Eight people died while 28 others sustained injuries in a stampede which happened at the Olympic Youth Development Centre in Lusaka over food hampers on Monday. The crowd of over 35, 000 people jostled to enter the premises to receive the hampers which the Church of Christ was distributing after prayers. In the process, six women, a man and a boy died when the crowd trampled on them as they rushed to get a share of the food. This is unacceptable.
And the longer Edgar Lungu is in office, the higher will be the number of deaths over food or from food shortages. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Mother Teresa once said, “At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry you gave me to eat, I was naked you clothed me, I was homeless you took me in’. Hungry not only for bread but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks but homeless because of rejection.”
It is really undignified for people to die in that way, in a stampede for food. What those poor people needed to feel was respect for their human dignity, which is neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being. What those hungry people needed the most was not pity but love and respect. We need to realise that allowing a situation of hunger to develop to that level where 35,000 people step on each other to access food hampers is undignified. We need to realise that poverty doesn’t only consist of being hungry for nshima, but rather it is a tremendous hunger for human dignity. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
There is need for us to know why so many people are hungry and are ready to die in a stampede for food hampers. Hélder Câmara once said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
One can understand a few people scrambling for food but not 35,000. It means they had very little, if not nothing, to eat in their homes. This is understandable in a country where over sixty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and the dependency ratio is 95.4 per cent. With the rising unemployment levels, more and more of our people are going to find it very difficult to put food on the table. While this is happening, those in government are busy corruptly exporting maize to Malawi and other places. But as Che Guevara said, “The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.”
What is even more worrying is that this government has no meaningful plan to deal with the problem of hunger which is likely to increase in the coming months and years. With a population growth rate of 2.94 per cent, we don’t see how this country will be able to feed a doubled population in the next fifteen years. Today Zambia’s population is 16.2 million. At the current population growth rate, this means that in fifteen years’ time, Zambia’s population will be over thirty million. Given the current agricultural policies, where is the food going to come from to feed the doubled population? In addition to this, where will the housing come from? What will be the situation with water and sanitation?
World Food Programme says despite political stability and more than a decade of consistent economic growth, Zambia faces numerous food security challenges, under nutrition and chronic poverty. And 40 per cent of Zambia’s children under five are stunted due to poor nutrition.
If nothing is urgently done to ensure increased food security and reduction of poverty, the dignity of many Zambians will be undermined by hunger and more will die in search of food, in stampedes. An empty stomach knows no dignity.
What should be done? In trying to answer this question, we turn to what Howard Zinn once said: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory…Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient al lover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves…(and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”