CITY SLICKER: LUSAKA

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
On Wednesday Lusaka celebrates 60 years as the capital of Zambia (formerly British-run Northern Rhodesia). What you need to know is ...

Hottest restaurant: The Lusaka Club. Ex-pat and embassy staff hangout run by a grizzled former copper from the Welsh valleys and his Mauritian wife. An informal, chummy lunch can be followed by a leisurely game of bowls on the green, a manicured outpost of Empire and, during colonial days, a honeypot for the city's elite. The Club is looking somewhat forlorn, due to the ex-pat exodus. They've been fleeing the city for South Africa or returning to the UK.

Hottest nightclub: Mike's Car Wash, a disco inferno on the outskirts of town where lonely accountants on international trade missions park their briefcases, build up a lather on the dancefloor and rinse off with a cold Mosi beer (after Mosi Oa Tunya, the African name for the Victoria Falls, meaning "The Smoke That Thunders"). Getting there from the city centre by taxi can be hair-raising. Think nothing of assisting the driver by holding his gear-stick in place while he negotiates the six-lane highway and try to forget that after dark Zambia has one of Africa's worst accident rates. That's because few can afford to replace their vehicles' headlights once they stop working.

Latest fad: Copper bicycles. Digging up telephone cables running under pavements and streets, stripping away the coating and using the copper wire inside to make miniature bicycles to sell to foreigners. This results in cheap, tempting keepsakes for Western mantelpieces but telecommunications chaos for much of Lusaka. Luckily, Zambia is still one of the world's leading copper producers, with extensive mines along the border with Zaire.

Song on everyone's lips: "One Man's Poison", a Zambian reggae ditty warning of Aids. A quarter of the country's 8.5 million people has the HIV virus and at one of Lusaka's vast graveyards on the outskirts of the city, a steady stream of vehicles carries mourners in and out from dawn to dusk. Grave-diggers work overtime to meet demand for space.

Hot ticket: A seat in the Independence football stadium for an international match. Zambia has never lost at home and fans believe the spirits of the 18 players killed in an air crash two years ago over Gabon haunt the touchline, distracting the opposition. An investigation into the disaster (Africa's worst sporting tragedy) has still not found the cause of the crash.

Most famous citizen: Dr Kenneth Kaunda, former president, who once offered safe haven to the exiled ANC in the city during apartheid. He is contemplating a bid to regain power four years after being ousted in 1991 in Zambia's first multi-party elections. While not sketching plans for his political comeback, "KK" pens vociferous speeches on Aids (one of his sons died of the disease) from his fortress in the suburbs. He plays a formidable round of golf.

Publication of note: Zambia Heritage News, a glossy biannual magazine gushing with eulogies for national heroes, beauty tips from resident expert Harriet Kawuzu Hala ("Nails speak mountains about the personality") and scientific explanations for why breaking wind in a museum can seriously damage the exhibits.

Hottest news story: Ritual child killings in Mazabuka, a town south-west of Lusaka on the road to Livingstone. The newspapers in the capital have been full of the gory details of several young children who were murdered and mutilated. Accusations centre on a local businessman who is thought to be selling body parts, possibly to unscrupulous witch doctors. The killings sparked a weekend of rioting in Mazabuka, during which residents demanding justice and safety for their children were fired on by police.

Catchphrase: "Watch car boss?" is the cry from the gangs of young boys who walk Cairo Road and other main streets touting for trade. In a city where cars are relieved of their wheels faster than by the average Grand Prix pit crew, these junior security guards are seldom out of work. They double as personal guides and bodyguards, advising which roads to avoid on foot, where to wade across the rivers of traffic at rush-hour and how to get the best deals in the markets.

Matthew Brace

Comments