* This is coupled with environmental pollution of lunchboxes, juice packets, and home waste by residents of Njamba
* All because responsible public duty bearers are just watching without applying regulations
* Responsible public duty bearers are shifting land ownership of the park to each other
* They are Malawi Housing Corporation, Blantyre City Assembly, Ministry of Lands and Ministry of Youth & Sports
By Duncan Mlanjira
The once alluring Njamba Freedom Park is in a very miserable state as its tree cover is being depleted due to indiscriminate cutting down of trees mostly used to burn bricks by Soche Hill community members.
This is coupled with environmental pollution of plastics — lunchboxes, juice packets, and home waste by residents of Njamba — all because responsible public duty bearers are just watching without applying regulations
Thus Coordination Union for Rehabilitation of the Environment (CURE) — an umbrella organisation of NGOs that deal with environment protection and climate change awareness — has discovered that concerned public duty bearers are shifting land ownership of the park (Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC), Blantyre City Assembly, Ministry of Lands and Ministry of Youth & Sports) to each other.
Thus the NGO has decided to take action and calls on the responsible public duty bearers to:
(i) To immediately resolve the issue of ownership of the park among the concerned public authorities by convening a meeting;
(ii) To agree on a workable institutional arrangement for sustainable management of the park; and
(iii) To allocate adequate resources for the protection and management of the park.
CURE, in collaboration with Sustainable Development Initiative (SDI) and the Association of the Environmental Journalists (AEJ), engaged the media on Monday, September 11 to raise the alarm on the degradation of the Park to sensitize the general public about its serious concerns.
CURE’s Board chairperson, Maynard Nyirenda — who is from the Sustainable Development Initiative — appraised the media that CURE visited the park last month and interviewed some passers-by who disclosed that the illegal tree cutting was even happening in broad daylight.
The CURE officials then visited MHC on the same day, “being closer to the park, presuming that they were the landholders” but MHC denied any responsibility, saying its management was under the Department of Lands.
“MHC stated that during the time the park was under its jurisdiction, it was well protected and managed,” Nyirenda said, adding that upon enquiry from the Regional Lands Office (South), the Regional Lands Officer indicated that “lack of resources to protect the park had contributed to the current state”.
“However, upon further enquiry from the Lands Department headquarters, it was learnt that the park had been transferred to the Ministry of Youth & Sports because of some plans to construct sports complex facilities there.”
Nyirenda said they discovered through a report by Maravi Post of December 31, 2017 that indicated that the decision to turn the park into a sports complex was made without thorough consultation involving a wide range of stakeholders and interest groups, “as would have normally been done in making a decision about land use change of such an important and historic place”.
Nyirenda further said: “Failure to protect the Njamba Park would clearly imply our not being committed to provide conducive environment for the urban population as required by Sustainable Development Goal SDG No. 11 and our MW2063 national vision.
“The public duty bearers should work collaboratively among themselves, and promote active participation of the CSOs, the private sector and other stakeholders to protect Njamba Park, including other urban green spaces.
“In addition, there should be exhaustive consultative process of whether such an important and historic park be turned into sports stadium, while also taking into account the risk of flooding as part of the park is in a flood-prone area.
“The experiences of Cyclone Freddy should teach us lessons,” said Nyirenda after taking the journalists of the tour of the park to attest for itself how it is being deprived of its natural beauty.
He emphasized that Njamba Park is the largest green park in Blantyre City and its existence of such green ambience resonates well with the requirements of the global SDG No. 11, which is stated as ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’.
“This, among other measures, involves creating green public spaces. Green spaces in cities and urban areas mitigate the effects of air, noise and water pollution, and can reduce a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect — which refers to heat trapped in built-up areas.
“The urban heat island effect appears in towns and cities as a result of human activities. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions are also mitigated through absorption of CO2. Other benefits include preservation of biodiversity and nature conservation.”
Also present was passionate environmentalist, Robert Kawiya, who is former director of parks at the Blantyre City Council, who said he helped create the greenery that was Njamba Park through tree planting exercises that involved schools and NGOs.
He said the initiative was Make Blantyre Green in which every bare land was to be planted trees, including road reserves, adding that Blantyre City Council took hold of the park on a lease agreement from MHC but later MHC repossessed it.
From his investigations, he discovered that MHC wanted to sell the land to developers who wanted to construct residential flats, which he tried to object but to no avail.
He implored on the authorities to declare the site as a herbarium botanic garden such as those that exist in Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu.
“These botanic gardens are government controlled and are well managed,” he said. “The same can be done with Njamba Park — we need to protect it.
“It pains me terribly to see Njamba Park in this state. The indiscriminate cutting of trees has happened barely three years since I left Blantyre,” he said.
Most of the trees trunks that were seen were very small and it is suspected that its wood is sold to vendors who produce and sell domestic floor mops. Some concerned environmentalists raised this concern on social media groups that the mop manufacturers do not harvest the wood from large tree branches but from saplings.
The Park is also patronized by some members of the public who are in employment but are upgrading their academic qualifications. They park their cars under tree shades to study.
But most of them are not environmentally friendly as they litter the place willy-nilly with plastics, lunchboxes, juice packets, empty water bottles and many non-biodegradable food packs.