In life, Sitembile Siwawa Zulu was just an ordinary journalist.
In death, she has united the nation to fight for a just cause: reduce maternal death.
According to UNICEF, Zambia has one of the highest mortality rates.
“In Zambia, 591 maternal deaths occur per 100,000 live births while the infant, neonatal and under-five mortality rates are at 70, 34, and 119 per 1,000 live births, respectively. These mortality rates are unacceptably high. The major causes of child mortality are malaria, respiratory infections, diarrhoea, malnutrition, and anaemia,” reads a statement on the UN agency's Zambia page..
Three days ago, Zambia Daily Mail Sub-Editor Sitembile delivered what people call a ‘bouncing baby girl’ at the Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital in Lusaka.
A day later when everyone was sending her congratulatory messages, Sitembile breathed her last and that’s how Zambia lost one of its hard working journalists.
She became the latest victim of women who die while giving birth.
Sadly, her death came a few days before the first anniversary of her marriage to Mr. Victor Zulu.
Her death has sparked outrage on social media.
Zambians from all walks of life are shocked at the untimely death of the 29 year old scribe who was recently promoted to the position of Sub-Editor after working as a reporter for a long time.
At the moment, the most trending hashtag in Zambia is #NoWomanShouldDieWhileGivingLife which is a spontaneous social media campaign to highlight the plight of women in labour.
On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Zambians have been discussing the challenges women face while deivering.For Sitembile, I remember her for having dedicated a good part of her career covering issues of gender, children and agriculture.
She ran a blog called Gender@Heart where she wrote many stories over the years.
The profile on her blog reads: “Apart from being a writer, blogger and everything else, Sitembile has strong passion for fashion and beauty particularly black beauty! Having endured so much ridicule for being dark, she is a strong advocator of black big beauty! Everything about fashion and beauty to her centres around dark African women. She believes in the world of women although she is not a feminist.”
On the blog, as well as in the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper, Sitembile wrote many award winning pieces on children and gave a human face to the challenges children face and the strides they make in life.
“I hear that my former ZAMCOM student Sitembile Siwawa has passed on. She had finally become a colleague at Daily Mail and a Save the Children reliable reporter. My last lesson to her was 'Stembile, you seem to have an interest in children issues. Make it your niche'. She never relented and became a goodwill ambassador for children through her work. Dying in child birth after delivering a bouncy baby. RIP,” wrote Chishaba Masengu, a former lecturer and now a Media and Communications Coordinator at Save The Children Zambia.
Even for women, Sitembile did the same but unfortunately, she ended up facing one of the challenges they grapple with: maternal mortaity.
In her career, Sitembile was a member of the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Journalist Network which promotes the reporting of agricultural issues on the continent.
In 2014, she was awarded the CAADP Journalist of the Year Award in Durban, South Africa.
The story which made her win this prestigious pan-African media award was titled “Female Farmers Empowerment Vital.”
Just the title of the story tells you how passionate the lady was to gender issues and agriculture.
At a personal level, I had a few encounters with Sitembile when I used to work in Lusaka.
Most times we would meet on assignments and she was this shy lady who rarely spoke in public.
Apart from journalists just praising her in death or sharing the hashtag #NoWomanShouldDieWhileGivingLife, others have gone a step further to question why issues of women and maternal mortality rarely make it to the front page of tabloids or evening bulletins of major TV stations.
“But I want every Zambian journalist reading this to pause for a minute and reflect on how it came to pass that we failed Sitembile and thousands of women like her by not making health a story worth telling, even though health is a matter of life and death for 14 million people who live in this country. And she passed on in a big city, the capital where there is even some modicum of care and infrastructure. Think about women tucked in the nooks and crannies of Zambia who risk death every time they have to give life to a child,” wrote Edem Djokotoe, a Ghanaian-born journalist and media trainer who has vast experience in media issues in Zambia.
Edem further says: “I am angry at all of us because we have chosen to subvert the values of news which form the bedrock of our professional and throw Public Interest out of the window. We have gone to bed with politicians and made them the only story in town. We don’t cover health unless the Health Minister is making a speech about health.”
Meanwhile, the Zambian government has launched an inquiry into the circumstances leading to Sitembile’s death.
A statement issued by the Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya says authorities will soon get to the bottom of the matter.And a senior Ministry of Health official has explained what is known so far.
“Sitembile Zulu, 29 years old, in her 2nd pregnancy underwent a caesarian section due to fetal distress on the 8th September 2017. Fetal distress is when the fetus does not receive adequate amounts of oxygen during pregnancy or labour. It is oftentimes detected through an abnormal fetal heart rate. The deceased became breathless after taking a bath yesterday in the morning, after which the condition rapidly deteriorated before she passed on despite efforts to resuscitate her,” said Dr Maximilian Bweupe, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Health.
Tributes have also come from Zambia’s official Government Spokesperson Kampamba Mulenga (Minister of Information) who has described Sitembile’s demise as a loss to the nation.
For some of her close friends, her death is a shocker.
Doreen Nawa, a reporter at the Zambia Daily Mail has shared her thoughts over the death of a colleague who I used to fondly call her ‘twin sister.’
She tweeted: “Am lost without you Sitembile…… Your death was preventable.”
Doreen and Sitembile travelled across the globe together and shared many platforms abroad where they jointly received media awards.
Another close friend Brenda Zulu, a blogger, said: “Remembering you through our travels around Africa as we covered Agriculture. We took these pictures for Doreen Chilumbu Nawa as she did not come along with us in Jo'burg for the conference. Will miss you! #RIP Sitembile Zulu.”
Sitembile’s death is not just a local story.
The impact of her death after delivering a child has made it on international media with the London-based BBC publishing an account of her death while some Nigerian sites have carried it too.
For us in the media, we will continue emulating Sitembile for the causes she stood for: Gender, Children and Agriculture.
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