I sat amidst stone crushers near the Kafue Road in Lusaka. Not an easy place to spot. The stone crushers have been hidden behind heaps of piled stones. I sat down with some “elderly” women and their children. Together we talked as they crushed stones. I could not concentrate on our chat, as my thoughts were fixed on one of the crying children that sat next to one of the women, I could tell it was the mother. This was the 6th of June, a cold month in Zambia. It is cold and windy. Even if I’m used to the cold climate of the North, I could feel the cold breeze of June hitting the skin of my bare arms. The children did not have sweaters on and the crying child did not have anything to cover her bottom. There were stones all around her.
The crying child in front of me carried a sad and worn out face. Her face and skin had been torn from the rough wind, the dust, and the stones she was exposed to. When she cried her skin cracked deeper into her face leaving huge marks and large lines in her tiny face. I could tell the tears made her cracked skin more painful. She had many reasons to cry. For a while I kept my eyes off her, as heavy warm tears gathered into my own eyes. Looking at her was painful. I asked for her name and the woman sitting next to the child said. Her name was: ‘Taonga’ (Meaning ‘Thanks’)
Taonga, the crying little girl, whose mother was busy crushing stones to meet the deadline, comforted herself by taking a hammer, which was lying next to her and like the mother started hitting on the stones. In her own world she was either playing or copying the mother. She could barely lift the hammer yet she manage very well. Hammers were the only toys these kids had. There were no words that can describe this situation. Helplessly tears ran down my cheeks. I looked up the cloudy blue skies and wondered if truly there was someone watching this kind of oppression in this place. But again, another thought stricked me. How could anyone so far away, watch and do something about this kind of oppression, when the people nearby, the people living in this same town did not do anything to change this situation?
The little girl hit the stones, dropped the hammer, begun crying, stopped crying, picked up the hammer, and started the process over again. Instead of being strong, I felt weaker and weaker. I could hardly speak or move myself. I put my camera and writing papers away and just observed as I waited and gathered strength from my inner senses.
I observed other children in other groups, slowly and silently crush stones. Some children looked as if they were playing with the hammers yet they were in the process of learning. The women sitting on the ground next to me told me that the children became experts in stone crushing when they were around 6 years of age. I thought about the United Nations Rights for kids. About how unfair these rights functioned in our stagnating country. Where were the UN Rights for kids in Zambia? Where were the expatriates who spoke so highly about themselves and their jobs? What about the economists, the Zambian journalists? They could expose this evil on a daily basis until someone somewhere reacted. Were where the priests, the pastors and their rich church members?
One woman told me that the Jesus Christ Ministries came to take some of their children for education. But the children still returned to stone crushing after school. The kids do not have another kind of life. They do not know how to play. Their life is work. And I was still astonished to see children around. I asked the women; if the Jesus Christ Ministry had taken some of the children away to school why were there kids around? The women did not want to answer the question, but the kids told me that they had been going to a school without toilets and water. Thus the school had been closed.
One of the women who told me her name was Esnat Mulenga, looked at me with such a warm smile. I stared back at her between tears and asked her: “How old are you Esnat?” She smiled shyly and said: “I was born in 1979. I’m 25. I started this job in 1999 when I was 20 years old, and this is my first born, she is 9 months old”. She pointed at Taonga, the crying child as she held the hammer in her small hands. Where is the father I asked. She told me he was also working as a stone crusher on the Lusaka West road.
I was in shock. I stared at Esnat and was deeply grieved. I was older than Esnat Mulenga but she looked older than my mother. In tears I turned to the other women and asked the same question. Several women told me they were born in 1979 and 1980. Most had started crushing stones in their teens. I felt numb and realised that half the people working in this place were orphans and youths, who just looked 20 times older than average people, because of the oppressed life they had been forced to live. By lunch I could hear most of the infants aged between 4 months and 2 years, crying. I gave their parents some money to buy something, but how long was I going to manage this?
I tried to crush a stone but was told that I needed to learn about the tactics. First, one had to take care of one’s fingers, the eyes and the whole body. Then one had to be careful that pieces of stones did not go flying hitting and hurting others. There were more rules. In fact I needed great discipline to fulfil the job. I asked why the children were allowed to crush stones? The answer was psychological. Beacuse the hammer was not used with the same strength as that of an adult.
I asked how much stone was needed to fill up a wheelbarrow, and how much the women and children got for the work done? The women said: “The wheelbarrow must be mountain full and costs 2,500 kwacha (50 USA cents) for a wheelbarrow! I asked how long it took to feel up the wheelbarrow? “It takes a week and some days”. Replied a Ms. Soko, one of the women. They all had a wheelbarrow each to fill up. The women did not know who put up the price. But as we talked I saw 4 trucks loading crushed stones unto their trailers. Out in the big world these stones were big business.
