Photography and photostory production by Grace Tombozi Banda
With the harsh conditions that many people in Zambia face such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, cholera, etc., death is a daily reality.
Meet Steven Mwanza. Steven is 39 years old. He is a grave digger and has been for the last 7 years.
Steven outside his home in Lusaka
This is a private cemetary in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia
‘Stephens family’ Steven is married and has eight children. His first born daughter, Dona was married when she was only 15 years old. The other children apart from Lucy (pictured) are being kept by Steven’s relatives.
‘Steven’s wife’ Because of the situation at home, Steven’s wife has had to set up her own small business, selling tomatoes to suplement her husband’s salary. “You can’t just sit and wait for your husband to bring a meal on the table, you also have to run up and down just in case he does not manage to find anything that day,” says Joyce. She also said that the same small business helps with other things like buying books or sweet potatoes for her daughter Lucy, who goes to a Catholic charity school.
‘Stephen with his friend Andrew’ Steven starts off for work at 05:00am each morning. He says that he is used to waking up very early because he has been doing it for a long time now. Before going for work, Steven passes through the bar to buy some beer called “Chibuku”. According to Steven and his friend Andrew, the cemetery is a strange place to work and where “a lot of strange things happen”, which, they claim is why they need to take alcohol before work.
‘Stephen at work’ Steven works at Chingwere cemetery. This old burial site is owned by the government. Since he started work in 2003, Steven has dug many graves. Years ago they used to dig about 20 graves a day in groups of 5. These days because of lack of space, they look for what they call the “in-between”. Together with his fellow work colleagues, they are tasked with digging the graves half way and the mourners then bring their own diggers to finish off.
‘At work’ Although Steven has worked for many years as a grave digger, he confesses that he does not enjoy his job and only does it because he has no choice. He says that in this line of work there are so many challenges – low pay (K300, 000 per month – €46) and late payments. Steven reports that sometimes when they wake early for work, they face other challenges like “meeting creatures suspected to be witches” and people who steal the caskets from the graves.
Steven feels sad that he is unable to send his children to school or to fully manage to provide for their other needs because his monthly salary is so poor. It is for this reason that he cannot have all his chidren living with him.
‘Mtumbi Cemetery’The poor conditions at government burial sites have encouraged local companies to operate private cemeteries. Those who can afford to bury their loved ones buy a grave at one of these private burial sites in Lusaka. These places are spacious and clean. Although the salary for gravediggers is also low (K400, 000 – €61), at private institutions they enjoy other benefits like, working with proper tools, having work suits, working normal hours and most importantly getting their pay on time. Steven the Stone Crusher
‘Steven crushing stones’ During his spare time Steven also crushes stones for sale, which helps him to manage some of the basic family demands. “I have failed to invest in a bigger business because my monthly income is very low and the situation has been from hand to mouth,” says Steven.
‘Steven in the bar’ At the end of a very tiresome day, Steven goes to the bar to rest. He goes to this particular bar because he meets a lot of people of his own “class”. He says that he cannot go to any other bar since people look down on him because of the type of work that he does. Zambian traditions and culture associate cemeteries with evil and witchcraft. Steven also mentioned that the reason he drinks in the evening is so that he is able to sleep.