Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Gabriel Ellison: the woman who kept us posted

Gabriel Ellison


 GABRIEL Ellison, who died last Tuesday, aged 87, was one of Zambia’s pioneering artists with some of the most famous designs associated with every-day life.
And yet Mrs Ellison, herself, remained a little-known figure, and perhaps not appreciated as much.

This may be largely because Gabriel Ellison was not one to blow her own trumpet or to walk in the limelight.
“She was a very private person,” says Cynthia Zukas, who was a friend of Mrs Ellison’s.
A private person, yet her works scream from the walls of many public as well as private buildings; from the hallways of State House and the sacred walls of the Cathedral of the Child Jesus.
One of her biggest mosaics can be found on the front wall of Protea Hotel on Cairo Road.
But without doubt, her most common art pieces are the national flag and the Coat of Arms.
When Northern Rhodesia was granted independence in 1964, the administration asked Mrs Ellison to design the national flag to replace the Union Jack. She also designed the Coat of Arms and other national emblems.
In the Parliament Building, Mrs Ellison designed the mace, the rod that symbolises the Speaker’s authority, as well as the Speaker’s seat.
And yet, it seems, it was the little designs that Mrs Ellison is most well-known for – the postage stamps.
For about three decades, Mrs Ellison designed Zambia’s postage stamps. To the dot.com generation, that is a small adhesive piece of paper of specified value issued by a national post office to be affixed to a letter or parcel to indicate the amount of postage paid.
Yes, back when the mail box was not an icon on an electronic screen, Mrs Ellison was the group admin who kept us connected, and her little art works – stamps – found themselves in virtually every home.
Mrs Ellison’s stamp designs usually depicted life, especially in rural Zambia, although it is said that some of her human forms actually depicted life around her, even her own maids and gardeners.
Wildlife was also a common theme among her designs – birds, beetles and flowers.
Some of the designs were commemorative, marking important events.
Her stamps became well-sought-after by stamp-collectors or philatelists world over.
“I think internationally it was her stamps that made her famous,” says Mrs Zukas, herself a great artist. “Stamp collectors all over the world used to literally queue up on the day that Zambia produced a new stamp, I mean they were beautiful and quite unique.”
So powerful were her stamp designs that they inspired one village boy who came across them to become an artist.
Now an accomplished artist himself, Victor Makashi counts Mrs Ellison among his mentors in art.
Mr Makashi also says the stamps became tools of communication because of what they depicted.
Among the people who admired her art works was first republican president Kaunda. Actually it is said that soon after independence, Dr Kaunda had requested Mrs Ellison to give him lessons in painting and that he (Kaunda) affectionately called her “teacher”.
Mrs Ellison also authored a number of books and did illustrations for children’s books.
Gabriel Ellison was born Gabriel Ryan in Lusaka in 1930. Her parents met on an apple farm in Canada and later moved to Mexico, where they owned a cattle ranch. During the revolution in Mexico, her Canadian mother was threatened by the regime and the family escaped to England with only two mules and a dog.
In 1910, the family moved to then Northern Rhodesia, her father being part of the public administration.
Gabriel spent her childhood living on various farms and mining areas. During school holidays, she often travelled back to Britain to take up private studies in art.
She later worked in the graphics department in the Ministry of Information.
Ron Found had worked with Mrs Ellison in that department and the two would travel to many countries to mount exhibitions on behalf of the government.
Mr Found though says Mrs Ellison wasn’t much of a traveller.
From 1960 to 1972, Mrs Ellison headed the Visual Art and Exhibitions Section and travelled around the world to international trade fairs and exhibitions. Their work won them a number of awards, including two gold medals in Leipzig, Germany.
Mrs Ellison’s husband, Tony Ellison, was a policeman in the colonial administration.
Mr Found, who had been acquainted with the couple, describes Tony as “very English”.
Tony Ellison had been in the British army during the Second World War and when the war ended in 1945, he came to Zambia. He first served in the mounted police unit at Lilayi before working for the Ministry of Finance.
He later became director of the Zambia State Lottery, perhaps because Mr Ellison himself was a fun of gambling.
According to Cynthia Zukas, Tony Ellison was a great fan of his wife’s works.
The couple never had any children, but Mrs Ellison was very fond of children. She is also said to have been very fond of her servants.
“If there were people who were very close and who she loved, it was her servants and the people in the townships,” says Roy Kausa, who was her friend, although he also remembers her as a moody person.
“But she had a lot of time for her house servants,” adds Mr Kausa.
Mrs Ellison also loved animals, especially dogs and horses. For years, she served as chairperson of the canine club and won awards as a dog trainer.
Mrs Ellison was not just a good artist, she was also a brilliant cook, says Mrs Zukas.
“Whatever she did, she did with perfection,” she says.
Mr Found still speaks about the elaborate birthday cake Mrs Ellison once baked for his daughter.
“When it came to catering, no-one would fault her,” he says.
Mrs Ellison was honoured by both the British and Zambian governments for her contribution to the arts. She was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen of England, while the Zambian government awarded her the Grand Officer of Distinguished Service.
But Mr Kausa thinks she was still not given the honour that she deserved for her service to the country she loved.
Yes, Mrs Ellison did not just design symbols to give Zambia its identity, she identified herself with it, and her love for the country of her birth was unquestionable.
“You could never say a bad word about Zambia. She was always 100 percent Zambian. She was truly a Zambian and she thought Zambia was the best place in the world,” says Mr Found.
After the death of her husband in the 1990s, Mrs Ellison lived for years alone in her house in Kabulonga.
But she later requested to live with Mr Found and his family and sold her house.
“I think the house was becoming too much for her,” says Mr Found.
But it seems moving in with a family did not help her much either.
“She was getting more and more infirm and not able to look after herself very well. My wife would send food to her and more often than not she would give it to her servants, so she wasn’t eating well either,” says Mr Found.
After staying with the Founds for a couple of years, Mrs Ellison decided to go and live with her sister in Johannesburg, South Africa, but it is said that her sister’s upstairs home was not ideal for her and so she ended up in an old people’s home until her death.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Local potato farmers in turf war

