few years ago, she was struggling to single-handedly raise four children after the death of her husband in 2011.
Overwhelmed by her circumstances, she had resorted to drinking and smoking. When she became depressed, she would usually get on dating sites just to chat with someone.
“I was doing it just to feel like I was in a relationship,” she says.
And to earn some money, Mirriam would patronise bars.
“Sometimes we would sit in a bar with my sister and when men bought us beer, we would not drink it, instead we would take it to the counter and exchange it for money so that we could buy something home,” she says.
But with a steady income through her business, Mirriam is now able to take her children to school.
But she has had to endure the tongue-lashing from people over her decision to bleach her skin and to promote bleaching. Sometimes people have insulted her on social media, but she says what she decides to do to her body is a personal matter.
“I feel good in this skin and no-one should come and tell me that I shouldn’t have done this,” she says. “This is a decision I made and no-one forced me. Even our parents used skin lightening products.”
As for Lillian, she was motivated to change her complexion after seeing her sister transform before her eyes.
“After seeing how my sister had changed, I also thought I should look like her,” she says.
Lillian seems to have hated her old dark skin so much so that she uses a derogative Nyanja term meaning fake product to describe herself before her transformation.
“Nenze gon’ga,” says Lillian as she bursts into laughter.
“I used to look like a girl who came from the village,” she adds.
Lilian says she used to feel bad about her complexion and usually suffered from low esteem.
“I used to feel shy when I went out, I couldn’t even wear something revealing,” she says.
“At least I’m now able to move with my head high,” says the 25-year-old.
Lillian, who is single, thinks men are more attracted to light-skinned women.
“Most men are attracted to my skin now,” she says. “They look at us to be expensive chicks. Any woman would love to look like divas, which we are.”
Lillian says her new skin has taken her to places.
The two sisters say their new look has even earned them roles in local movies, which are yet to be released.
Alisa Siyuni, who is Mirriam’s friend and one of her customers, has also bleached her skin.
Although she was already light-skinned, Alisa says she wanted to become even lighter.
Alisa is now almost the same complexion as her daughter, who is coloured with Caucasian blood.
“It is not a bad transformation,” Alisa says. “I am still a normal human being.”
She is dressed in an impossibly short red dress and readily shows off her new skin tone, which is accentuated by her long wig and heavy red lipstick.
“There is nothing wrong with it as long as there are no side effects,” she says.
Alisa is married and says her husband approves of her new complexion.
“When I started using the cream, my husband didn’t even notice,” she says. “I think he likes what he is seeing now.”
But Banzah Yumba, who is a beautician, thinks women who bleach their skin suffer from low self-esteem.
Banzah, who is dark-skinned herself, says when she was in school, she used to get bullied because of her dark complexion, which made her think that light-skinned women were more beautiful.
“I once entertained thoughts of bleaching my skin when I was a little older,” she says.
Banzah also thinks men get more attracted to light-skinned women, but she thinks it is foolish to judge beauty by the skin colour.
“There is a rush for women to become lighter nowadays,” she says.
Banzah blames the desire for women to become lighter-skinned on the Eurocentric view of beauty propagated mainly by the beauty industry.
“No-one should define beauty for me but myself,” Banzah says assertively.
As Mirriam and Alisa wander away in the crowded mall, they have many eyes rolling their way; people admiring their beauty or perhaps gobsmacked by the shortness of Alisa’s red dress? Or maybe both, who knows?
 

Kafue Flats: A threatened wetland


Moonga (left) is worried about the spread of the Mimosa plant. (Main picture) A small herd of the Kafue Red Lechwe with a flock of water birds.


Kafue Flats: A threatened wetland


JACK ZIMBA, Monze
BACK in April, while flying from Mongu, I beheld its breathtaking beauty – like a huge canvas painting spread for miles on end.

