IT’S no mere argument to say that during the colonial era and soon after independence, our public infrastructure was well maintained and most public officers had a fairly good work culture. Conversely, this assertion could be rebutted that the population was small and the country had ample resources to go round. Granted. But we can also ask what we have done with our production after our population had increased, and why we seem to have lost it along the way. Complaints about shoddy service from public officers is a daily reality that we all face.
Needless to say, a panoramic view of the post-independence era and ‘now’ is that, ‘then’ we had few town planners, but our township were decent and well planned. Today with hundreds of civil engineers and town planners around, you can’t tell who authorised to build certain structures, or why certain buildings are allowed to be constructed in particular designs that don’t seem to be compatible with standard architectural practices. I say so because such was not common in the past.
During the colonial eras, we probably did not have the Zambia Environment Management Authority (ZEMA), but our environment was spared. Today ZEMA looks helplessly as our environment is being plundered and our backyards and countrysides reduced to a shell of its former glory.
The comparisons could go on, but the question I have for every Zambian today is, ‘What shall our descendants think of us when they find that we have neglected our environment to their detriment? What will they think of us when they compare us with Singapore or Rwanda, countries that got independence at just about the same time as Zambia?
What would they think of us when they learn that the houses we left behind for them came from anthills, which are no longer there?
What would they think of us when they discover that the gaping holes on the Copperbelt were once copper mines?
In other words, what are we leaving for posterity?
In the recent past we have seen several rural areas being declared as new districts. But may I ask, do these districts have play parks, zoos, library or even sewer ponds? Are streets given names and houses numbered? Food for thought.
During the 1970s, for example, local authorities, or what many loosely call ‘Ba council’ today, were the prime providers of the many social services that we need even today. I’m not exaggerating when I say they were efficient, because we had running water (for most of the time), garbage bins were provided and waste collected regularly. Streetlights were maintained and generally speaking, service delivery was fairly good.
Many townships, even those modest compounds like Kwacha in Kitwe where I grew up, had play parks and social amenities to take care of what residents needed. But this is not the case with most of our settlements today. What we see leaves much to be desired compared to what our colonial masters left behind.
It appears to me that over the years we adopted the laissez faire or ‘I don’t care’ attitude in many instances. I have used the word laissez faire loosely to drive the point home because many institutions, especially government ones and other parastatal companies leave much to be desired in their current form. Reporting for work late is one example I can cite, among many other ills.
Today people are given a building permit but the area is not serviced and the local authorities have no capacity to supervise what is being built. Hence you find, in the same area, buildings of all kinds of architectural designs – the frontage or the backside of the houses facing in any direction. Where there’s supposed to an access road or a play park, someone would build a structure there. Because of lack of supervision from local authorities, people shift beacons to enlarge their plots. What you find then is houses with no roads, or if any, the road can just allow one car at a time. Today anyone can build any structure anywhere. Look at our markets or bus stations. There seem to be no order whatsoever.
I’m fearful to look at the year 2100 and see that all anthills will have gone because today every house being built is at the cost of anthills. Our children will wake up one day and find that they are living in townships with no play parks, no libraries, no nothing.
All these sentiments or questions are not meant to embarrass those in authority, but rather ask the all-important question that, after we have done all for the current generation, what do we leave behind for posterity?
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