WORKERS sort potatoes at Chartonel farm in Lusaka. PICTURE:JACK ZIMBA

ZAMBIA and South Africa may be perfectly at peace, but farmers on either side of the Limpopo River may be engaged in a trade war.
Around a table in the boardroom at the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) offices in Lusaka, there is some tough talking from some local commercial and small-scale farmers. Top on their discussion menu is potatoes, and a bit of onions and tomatoes.
This is a fruits and vegetable working group, formulated to lobby Government to protect the interests of local farmers from cheaper vegetable imports.
What is currently worrying the farmers is cheaper imports of potatoes from South Africa that have flooded the local market.
According to the farmers, South African potato markets are currently over supplied due to a bumper harvest in the Eastern Freestate on the back of good rains.
“I have investigated the issues as these potatoes are spilling over into our markets and the market information is that this will continue until the end of August. The Zambian growers cannot compete at these levels and are already selling at below cost of production. The South African farmers are also selling below their costs at the moment,” says Antony Barker, who is director for Buya Bamba Limited.
But over-production and over-supply is South Africa’s problem not Zambia’s problem, argue the farmers.
“The request to regulate imports into the country is of utmost importance, as the Zambian market is a lot smaller than the markets from which imported potatoes are being brought, hence the Zambian market is extremely sensitive to oversupply,” says Mr Barker.
The farmers want Government to regulate the importation of potatoes the same way it has done for crops such as wheat.
“Fruits and vegetables, with a specific reference to potatoes, onions and tomatoes, are part of the staple diet of the Zambian people and there should be no reason why parallels cannot be drawn between the potato industry with the likes of wheat with regards to regulating imports,” argues Mr Barker.
Buy-local campaigners such as BuyZed Campaign have also joined in the lobbying for regulation of potato imports.
Evans Ngoma is the management consultant for BuyZed. He says if Government wants an agriculture-based economy, it should ensure that crop marketing favours the farmers.
Mr Ngoma says Government should not allow what has happened in the soya bean sector to happen in the potato industry.
Prices in the soya bean sector have crashed due to over-supply on the local market.
The farmers also want Government to compel local food chains to stock local produce where it is available.
A representative from Shoprite, which is one of the biggest traders in potatoes, says the store is now buying its potatoes from local suppliers such as Buya Bamba.
Buya Bamba Limited, which operates on an out-grower scheme basis, has grown to become one of the major players in the potato sector. Actually, Mr Barker started as a small potato trader at Soweto market a few years ago.
Mr Barker says the potato sector can grow into a major employer.
“Government has issued many press releases that the economy needs to diversify from being reliant on copper and expand into agriculture in order to help with job creation and to empower the farmers to avoid the mass urbanisation that is taking place. We estimate that one hectare of potato production employs directly or indirectly four people. Therefore, the potato industry alone is employing an estimated 5,000 people,” he says.
One of the biggest potato growers in the country is Graham Rae, who owns Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Limited (ZRC). The company employs 800 people to work on its tobacco and potato fields.
With his crop almost ready for harvest, Mr Rae is concerned that the already flooded market may affect his US$6 million investment.
“ZRC is about to start harvesting our 2017 crop and I am extremely concerned at the quantity of imported table potatoes on the Zambian market,” he says.
But Mr Rae has even a bigger worry about the imports – biosecurity.
“I investigated the criteria that is involved in importing table potatoes into Zambia and compared them with that of South Africa, and I am completely shocked at the lack of phytosanitary requirements to import table tomatoes into Zambia and surprised at the complexity of the requirements to export into South Africa,” he says.
While phytosanitary regulations allowing importation of potatoes from South Africa are summed up in two paragraphs, Zambian farmers exporting potatoes into South Africa are subjected to a two-page checklist.
“In 2015, Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Limited attempted to export processing potatoes into South Africa but were blocked on the basis of the South African phytosanitary regulations,” says Mr Rae.
“How can the Zambian farmer be competing with the South African farmer in his own ‘back yard’? It must also be noted that Zambian farmers are not allowed to export either to Zimbabwe or to South Africa yet our borders are open to all,” says Mr Barker.
And Mr Rae’s fears about biosecurity are not unfounded. Two years ago, South Africa reported an outbreak of bacterial wilt in the Sandveld region. Bacterial wilt is considered one of the most destructive bacterial plant diseases in the world.
In 2005, the bacteria caused damage in the potato industry amounting to US$950 million globally.
What makes the bacteria even more notorious is the fact that it has many hosts, including soil.
“I request an immediate suspension of the issuing of an import permits for table potatoes until more stringent Zambian import requirements are put in place,” he says.
The other major concern for the farmers is that while it is easier for neighbouring countries to export into Zambia, local producers find it hard to export into markets across its borders.
And it is not only the southern border that the farmers are concerned about, Tanzania also is a major source of potatoes. And the border with Tanzania at Nakonde is one of the most porous in the country. Actually most of the potatoes that are said to come from Nakonde come from across the border.
And with Tanzanian potatoes, they are imported as unwashed potatoes, raising further concern about possible transfer of disease.
Zambian regulations do not allow importation of crops that have soil samples.
Mr Barker wants a phytosanitary laboratory to be set up at strategic places such as Kapiri Mposhi to check agriculture produce entering the country through the Nakonde border.
But critically missing from the discussion table is data. No one can tell the quantity of potatoes the country consumes for any given period of time, neither is it known exactly how much potato tonnage the country produces.
According to Mr Barker, the hactares planted for harvest and subsequent supply into the market from June to March 2018 is estimated at 1,200. This hectareage translates into 65,000 metric tonnes of potatoes.
“I can only know my levels when the borders are closed,” says Mr Barker.
And that uncertainty in the local supply chain is why Government is pussy-footing on regulation, according to one official from the Ministry of Agriculture.
He explains that Government fears creating a gap in the market once it imposes import restrictions, a gap that might cause prices to escalate.
But a representative from the fruit and vegetable association Duncan Chirwa says the traders sell about 1,800 tonnes of potatoes in a year, mostly imported from South Africa.
“At the moment we are getting most of our supplies from SA, which as a Zambian I feel is not good,”
“Our view is that our own agro industry must grow. We import just to meet the short fall,” says Mr Chirwa.
And one thing that the farmers in the group are all agreed upon is that there must not be an absolute ban on the importation of potatoes, but regulation.
Meanwhile, at Soweto market, the traders do not seem to mind which flag is printed on the bags of potatoes on their stands – whether Zambian or South African. It is business as usual.

