STRIPPING AIRSTRIPS… IDEATIONS Goddy Chitty @Large

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Author: Godfrey Chitalu, a social commentator who writes for pleasure

THERE was a place in Lundazi, fondly referred to as Box 1 Kanele, which was reserved for an airstrip. During those good old days none dared to encroach that land because primarily, although few aircraft landed on it, it was meant to be an airstrip. I remember filing several radio newsreel stories from that strip of ground set aside for the take-off and landing of aircraft. Last week I was in Lundazi for a one-week assignment and had occasion to pass through what used to be the airstrip. What I saw is the genesis of this article.

Whenever I visit any District, which I have done multiple times for almost all Districts in Zambia, I feel let down by our collective impunity to wantonly decimate and parcel out land for selfish reasons. Lundazi airstrip is one of the many examples of selfishness at play. Several towns in the east have allowed so called people power to change airstrips and other designated parcels of land to non-descript, haphazardly built housing units.

In one town, it gave me an eerie feeling and goose pimples when I visited a once upon a time airstrip. Be it in Rufunsa, Chongwe, Luangwa or across Luangwa river itself, many airstrips have fallen victim to collective backwardness. How come people of old respected land reserved for airstrips? I’m sick and tired of seeing unplanned infrastructure, dotted with multi colored metal shops whenever I elect to pass through any airstrip.

In Kanele, like in most towns in Zambia, in the middle of what used to be open land airstrips are several mortal and brick houses. Locals seem to think that building houses on those revered strips of land is their best pension. The authority itself has been advocating time and again for the erection of a new Lundazi civic center and a mall on its airstrip; ironically igniting an internal fight with Kanelians. While finances are being sought for the venture, the locals are busy building or assigning themselves beacons. Since the penname Kanele refers to a disciplined Colonel, why are Kanelians indiscriminately and indisciplinely parceling out an important airstrip?

Although land has great symbolic and economic value, over the years that I have been working as an expatriate in the east from the north, I have seen many airstrips striped of their status. When you drive to any of the 14 Districts in the province, you will be amazed that airstrips are bubbling with unplanned housing developments. I bemoan the fact that our airstrips are no longer suitable to hold original functions.

Our fore fathers foregrounded certain measures which we are collectively spitting on. I wonder why our traditional cousins invented the adage “Konza Kapansi kakumwamba katsike”, loosely translated as “when you fix the basics, fruits naturally follow” if they can’t think about their future! We should not hamper the works of the Zambia Flying Doctor Service who have earned a good reputation. This organization can’t fulfil its obligations without good airstrips. Our country is losing airstrips at an alarming rate!

In the olden days, site selection for airstrips was done away from homesteads. Commercialization has changed the status quo, as these lands are slowly being taken over. A good site for an airstrip is something that has natural draining abilities and less surface undulations. This quality is also the same one being sought by that plot hungry resident, eager to erect a house. The onus is now on our local authorities to provide leadership through alternative land.

Most local authorities are resting on their laurels by failing to provide masterplans for housing development.  Everyone unfortunately has been elevated to the positions of housing officers and real estate developers. If this is not abdication of responsibilities on the part of civic authorities, then I’m very dumb! Ideally there should be a methodical way of identifying land for building houses. Pouncing on rarely used airstrips, which has been perfected by both citizens and civic leaders should not be the norm.

How do you feel when that occasional plane to your District is forced to land either on a golf course, as in the case of Chipata or on a football pitch? This is done without recourse to basic airstrip dimensions and physical characteristics and is increasingly worrying all of us. It is clear that airstrips in our country are being stripped and compromised by deliberate and avoidable actions. With three international airports, perhaps four if we add Mfuwe, our country need to up its game in protecting feeder airstrips.

Although I know that airstrips have their own safety concerns like equipment and infrastructure, my major worry is on squatters. I don’t care even if an airstrip has grass, gravel or paved runways; I just don’t want to see illegal squatters on our airstrips!

 For the next version of IDEATIONS Goddy Chitty @Large, Check Kalemba every Monday

Author: Godfrey Chitalu is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.

For feedback or reactions, email me: [email protected] / 0977466284

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