The Manyando family's dream to establish themselves in the Chilanga district of Lusaka West has been shattered by the severe pollution originating from the operations of Marcopolo Tiles, a company co-owned by government and private interest and the United Capital Fertilizer (UCF) manufacturing plants.
Their initial vision of a promising future in the area, marked by substantial investments in property, livestock, and agriculture, has been marred by the devastating effects of environmental degradation.
Namatama Manyando, the farm manager, shared with MakanDay that they acquired the property in 2009 from Albert Mumba, primarily because of its proximity to the road.
"In 2009, when we first acquired the land, the region was predominantly agricultural, with no industrial presence, just farms. When Marcopolo established itself in the area, we experienced minimal pollution because they did not transport many raw materials for tile production near our residential neighbourhood," she said.
Manyando explained that the pressing and unforeseen issue of environmental pollution has overshadowed their dreams. This predicament has unintentionally been set in motion by the two prominent manufacturing giants operating in the area.
She added that, as a family, they are now considering relocating and selling the land to Marcopolo because they have received limited support from the two neighbours who purchased land in the area.
Manyando and her family are not the only ones affected. Several residents living close to the two plants have been experiencing persistent coughs, chest infections, and eye problems due to the dust generated by the operations.
Additionally, they have voiced their concerns about the smoke and noise pollution from the plants, particularly during night time production, which significantly disrupts the sleep patterns of nearby residents.
Revealing Weaknesses in the Land System
The ongoing battle of the Malcom community against pollution from co-owned industrial giants exposes weaknesses in Zambia's dual land governance systems – statutory and customary.
According to the African Journal of Land Policy, of the total land mass of the country, which amounts to over 752,000 square kilometres, customary land is estimated to make up 94 percent, while state land constitutes approximately six percent.
However, these figures may not reflect the changes that have occurred due to land conversions from customary to statutory tenure, a process initiated after the enactment of the Lands Act in 1995, which allowed for such conversions.
As a result, it is likely that state land now comprises more than 6%, while customary land constitutes less than 94%.
An official from the Ministry of Lands, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that despite the existence of laws intended to protect local communities from land displacement due to investments, the weak application of these laws often results in displacements happening without adequate compensation for the loss of livelihoods.
It remains unclear how Marcopolo and UCF acquired land in a farming settlement to set up manufacturing plants that are now causing distress to the local community, without a clear resettlement plan for the inhabitants.
The hidden costs
While these two companies have made great contributions to much-needed job creation in the country, their expansion has come at a significant cost to the local community of Malcom.
The primary source of pollution is rooted in the dust and emissions generated by the raw materials used in their operations, inflicting severe consequences upon nearby residents.
A price on human life and the environment
The emissions resulting from UCF's fertilizer production process have caused severe damage to neighboring houses. The noxious smoke and chemicals released during production have accelerated the corrosion of roof sheets, resulting in structural issues and jeopardizing the safety of the residents.
Moreover, the dust originating from the raw materials stock piled outside Marcopolo's facilities has settled on residences and even trees.
This has created an environment where residents find it increasingly challenging to access clean air, negatively impacting their health and overall well-being.
A call to action
The community of Malcom is now confronted with an urgent need for action to mitigate these detrimental effects on their lives.
Community leaders say it is imperative that addressing the pollution caused by Marcopolo's dust emissions and the damage inflicted by the fertilizer plant's smoke becomes an immediate priority to restore the community's health and ensure the safety of their homes.
Voices of concern
In a recent visit to the community, a MakanDay journalist engaged with its residents, who openly voiced their grievances regarding the two companies.
Some residents also expressed concerns about Marcopolo Tiles' practice of acquiring farms from local landowners to expand their operations.
They observed that the construction of perimeter walls around the purchased land and the storage of raw materials, such as clay soil, gravel, coal, and stones, within these enclosures, result in the emission of dust particles.
Mumba Lubinga, chairperson of Malcom Market, a local trading centre, pointed out that these issues only arose when the two companies started their operations.
"Smoke emissions from the fertilizer plant have been a persistent issue, causing our roofs to corrode and appear aged, as well as negatively affecting plant life in our community," said Lubinga.
He said last year, as a united community, they formally raised their concerns with the company's management, which even visited their community, capturing photographic evidence of the deteriorating iron sheets and the harm to our crops.
He said at that time, the companies made assurances to address their grievances, but regrettably, no tangible action has been taken to date."
Another community leader, Francis Mwanza, a pastor at one of the local pentecostal churches, serving as the secretary of Malcom Section A, voiced his concerns about the numerous issues the community has endured.
These problems include excessive dust, disturbing noise, and noxious smoke emissions, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the residents.
Urgent government intervention
"We are witnessing a rise in cases of chest infections within our community due to the continuous exposure to smoke and dust," Mwanza said.