Beggar moms using babies as bait

Esther Nyendwa with her two-month-old baby.

ON A cold June morning, Namukale Chella stands on the pavement at a busy junction in Lusaka, her 19-months-old son strapped to her back. She waits until the traffic light turns red, and then goes from car to car, asking for money.

The 24-year-old mother-of-two has memorised one line which she uses to beg for money or food: “Baby hungry, no food to eat,” she says gesturing to the baby on her back.
When she is tired of standing on the pavement, Namukale sits under a Jacaranda tree and breastfeeds her son. Her first-born son called Joshua, who is four years old, playfully tags at her mother, oblivious of the harshness of life the family faces.
Namukale is one of six young nursing mothers begging daily at this junction. Each of the young women has a sad tale to tell about the misfortune that brought them to the streets.
For Namukale, she started begging on the streets after the death of her parents. She has been begging now for six months.
She dropped out of school when she was in grade nine, but still dreams of going back to complete her secondary school education.
“When I was young, I wanted to become a lawyer,” she tells me.
After dropping out of school, Namukale fell pregnant for her first child, and then her second, with a Malawian man. The two never got married and the man was later deported because he did not have the right documentation.
Homeless and without support, Namukale and her children spent one year living rough at Intercity Bus Terminus.
She says she has relatives who could help her, but they have not offered her any help.
Namukale makes between K30 and K50 per day through begging. She uses the money to pay K150 for the small room she rents in John Laing township.
But not everyone sympathises with her plight, or indeed her son’s.
“Some people shout at us and insult us. They say we should go and look for jobs instead of begging on the streets,” she says.
Namukale says she has tried to find a job, but without success, and she has no one to leave her children with.
“Life is hard on the streets,” she tells me, as she dabs tears off her face with her bare hand.
The youngest of the six beggar moms is 17-year-old Seraphina Kalenga. She came to Lusaka some years ago from the Copperbelt, following her father.
Seraphina, who lives in Chibolya, became a mother when she was only 15. At that time, she was homeless and spending nights at the Intercity Bus Terminus.
Seraphina was 13 when she started life on the streets. She started by working as a guide for a blind man. Every day, she would guide the blind man to this same junction to beg. The two would then split whatever amount they raised 50/50.
When the blind man died last year, Seraphina continued to beg, but instead of using disability as a bait, she is now using her two-year-old son.
But Seraphina has also fallen prey to substance abuse.
After narrating her story, she pulls out a small bottle from her bra and holds it to her mouth and inhales. She is sniffing wood glue, a commonly abused substance among street children, with a knock-out effect.
“I need to get high so that I don’t feel shy when begging,” she tells me, as her friends giggle and laugh.
Among the beggar moms, 19-year-old Esther Nyendwa is nursing the youngest child. Her daughter, Blessings, is only two months old.
“I just want to raise money to buy diapers and food for my child,” she says.
But Esther is not happy because she has to compete for sympathy with the blind beggars.
“Today we have so many blind people here. People would rather give to the blind than us,” she complains.
And sometimes, there are turf fights among the women, themselves. Usually, it pits the old timers against the newcomers like Namukale.
Some of the beggar moms, like Neliya Nyirenda, have grown up on the streets.
Neliya, 21, has been on the streets since she was 10, and it shows. She has the roughest character of the five. She also has a tough look. Neliya also has a bottle of glue stashed in her bra.
Neliya does not have a child of her own, after a miscarriage a few years ago, but she keeps her sister’s child, who is almost two years old.
And then there, is 19-year-old Promise Lombe. Her son, Vincent Mwamba, is only 15 months old.
Promise was 11 when she started begging on the streets. She dropped out of school after the death of her mother, although, she says her mother was too poor to support her. In fact, she had moved into an orphanage while her mother was still alive.
But when the orphanage was closed, Promise had no support and so she returned to a hard life on the streets.
Promise now lives with her grandfather who works as security guard. She has never seen the father of her child since she gave birth.
She usually comes to this spot around 10:00 hours and returns home at 19:00 hours.
“I just want to make some money for soap and food for my child,” she says.
Her biggest fear living as a beggar is getting money from evil people or Satanists.
But that the mothers are exposing their babies to health risks on the streets is without doubt.
In fact, the sixth beggar mom, Mary Chilufya, is not out on the streets begging today, because her son Emmanuel was admitted to Kamwala Clinic with suspected pneumonia.
Chilufya is homeless, but spends nights at Intercity Bus Terminus.
When I visited Chilufya later at Kamwala Clinic, I found that she had gone out to look for money so she could pay for X-ray services requested by the clinic.
The use of children by beggars as sympathy baits is common in many parts of the world.
But child rights activist Henry Kabwe, condemned the practice of using children as tools for begging, saying children are supposed to grow in a safe environment.
He says begging is illegal in Zambia, and law enforcers must stop it.
“The fact that we are seeing those people begging on the streets shows that there is lack of enforcement of the law,” he says.
He says any law enforcer who hears that there is a mother with a two-year child on the streets must respond quickly. He adds that the mothers must also be made to account, and that society should not turn a blind eye to the situation.
Mr Kabwe also says the trend of beggar moms also shows that the country’s social welfare system is not well-organised.
He blames this partly on the lack of proper data, especially on children.
“Birth registration is a challenge. If a car is brought into the country, it is registered within two months, but you can decide whether to register the child or not,” he says.
Mr Kabwe says lack of documentation of children who are born in the country will make it difficult for Government to implement programmes such as the social cash transfer, because it will not have proper records of people who are vulnerable.
He also suggests that that the Ministry of Community Development partners with the private sector to help such mothers.
“Most of the poor in Zambia are supported by companies outside Africa,” says Mr Kabwe.
For Zambia Police Service, the problem needs to involve all those concerned with the welfare of children, as well as the local authority.
Police spokesperson Esther Katongo says police can round up the beggar moms, but has nowhere to take them.
“We need to look at it holistically,” she says. “We may pick them, but where do we take them; have we found them what to do?”
Mrs Katongo says begging, as well as giving alms is illegal in Zambia.
“Begging itself is an offence, but you look at the underlying factors,” she says.
Mrs Katongo says the women are pushed onto the streets because they have nothing to fall on.
She says what is important is that the women cover their children properly and that they are not being abused.
It is late afternoon, and I meet Namukale walking back home, her two children in tow. Life could not be harder for the young mother.

The train diaries: From Dar to Mulobezi by rail

  The Tazara passes through some remarkable landscapes. PICTURES BY JACK ZIMBA Anastasia enjoying the train ride.   Two r...