Friday, September 30, 2011

Haunted House

[First published on 10th January 2002, this piece looks at the new arrival in State House, the clumsy foot-in-mouth Kabeji]

Haunted House


Dear Diary, today we moved into our marvellous new home, now that my derar husband Kabeji has got the top job. The previous tenant, Wabufi Kafupi, was in tears as he handed over. He had kept the house marvellously, but was refused an extension of the lease after having been caught stealing the cutlery and eating all the peacocks and impala from the garden.

Please,’ said Kafupi, as we said goodbye, ‘don’t change anything. Leave it as it is. Even the pictures on the wall.’


Kabeji slept like a log last night, after I’d given him his pills. But I just couldn’t get comfortable on that mattress. The springs are all finished. ‘What was Kafupi doing on it?’ I asked Kabeji at breakfast, ‘to get it in such a state?’

‘I’m told he never slept much,’ he replied. ‘Often he would spend the whole night wrestling with weighty problems.’

‘That reminds me,’ I said. ‘We’ve got to discuss your acceptance speech. Have a look through this draft, my dear, while you’re swallowing your pills. We need a strong message of reconciliation, all work together for the sake of the nation, that sort of thing.’

With a little encouragement from me, he made a first attempt to read it out loud. ‘My intention is to appoint some of my pop pop pop…’

‘Opponents,’ I said.

‘I know that,’ he shouted, stamping his foot. ‘My intention is to appoint some of my popponents to my new team…’

Then he stopped, look up and seemed to go into a trance. Finally he shouted at me ‘But if they oppose me, that is treason, they’ll be arrested, found guilty and sentenced to death!

I wiped his brow with a white embroidered linen serviette, and got him to lie down on the sofa. ‘Don’t upset yourself, my dear,’ I said gently, as I gave him his medicine. ‘We’ll have another try tomorrow.’


Dear Diary, I’m worried that this job may be too much for my husband. At breakfast he did manage to read the second sentence quite nicely. All about the members of his team being people of integrity and honesty, and above reproach, who will put the national interest above personal interest.

But having said this in a calm, magisterial and convincing voice, my husband put down the paper, and looked vacantly into the far distance. Then his face twisted into an ugly sneer, which strangely mirrored the picture of Kafupi hanging on the wall. ‘However,’ he snarled, clumsily spilling his tea all over the nicely printed speech, ‘it is also important that I repay my personal debt to my closest associates. These are the liars, dealers and crooks who gladly and willingly besmirched their reputations in order to devise the various dirty tricks that put me into this high office.’

‘Darling,’ I said, holding his hand and trying to calm him, ‘it would be better if you could just stick to the official text. We are aiming for something calm, diplomatic, reassuring, and statesmanlike. Under no circumstances should you actually say what is on your mind.


I tried again with Kabeji at breakfast, but he was still in a terrible fit, as if he’d been tormented all night by one of the springs in Kafupi’s mattress. I got him to read another sentence, saying ‘All leaders must be humble and accept criticism, and work amicably with our co-operating partners.’

Then he fell onto the floor in a furious rage, shouting ‘I’m not having these donors criticising our election, or asking what has happened to their funding. What are they doing here anyway?’

And something very creepy, Dear Diary. He seemed to be looking up at the picture of Kafupi. And when I glanced up at it, I thought I saw the eyes move! Oh My God, am I living in a haunted house?

I was shaking with fear as I gave him some more pills, and laid him down quietly on the sofa.


This morning I got up early to make breakfast, and discovered something really ghoulish and goose-pimply about this house. I found the Kafupi picture with empty holes where the eyes should be! But it had eyes yesterday! I got a torch, stood on a chair, and looked inside. A tunnel! I knew it! Kafupi is still here! He’s in the tunnels! Casting an evil spell over my husband!

So I arranged breakfast on the patio, away from the evil eye. And do you know, Dear Diary, Kabeji read the speech perfectly! No problems at all! Every successful man has a little woman right behind him!


Today is my big Kabeji’s big day before the cameras. So I buttoned up his shirt properly, straightened his tie, gave him a double dose of pills, and sent him on his way.

Oh Kabeji, your dear wife and the whole nation has so much hope invested in you! Please don’t disappoint us!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Election Sakulani

[Published in November 1996, at the time when the devious little Kafupi was organising the most crooked election in the history of Zambia]

Election Sankulani

Last Thursday I got home rather tired, and covered in dust.

‘Where have you been?’ asked my daughter Kupela. ‘You look as if you’ve just come from a funeral.’

‘You’ve guessed right,’ I replied, ‘I’ve just come from the burial of Election Sankulani.’

‘Never heard of him,’ said Kupela.

‘He was a she,’ I said. ‘You’ve never heard of her because your Social Studies books are full of the achievements of men, but the women have gone missing.’

‘Get to the point,’ said Kupela, ‘just tell me who she was!’

‘Election Sankulani was our greatest freedom fighter. I first came across her when I was a young journalist, back in 1962. It was during a meeting at Government House, when she turned on Roy Welensky and shouted at him You give us an election where everybody can vote, and anybody can stand, and then you’ll find out what we Africans really think of you! We all hate you!

‘Welensky was furious, and shouted back What do you mean, you silly woman! We already have elections to the Legislative Assembly in Lusaka, and the Federal Assembly in Salisbury. You Africans have been boycotting these elections because you don’t like our democratic system! All you know is boycott! Because you just want to put your Village Chief in charge!

‘Two years later it was Election Sankulani who wrote the 1964 Zambian Constitution, which was signed at Lancaster House by the Village Chief, dressed up in a western suit. Then she organised Election Day, after which the Village Chief was installed as President. Welensky was sent back to Newcastle.’

