Kampala’s Soweto – the Monitor, Uganda

From Uganda’s “The Monitor” Newspaper
Nov 19 – 25, 2003

This article asks and answers the questions:

What is life like for the poorest Ugandans?


Why does is it so dangerous that AIDS in Africa is defined by symptoms of dysentery?

Kampala’s Soweto
By Halima Abdallah


It was about 7.30 p.m. on a Thursday. At Kairos Medical Centre, in Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb, I was waiting my turn to see the doctor when two young men brought in a patient.

She was bleeding from her upper lip and right arm. Blood drained down on the floor as she explained to no one in particular what had happened to her.

“Several women held me while my co-wife beat me up. She bit my lip off and two parts of flesh from my arm,” she said.

When it was her turn to see the doctor, she came out without being treated, let alone being given first aid. Apparently, she did not have any money to pay for the treatment.

Eventually another man whom I later learnt was her husband came and paid the money and she was treated.

The woman was from Soweto, a zone in Namuwongo. Such incidents as the one that claimed this lady’s lip are not a rare occurrence in this area. Soweto is named for a township in South Africa, which obtained its name from a contraction of its original name, South Western Township.

[photo] A child walks through the streets of Soweto. In the background is the more affluent Muyenga (Photos by Rick D’Elia).

The South African Soweto is described by “old squatter misery and new prosperity, squalor and an upbeat lifestyle,” according to a SA website. For the most part, this definition is appropriate for Namuwongo because of the congestion and the general activities that characterise this slum.

In fact, its original name is Kanyogoga Zone which too was appropriate because the area is a wetland.

No one seems to be sure when Soweto was adopted but all agree that it has been so for a few years now.

Most of the residents are from northern Uganda. The Chairman LC I, Mr Emmanuel Masengere said the war in the north has worsened the situation in Soweto because there is a continuous influx of the people from the war zones into the area.

Why they chose Soweto is a mystery.

The Secretary for Mass Mobilisation and Education, Mr Augustine Matovu said there is a lot of violence among the residents of Soweto. “I get a lot of cases of fights from drunkards, women and men. There are a lot of domestic fights here,” he said.

[photo] Mr Joseph Ochola reads his English language bible outside his home in Soweto, Kampala. He has lived in the area for four years after escaping the war in northern Uganda.

He added, “Most of the men here have two wives. When they come from the villages, they leave the first wives and get another from town. When the village wife comes, they are forced to share a single room with all their children. Misunderstandings in these homes are endless.”

But family feuds are not the only problems that the LC have to deal with. Insecurity plagues Soweto as well. Most of the men work as security guards while the women brew waragi. But several others have no jobs and engage in criminal activities.

Soweto is also riddled with poor sanitation and a poor garbage disposable system. When The Monitor visited the area, Matovu was mobilising residents, with great difficulty, to clear garbage that had blocked a waterway.

The most unpleasant part of the filth is the human refuse. As we toured the place we found a woman peeling potatoes, while faeces, half covered with a piece of paper, sat just nearby.

A bad smell from the litter and from the blocked water passages fills the air.

Masengere said that only a few households have pit latrines in the area. Those who do not have either pay Shs 100 each time they use someone’s latrine or Shs 2,000 a month per family.

Others use polythene bags commonly known as ‘flying toilets’. Many of the problems that the Local Council in this area face are probably because of the congestion.

Masengere also says that an average of 10 people live in a single small room.

Mr Ojwiya James is a resident in Soweto. He stays with his wife, mother-in-law and six children in a single roomed house. The house he rents with other tenants is collapsing and has no pit-latrines.

When asked where the family ease themselves Ojwiya pointed at his backyard. “That is no problem, the yam gardens are full. That is where we ease ourselves,” he said.

Ojwiya is not the only person who uses the yam gardens, which are in a swamp. Hundreds of other residents do the same. Masengere said there are about 4,500 people who are registered with the LC but the majority of the residents are not registered. He estimates that there are about 8,000 inhabitants in his area.

Masengere feels helpless; because he cannot send some of the residents away and yet day-by-day the slum continues to grow. The violence continues.

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