Even from a thousand metres above, the eyes could only frame in so much of the shades of green broken by shimmering patches of silver, turning to gold as the afternoon sun waned. Such is the beauty of the Kafue Flats.
After coursing for several hundred kilometres from its source at Kipushi on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kafue River seems to just dissipate, breaking up into oxbows, lagoons, tributaries and ponds. The result is this expanse of grassy plains covering an area of 6,500sq km.
Six months later, here I was again crossing the flats, except this time I was not flying over it, but driving through it.
And sadly, the picture-perfect image of the Kafue Flats that I had seen from the skies is not as perfect from the ground.
This grassy wilderness, which is home to the Kafue Red Lechwe, an endemic antelope species, is under threat from human activities and an invasive plant called Giant Sensitive Tree or Mimosa Pigra, a native of Central America. The “sensitive” in its name probably refers to its reaction to touch – the Mimosa’s leaves retract when touched.
The plant is believed to have been introduced by European farmers in the pre-independence period who had settled in the Lochinvar area.
According to Griffin Shanungu, a leading ecologist working for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the increase in the area covered by woody and shrub species in Lochinvar National Park on the Kafue Flats has impacted mammal habitats by reducing the area of grassland.
And here, the Mimosa has no natural enemy, and is armed with sharp spikes to defend itself. The Mimosa has already claimed over 20 percent of the parkland in Lonchinvar, blocking access routes for the Lechwe, while in some instances it has pushed the animal closer to human habitations in the game management area.
Mr Shanungu says studies show that in 1980, the plant only covered about two hactares.
“By 1986, that shrub had covered about 100ha, and now, the cover of Mimosa Pigra is about 3,000ha,” he says.
There is now an ambitious plan to physically remove the plant, although other means such as biological and chemical methods are still being studied.
Mr Shanungu says the spread of the Mimosa is a big conservation issue on the Kafue Flats.
“If it is left unchecked, we face a risk of the entire wetland area within the Kafue Flats being occupied by this plant. It is not eaten by anything, the local people don’t use it for firewood, so if nothing controls it, it will just continue growing. We will wake up one day to find that the huge swath of grassland has been overtaken by Mimosa Pigra and all the animals displaced. And we will lose an animal that is not found anywhere else but here in Zambia, and that will be a disaster,” says Mr Shanungu.
There may be various reasons for the spread of the Mimosa Pigra, but one of them, according to Mr Shanungu, could be the changing hydrology of the Kafue Flats.
The Kafue Flats sit between two dams – the Itezhi-tezhi Dam and the Kafue Gorge – and that in itself has created problems for the wetland. In many ways, the natural hydrology of this landscape has been altered.
While the two dams answer to the country’s ever increasing energy needs, and account for about 50 percent of the hydroelectricity produced, their existence may have huge negative impact on this ecological area.
“We never used to have this lagoon before. The water used to start from there,” says Wilfred Moonga, the area warden as we stand at the edge of a pool of water.
Because of unnatural flooding, areas that never used to get flooded are now under metre-high water while others have become drier.
According to a 2017 status report of the Kafue River by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the impact of human influences and socio-economic development on the Kafue Flats wetland ecology has largely been negative.
“While the details of the causal linkages require further investigation before conclusions can be drawn, it is clear that the change in the flow regime due to the construction of the Itezhi-tezhi and Kafue Gorge dams for hydropower production has been one of the key drivers of change. Changes in floodplain habitat availability and vegetation community structure, mainly the reduction of the area of grassland which constitutes the original floodplain vegetation and breeding habitat for waterbirds and fish, have had the most direct impact,” the report says.
Mr Moonga says there is need to find a way of regulating the water flow to mimic the natural flooding of the area in order to restore the integrity of the wetland and the animals that depend on it.
Kafue Flats is one of the most important ecological zones in Zambia with unequalled biodiversity, with over 400 bird species. It also supports about one million people and the country’s largest cattle population in Namwala.
The disturbance of the Kafue Flats also spells doom for the Kafue Lechwe.
About a century ago, the Kafue Lechwe roamed these plains in their hundreds of thousand, but now only a few thousand remain to fight a seeming unwinnable battle against poachers who have found a ready market in the capital, and an invasive plant that is claiming more and more of its habitat by the day.
The first documented count of Kafue Lechwe in 1931 revealed an estimated 250,000 animals on the flats. By the 1970s, the six-digit figure had fallen to about 93,000. By the early 1980s, the population had decreased by more than half, and was restricted to the areas protected by Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks and the surrounding Game Management Area.
In the most recent aerial survey conducted by the Department of National Parks, Kafue Lechwe numbered about 28,000.
According to the department, approximately 1,000 Kafue Lechwe are lost to poaching on the Kafue flats annually.
The Kafue Lechwe is now fighting extinction, and is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2008.
The Kafue Lechwe may not be as iconic as other endangered species such as the rhino, but it is considered as a keystone species of the Kafue Flats, meaning the existence of this ecosystem is hinged on its survival.
“It is easy for us to reverse the negative trends. If we put our resources together and empower the government departments that are working there, we can completely conserve that animal. It only takes protecting it from massive poaching, it only takes us investing resources to remove that invasive plant and the population will start increasing again,” Mr Moonga says.
Without any deliberate action, the lechwe could become extinct in just a few years. The only Kafue Lechwe future generations may be able to see is the life-size sculpture of the antelope in the lobby of the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

Iconic E.W. Tarry building gets facelift

The first top picture shows the E.W. Tarry building in the 1950s and, below, the building now undergoing reconstruction.   Ic...