I’m very worried, because there is nothing that costs 2,500 kwacha in Zambia. Let alone live on 2,500 for a minute, a day or a week. These women live in shanties, far from home and they have to wake up very early in the mornings to walk to town to work. They need transport, they need to feed their children, pay rent, buy clothes, medicine, water, and they need to feed themselves. How does one do that from a 2,500 kwacha??? Where are Zambia’s leaders, where are the International Financial Institutions (IFI) sitting on Zambia’s economy, where are the price controllers and all other Zambians??
These people and their babies need protection. Their babies need nursery and education. Proper education. The adults need good salaries, they need gloves, protecting eyeglasses, a good work place and working clothes, food, and the government must provide all these. Unless the government tell us that they have lost all Sovereignty to the International Financial Institutions. (IFI) The stone crushers are hard working and are trying hard to make ends meet. There is no toilet where they work. No water or food. The women complained that most of the children, women and men working as stone crushers die from hunger related diseases, inculding dehydration.
In order for anyone to understand that this is not a woman’s, or youth, or 9 months old babies’ job or play-ground, one needs to sit with these people and learn to crush stones, feel how it feels, and I challenge all Zambian leaders to try stone crushing. This place is hell on earth. And the only sin these people have committed is to be born on Zambia’s soil. Most of these people do not know what weekend or Christmas is. They work through out the year. Unless some church come to remind them it is Sunday, and that they have to keep it holy.
If only churches could ask how much people earn first, before they asked for offering. They would be stunned to learn that even Jesus Christ would get pissed off if he gave one of his children some money or a good resource, and the child gave it all away to a church somewhere. Christ could say: I gave you but you gave it all away. You did not need it. But again how would Christ punish his children, when he knows his beloved ones have been brainwashed to believe that giving everything away brings one blessings, or that Christ gives back? There must be good men and women, good politicians that can save this situation. I have seen men and women drive vehicles costing 200,000 pounds in Lusaka. What’s such a car for when fellow Zambians are perishing in poverty?
What amazed me most as I talked with the stone crushers, were the expensive cars that drove by. And the smart drivers who seemed not to care about what they saw. Where were all these rich people heading? I dusted myself and parted with the stone crushers and followed the cars.
They drove to a company, whose name is protected in this article. These people were customers buying kitchen/toilet floors, units, and graveyard monuments. I went inside the offices and asked how much a kitchen unit would cost me? I was told that it all depended on what I wanted and how much I was willing to part with. Some kitchen units went up to 10 million kwacha. Around 3.000 USD. What about tombstones? Ho, this was one hot business. Tombstones were sold daily and started from around a million going up to 6 million. Not to forget people are dying in Zambia. So who were the customers? I asked. I was told that it was mostly those with money. Businessmen, ministers, people who have no problem with money. But are these people blind not to see the suffering people outside the gates? Truly the story of Lazarus from the bible need not be repeated in this case?
Zambians are neglecting the living, and caring for the dead. They rather put 10 million kwacha in the ground covering it all up with expensive tombstones while the living gnash their teeth for mercy. Some go to South Africa just to buy tombstones. My question is; what do people get out of such actions? Do they think the dead will be happy or pleased or sad that they never got an expensive tombstone? I got so disgusted that a decree with my family was made never to lay a tombstone on my grave, but to plant a tree there. That’s what our forefathers did. And let the money be used on the living. I talked to a man on the same issue he said: “Zambians are strange people, they fail to preach and to love their families and friends when they are alive. But they preach on their tombstones, putting verses, and showing love when their beloved ones are dead, do they think the dead care?”
I went back to the stone crushers and as I passed by one family, a man asked me to take pictures of him and his family. He also asked me to send the pictures back to him, which I promised I would do through a friend. I took several pictures of his family and the surrounding. Chocked in sorrow, I thought about how so much useful resources and time was spent on the dead and death in Zambia. And how the people could rebuild this nation and eradicate poverty within days if they stood together. But with the False Education done through the radio and the False Godly Mentality of holier than thou that has spread all over Zambia, I wonder how this will be achieved.
There is no connection between Christianity and reality in Zambia. Very few people realise this. For most Zambians, the poor are not doing fine because they are not God fearing. And those doing fine are God fearing. I wonder if Lazarus of the bible was not God fearing when he was poor. Zambians and Politicians must demand new economic laws from their lenders, laws that shall straighten up this country. Zambia is rotting as women and their 9-months and 16- year- old babies perish without love, education, medicine, food and attention. No man has seen God. Thus, Zambians must start saving fellow man first, before they can save God whom they haven’t seen. This also means saying no to borrowing money from the International Banks, that prescribe problems as solutions for the people. Without borrowing no man can be a slave.