Additionally, he said rearing animals has become a significant challenge.
“For instance, my chickens have stopped laying eggs, and even goats, known for their resilience among domestic animals, are succumbing to these adverse conditions,” he said.
“We urgently require government intervention to address this pressing situation and find solutions to preserve the quality of life in our community."
Mwanza emphasised that, as a community, they appreciate the job opportunities provided by the companies. However, they firmly believe that these opportunities should not come at the expense of human life and well-being.
Charles Chisi, another community member, further highlighted the detrimental impact of the fertilizer plant's emissions on the community.
He revealed that approximately 103 farmers experienced crop failures during the 2022/2023 farming season due to the chemicals emitted by the fertilizer plant.
In response, the community took proactive steps by engaging the Ministry of Agriculture's extension officers, who conducted on-site visits, captured photographic evidence, and conducted thorough investigations.
Chisi told MakanDay that following the extension officer’s comprehensive investigations, the officers returned with a list of approximately 100 farmers who were deemed eligible for compensation.
He said as community leaders, they dutifully presented this list to the general managers of both companies.
Unfulfilled promises persist
“Regrettably, despite assurances, we have not yet received any compensation,” said Chisi.
“The initial letter was delivered in March of this year, underscoring a concerning pattern where promises are made to our community but remain unfulfilled,” he added.
MakanDay spoke to a senior agricultural official from Chilanga district, who requested anonymity.
The official confirmed that earlier this year, representatives from the Malcom Community visited the Ministry of Agriculture office in Chilanga District. During their visit, they raised concerns about pollution caused by UCF in the area, specifically highlighting that since the initiation of UCF's operations, smoke emissions had significantly damaged their crops.
"Subsequent to the verbal complaints, an agriculture extension officer was dispatched to the area for an assessment. Following the assessment, a report was compiled, explicitly identifying UCF as the company responsible for the smoke emissions leading to crop failure during the 2022/2023 farming season," the official said.
The official added that the company was subsequently requested to provide compensation to the affected farmers. However, UCF declined, arguing that the community had also submitted a complaint letter to Marcopolo, accusing them of contributing to environmental pollution.
He explained that the Ministry of Agriculture office in Chilanga district was initially unaware of the complaint against Marcopolo Tiles. This revelation prompted the reconsideration of the report, as it was originally one-sided and biased in favourof one company.
“We are currently in the process of preparing a new report that will cover all relevant information.
He said the previous report cannot be released to the public as it is vital to create a comprehensive and balanced one.
Ownership and affiliations
Marcopolo Tiles has earned its reputation as the leading tile manufacturing company in Zambia, providing Southern Africa with high-quality porcelain, ceramic, and glazed anti-slip floor and wall tiles. UCF, on the other hand, stands out as the premier producer and supplier of high-quality, affordable fertilizer products in Southern Africa.
According to records from the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA), Marcopolo was registered in July 2016. The company exhibits a notably diverse ownership structure, comprising Zambians, a Zimbabwean, and Chinese nationals.
The board of directors consists of Zambian individuals, namely Muchindu Kasongola, Roy Chisanga Mwamba, Priscilla Bwembya Chanda, Mwewa Kyamilandu, and Mapange Nsapato, who serves as the company secretary. The majority shareholders include Chinese directors Zhang Lingling and Huang Yaochi.
The records show that several business entities are connected to Marcopolo as shareholders. These entities include the National Pensions Scheme Authority, Industrial Development Corporation Limited, the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board, Wuxi Zhangzan Trading China, Wonderful Construction Zambia and Wonderful Industry Zambia Company Limited, among others.
In addition to Marcopolo, UCF, established in 2021, is jointly owned by both Zambian and Chinese nationals.
Furthermore, two other business entities, Boffar Machinery Equipment Zambia Limited and Wonderful Group of Companies Limited, maintain close affiliations with UCF.
MakanDay has uncovered that the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (Zema) is well aware of the pollution issues and the complaints from residents, yet no concrete action has been taken.
MakanDay submitted queries to both Zema, Marcopolo Tiles and UCF regarding the pollution concerns in Malcom. However, as of now, no responses have been received.
Initially, Zema had indicated that a comprehensive response would be provided, but nearly two months later, their comprehensive reply has yet to arrive.
Manyando, one of the managers of a farm in Malcom, explained that while investments undoubtedly bring benefits to the country, it has become increasingly clear that investors are often granted excessive freedom, which can lead to adverse consequences for the Zambian people.
“We do not oppose the presence of investors. However, it is crucial to scrutinise how effectively the government monitors these companies to ensure they uphold their initial commitments,” she said.
“Neglecting environmental concerns can have a ripple effect, impacting not only the environment but also the well-being of the workers employed by these companies.”
Edited by Charles Mafa