The Zambian Shanty Compounds – A Typical Example of Shared Lives

The Zambian shanty compounds, also known as shantytowns, usually have little or no access to electricity, running water and sewage systems. These settlements developed as a result of chronic housing shortage especially for the urban poor. Most shantytowns have developed on the outskirts of large urban centres.

Zambian Shanty CompoundThe Zambian Shanty Compound Market

Because they lack so many things, people have learned to share the little that they have got. Things like water, toilets, accommodation and several other facilities are shared (Communal). Even simple things like salt are lacking in several shanty households.

It's not 'living off' others, but it's how the residents of the shanty compounds survive; through shared lives. Although there's over population, people try by all means to survive with the meagre resources available. There's a strong inclination towards borrowing among the residents to cover their needs.

That's the reason why when there's an outbreak of a disease, it spreads fast, because the compound behaves like one big household.

There are so many things within your house that you normally take as life's essentials and have become part of you. But the situation is far much different with an average household in the shanty compounds. Take for example water. It may be in abundance elsewhere, but it’s one item usually in short supply in several shanty households. To fill the need, the shanty residents get the water from the next house or the communal tap where it's available.

This culture of sharing and borrowing extends even to accommodation itself. Imagine your neighbour has just got some visitors but his house happens to be too small. Where does he take his visitors? Your house of course will accommodate them!

A cigarette is another good example of an item that's extensively shared. If you are a smoker, just take a stroll in one of the shanty streets and take note of how many smokers will share your cigarette with you.

The sharing of life is also evident when it comes to homemade beverages like 'Umunkoyo' and 'Tobwa' and home brewed alcoholic beverages like 'Katata' and or 'Katubi' are communal drinks in the shanties and it's rare to find someone drinking in isolation. The residents enjoy taking their home brews in numbers. This is also true for the factory brewed beverages like chibuku.

If one can't afford the rentals, he or she goes and gets someone who's willing to share both the rentals and the house. The list of items shared is long. The people are at harmony with their surroundings, both physically and economically. So the residents survive mainly through shared lives.

The local grocer has adapted to the minimized needs of the shanty residents and sells his goods in small pre packs which are affordable to the residents. Take for example the staple food mealie meal (maize flour) which the grocer gets in bags of 25 kg or 50 kg, but he has to pre pack them in small quantities called 'Pamela' which are easily affordable to shanty residents. This is also true of necessities like sugar, cooking oil and salt. 

The biggest problem in the Zambian shanty compound is over population. A large number of rural Zambians who have migrated to the cities in search of a better life end up in these shanty compounds, thereby putting a very big strain on the limited resources. It's surprising that people continue migrating to these slums even with the prevalent environmental problems as a result of over population. The government has seen the problem of housing shortage and it's trying to catch up with the escalating need.

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