Zambian musician Maiko Zulu was a keynote speaker at the launch of the “Civil Society Health Forum – Health Election Campaign” in Lusaka last week. Zulu is an ILO ambassador in the fight to end child labour and an ambassador for the Fair Play For Africa campaign. Misozi Tembo caught up with him at the launch of the campaign.
Why are you involved in this campaign?
How can I not be? We are nearing elections and it’s important that as a nation we raise our voices loud enough so that the leaders campaigning right now can hear us. Not just them knowing what our problems are, but ensuring that they really understand and decide to do something about them.
What are some of the issues that bother you regarding health service delivery in Zambia?
The main one is over the biggest government-owned hospital in Zambia, the University Teaching Hospital (UTH). It is insane and unacceptable to have a private pharmacy at UTH. No wonder people are always given prescriptions from hospitals so that the sales at the pharmacy are increased. Why not simply declare the hospital a private business entity then?
What does your role as Fair Play For Africa ambassador entail?
My role involves advocating for the good health for all and to be the bridge between the policy makers and the people they make policies for. I achieve this through my music, where I address social injustice and as well as engaging with policy makers and drawing their attention to what is affecting people on the ground.
How has the public responded to your message about social justice?
People flock to my shows because they understand and agree with messages in my songs and use me as a messenger. There is increased public awareness on issues of social justice and human rights. People are hungry for information and answers on issues that concern them. They want to know when their health centres will be well-stocked with medicines so they can stop spending money in search of drugs, walking long distances to get to a health centre. They also want to know when, if ever, they will meet their members of Parliament.
What are your top concerns about the health service in Zambia?
When politicians are ill and need excellent health care, they are sent to exclusive private hospitals in South Africa – this shows these leaders don’t even have faith in their own medical personnel and services. Health centres, particularly in rural areas, are poorly managed. Cleaners take care of patients due to lack of qualified medical personnel. Health workers are overworked and lack motivation. If health workers are not taken care of by government, what about the patients?
Have you ever experienced poor health service delivery in rural Zambia?
Yes, I was in Kasama, the provincial capital of Northern Province some time back. I fell very ill and got admitted to Kasama General Hospital. It’s a tall building and the lifts were not working and I was admitted on the second floor of the hospital. I had to be carried by people because I couldn’t climb the stairs. Luckily, I was with my wife.
How were the conditions at the hospital?
The conditions were deplorable; they had no stretchers or wheel chairs. To make matters worse, there was no water in the hospital – imagine a hospital with no water? My wife had to ferry water from three kilometres away and then climb the stairs again to bring it to me. There was only one doctor – it is not a health centre, it’s the main hospital of the province! During my hospital stay, a cleaner was the one attending to me because the doctor was too busy I couldn’t catch him.
How did that make you feel?
Helpless and angry! I even spoke to the media and some politicians about it. It was during my search for a health worker that I found out about a tragic incident that had happened within the hospital.
What had happened?
I had gone downstairs because I really needed a nurse or the doctor to attend to me. When I got into a ward, I found a commotion, people were angry, some were shouting and crying. I was informed that a day old baby had been killed by rats. I was livid!
Where did the rats come from?
From within the hospital, apparently, there was a rat infestation. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. The baby was bitten while it was in the nursery –the child’s entire face was gone. When I asked the staff about it, they were apologetic and insisted that they were doing something about the infestation, like that would bring the baby back. What do you tell a mother in such a situation? All I could do was take a few pictures and some media outlets highlighted the incident. To date, this haunts me.
In what way should our leaders address health service delivery in Zambia?
They should show leadership by doing away with air conditioners for a few hours and visiting hospital wards especially in rural areas. They need to see or face the issues head on. Medical staff clean up for these politicians, especially the president, when they visit. It’s unfortunate because then they do not get to see the actual situation. I wonder why they keep hiding the reality on the ground. Leadership should not be by remote control, it is a service. Make surprise visits and get your hands dirty for once!
Presently, politicians are on the campaign trail seeking votes from the public. This campaign is a great opportunity to show people how to engage with politicians. They have to ask questions regarding issues that affect them. Through this campaign politicians will be held accountable through signing pledges, where they commit to addressing health needs in their respective constituencies within a certain time frame. I am excited because when all is said and done people will hold a pledge form that they can use to draw their respective leader’s attention.
What is your message to politicians during this election campaign period?
My message is: remember where you come from, show compassion and empathy for people. When you travel the globe attending summits and agree to declarations that are meant to bring development and empower the people of Zambia, you append your signature in the name of the people of Zambia. You need to always remember the people that put you in that privileged position. We have a great and rich country with wonderful people who have a right to dignity, basic needs and respect. We are one Zambia, one nation, one family.
Facts About Maiko
Maiko Zulu is one of Zambia’s most successful musicians. Born Michael Somanje Zulu in Livingstone, Zambia, he grew up as a farm boy herding goats and growing corn and vegetables on his grandfather’s farm in the Central Province of Zambia. Maiko says that it was on the farm that he honed his vocal chords while shouting and running behind 150 goats.
Zulu, who is also popularly known as “St Michael”, is the first Zambian artiste to be nominated for the prestigious Kora All Africa Music Awards. He has won the local Ngoma Awards for Best Male Performer on two occasions and an AZAMI Award (Annual Zambian Music Industry Awards). Maiko was also nominated for the M-Net Most Talked About Artiste Award. Internationally, Zulu has performed in South Africa (Durban 2000 AIDS conference), Burkina Faso in West Africa, and in the United Kingdom. He is also the current President of the Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM).