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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 January, 2005, 13:47 GMT
Living on a dollar and a prayer
By Solomon Omollo
BBC Africa Live! Zambia

Dominic Nkhata, his wife Patricia and their two year old daughter
Dominic Nkhata with his wife Patricia and their two year old daughter

Dominic Nkhata, 29 and his wife Patricia, 27 are a young Zambian couple with a two-year-old daughter.

Dominic works as a factory hand while Patricia is a housewife.

The couple are also responsible for four orphans, the children of Dominic's deceased sisters.

The family live in two rooms in one of Lusaka's poorer neighbourhoods, a shanty town called Garden Compound, about five kilometres outside Lusaka city, and are typical of the millions of Africans who live on less than a dollar a day.

Dominic earns 525,000 kwacha a month as his gross pay.

After tax and other deductions, he's left with only 300,000 kwacha - roughly $40 - to take home with him.

Juggling this meagre income then becomes Patricia's headache - Dominic just hands the money to her: "When I get that money I just get confused.

"I tell her, just make your budget, whatever you plan is alright with me," he says.

Making ends meet

The first thing Patricia does is to pay the rent, which takes up almost all the money. "After paying the rent", she says, "I sometimes have only about 10,000 kwacha ($2) left.

One month's salary here for some people is only enough to carry you for the first week of the month. What a pity!
Solomon, Warri, Nigeria

That money is only enough for one day. The next morning I have to go and borrow some food or money from my family".

Patricia buys her food at a local market stall. She spends half of her remaining money - $1 - on lunch.

For six people, she can only afford six teaspoons of rice, three tomatoes, two tablespoons of cooking oil, two onions and some salt.

It's hardly a nutritious meal. The rest of the money will be spent on an equally meagre supper.

It is all the more important that Patricia and Dominic should have a good diet, because it could actually help prolong their lives - like two million other Zambians they are infected with the HIV virus.

Buying drugs of any kind is also out of the question for Dominic and Patricia.

Patricia and Dominic's situation is not unique.

In their neighbourhood, almost everyone buys their groceries on credit if they want to eat, and according to Patricia, many families in Garden Compound eat once a day.

That's all they can afford.

Food basket

"We can't buy anything with that money," Patricia says. "The food, clothing, school fees.

We look after four orphans too but we can only afford for one of them, the boy, to go to school. The rest are at home".

Kitwe kids
Many Zambians live below the poverty line

Patricia is not happy about the way they live.

"We use a pit latrine and the water pipe is too close to the latrine.

Also the houses are so close together that you always fear catching tuberculosis from your neighbours. When someone starts coughing you know you can catch it".

The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection is an organisation which campaigns against poverty in Zambia.

For several years now it has been carrying out a simple survey of prices of basic goods a family in Lusaka would need.

It came up with what is popularly known here as the food basket.

According to Mueme Mueme of the centre, the food basket in the Zambian context includes mealie meal, beans, vegetables, tomatoes, onions, a packet of sugar, a few kilogrammes of meat and eggs.

He says these are essential requirements for basic human survival and every economy should be able to provide this.

Living in luxury

Before Christmas I asked Zambia's finance minister, Peter Ngandu Magande, who is to blame for the poverty of so many of his countrymen.

He wrote: "Poverty . . . Most times is the perception of other people who decide to give a tag of poverty to another person . . . Only two days ago, someone in Europe defined me as being poor because I receive a monthly salary of $1,400 against his $5,000".

He conceded that privatisation had brought some poverty, but felt we were making too much of an issue of living on less than a dollar a day.

Television, radio, beer, a car, or a mobile phone, in a Zambian environment should be considered luxuries.
Ng'andu Magande, Zambia's Finance Minister

"In most of our Zambian communities, particularly in rural areas, people do not pay for water, lighting, housing and energy so it is true that many of them live on less than $1 a day.

But then how does this become a problem worth singing about all over the world?"

Asked how he would manage on a dollar a day he said he would buy 2 kilos of maize meal worth 2,400 kwacha and spend the balance on fish or meat, salt and soap for the day.

Maybe he knows a cheaper market than Patricia and Dominic!

He also said that some Zambians wanted to live beyond their means:

"On such a tight budget" he said "I will not afford television, radio, beer, a car, or a mobile phone, which in a Zambian environment should be considered luxuries.

Well, Dominic and his family do not have any of those. Having a square meal every day would be luxury enough.




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