Ndirande. Blantyre, Malawi.
No one knows exactly how large the Malawian slum of Ndirande is. The number of inhabitants should be well above 200 thousand people. Ndirande is located three kilometres from the centre of Blantyre, the second city of Malawi. Ndirande crawls up from Makata Road to the slopes of the 1,800 meter high Mount Ndirande. Halfway you cross Ndirande Ringroad, the commercial and manufacturing centre of Ndirande. On both sides you will find timber sellers, minibus repairers, pubs, take-away’s and producers of burglar bars, cooking stoves and comfortable couches. Between Makata Road and Ndirande Ringroad, Ndirande has a reasonably ordered street pattern. But anyone who leaves the Ringroad and walks up towards Ndirande Mountain, ends up in a myriad of backstreets and alleys. Some are not wider than trenches where the water flushes through in the rainy season.
At the centre of the Ringroad you’ll find a huge market where an estimated 30 thousand people earn their living. On Ndirande Market you can get everything. From coffins to second hand clothes, from fruit to cheap sex, from live chickens to fried fish, from cars and car parts to hand-crafted residential furniture. Across Ndirande runs the Nasolo River. In the dry season the river is a sluggish meandering sewer in which malaria mosquitos incubate, children play and women do their laundry. In the rainy season the Nasolo changes into a dangerous current, sweeping away chickens and children, bridges and houses. The transformation of the friendly Nasolo in such a devastating flood is partly due to the almost complete deforestation of Mount Ndirande. Searching for cheap firewood, residents of Ndirande have cut away the immense forest that once covered the mountain.
The official unemployment rate in Ndirande is over 90 percent. That doesn’t alter the fact that most slum dwellers are hardworking people. The majority of the work they do, is simply not recorded or taxed. An important part of the work is carried out outside the slum. Every morning, there is a huge exodus of men and women, most of them by foot, some in minibuses, who leave for low-paid jobs in the richer neighbourhoods like Namiwawa, Nyambadwe or Sunny Side. They work as Garden Boys, Safe Guards, Cooks, Home Boys or Nannies. They are accompanied by mechanics, carpenters, plumbers and electricians, carrying their tools under their arms, offering their services to the wealthy minority of Blantyre.
The money the residents of Ndirande earn, is spent on food and clothing, on bit-for-bit expanding and refurbishing homes, on school fees and on transport by minibus. On Sun-day mornings, part of the earnings are offered in the numerous churches within the town-ship. On Sunday night, the leftovers are spend in the pubs of the Chinseu entertainment dis-trict. On Monday morning, the exodus starts over again.
Those who visit Ndirande for the first time, will be shocked by the miserable conditions in which many residents live. The funeral procession, the coffins for sale on Ndirande Ringroad and the sick, sometimes emaciated on a mat in front of their house. The visitor will notice children with ripped clothes, barbed wire on walls and the omnipotence of burglar bars. He or she will see the crippled scurrying in the dirt.
But those who visit Ndirande time after time, will observe much more. They will become aware of the normality of Ndirande. People in Ndirande are more than slum dwellers. They are individuals, human beings, people you can agree or disagree with. They are people with whom you can raise a glass, have a chat, or argue with. They are people that can be your friends or foes. But, and most of all, they are people who, like everyone else, want to make the best of their lives. This is what we tried to portray in the web-documentary 'Ndirande. Its Strength, Its People.'
© Ralf Bodelier, Overview Ndirande, Malawi. 2008
© Photograper unknown. Coffin Makers, Ndirande Malawi. 2015