‘So did the Village Chief make her a minister after that?’ asked Kupela.

‘No, he dropped all the women freedom fighters, and sent them back to the kitchen. He said government was for men, and women should look after the home. He called this Partnership. It was a word he borrowed from Welensky.’

‘So what happened to Election after that?’ asked Kupela.

‘She used to make public announcements from her market stall in Chilenje. In 1973 she warned against the One Party Constitution. During the dark days of the dictatorship, any journalist who quoted her was automatically fired. Only brave dissidents and secret police were found anywhere near her market stall.’

‘Then one day in 1991 all the Chilenje marketeers were told to reduce their prices by half, because the Village Chief was coming round. When he came to Election’s stall he spoke to her, I’ve crossed you off my blacklist, and I’m sorry I destroyed your life. To make amends, I want you to organise another Election Day, just like you did in 1964.’

‘And so she became a real person again?’

‘Exactly,’ I replied. ‘Election soon rediscovered her old energy, climbed one anthill after another, and restored the Lancaster House Constitution. Just like 1964, people formed their own parties, chose their own candidates, criticised the government, and voted for their choice.’

‘And did the Village Chief get re-elected?’ asked Kupela.

‘Of course not. They elected the Township Tyrant. But poor Election finally began to lose faith in her principles when the Township Tyrant began to behave even worse than the Village Chief. As she lost faith, her health began to fail.’

‘In what way was the Tyrant worse?’ asked Kupela.

‘He fired the journalists who criticised him. He brought back the state of emergency. He made people apply for a police permit before holding a meeting. He threw his political opponents into jail, and closed the university. Every time he did something worse, Election’s health deteriorated. All hope for Election was fading away.’

‘But was he worse?’ asked Kupela. ‘He was just the same as the previous guy!’

‘He was even worse,’ I said. ‘He changed the Constitution so that only a minority of people were eligible to stand for office. The rest were excluded.’

‘We’ve learnt about that at school,’ said Kupela. It’s called minority rule. That was the Welensky system!’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘The day she realised everything had come full circle, that’s the day she died. We shall never see her like again.’

‘Oh yes we shall,’ said Kupela brightly. ‘We shall have more Elections, and we shall always vote for change!’

‘I suppose so,’ I said sadly. ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast!’

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Election Rally

[First published on 3rd August 2006 under the Title ‘Toilet Politics’, this piece was written in the run-up to the 2006 Elections]

Election Rally

Sunday afternoon in the park. Some people walking, some talking, some quarelling, some gawking, some just reading newspapers, as children played all around, and policemen watched grimly. Suddenly the camera panned around, and our TV screen was filled with the massive head of an elephant.

‘Oh no!’ Sara sighed, ‘it must the Muwelewele rally in Cheatwe. Why are we forced to watch this?’

‘It is a mark of intelligence,’ I declared, ‘to find amusement where ordinary mortals find boredom.’

‘Then there’s no point in you watching it,’ snapped Sara, like a chameleon catching a fly.

The great elephant was angrily shouting at the microphone, his eyes bulging and his front legs shaking with rage. ‘Don’t listen to these other so-called leaders, full of lies and fantasies and false promises! This Cycle Mata has been going round saying that in the last five years I haven’t built even a single toilet!’

‘I didn’t know Cycle Mata said that!’ Sara exclaimed.

‘You see!’ I laughed. ‘The Great Elephant Muwelewele can be most amusing. He spends all his time repeating the insults that others have thrown at him. That’s why he’s always in such an awful rage!’

‘The people are starving!’ shouted Muwelewele, ‘and Cycle Mata wants me to build more toilets. Heh heh’ he chuckled, as the crowd looked on sullenly. ‘First you must produce more food to put in your bellies. Only after that will you need toilets!’

The camera panned back into the crowd, which continued to move up and down and around in constant motion. ‘Why are they all moving around like that?’ I wondered.

‘Probably looking for a toilet,’ said Sara.

‘But why is this Cycle Mata so interested in toilets?’ Muwelewele angrily demanded of the nearest mango tree, which was too frightened to make any reply. ‘I’ll tell you why! Because he is a toilet man who lives in a toilet and stinks like a toilet!

‘But this toilet man is too stupid to understand the economics of toilets. Toilets are just a waste of food. An efficient economy demands an efficient digestive system! We must digest all our food, so that we have the strength to produce more copper for our investors. How can I bring investors here if you are demanding extra money that you are just flushing down the toilet!’

‘He’s got a point,’ I said. ‘After structural adjustment of their stomachs, the starving workers don’t need toilets anymore.’

‘But should he be saying so?’ wondered Sara.

‘This Cycle Mata has forgotten that, when he was in government, he was the very one who privatised the toilets. All government toilets were sold off to private individuals, to be rented out to those who could afford to eat excessive amounts of food. This is the same man who is now asking the government to build more toilets!’

‘Is this toilet man a lawyer, to know whether the Constoootion requires people to be given toilets?’ shouted Muwelewele, angrily banging his head on the podium. ‘We must follow the rule of law, according to the Constoootion. Now, as a constoootional lawyer, I am the only one qualified to interpret the meaning of the Constoootion…’

‘I thought he was a criminal lawyer,’ I said.

‘All lawyers are criminals,’ laughed Sara.

‘Is a criminal lawyer qualified to interpret the Constitution?’ I persisted.

‘Definitely,’ Sara replied solemnly. ‘It’s a criminal Constitution.’

‘You have it on my considerable authority,’ Muwelewele continued, angrily biting the microphone, ‘that the word toilet is not mentioned in the Constoootion.’ He now leant forward and addressed the crowd very solemnly. ‘If anybody here today is looking for a toilet, he won’t find it in the Constoootion.’

‘But anybody looking for the Constitution,’ said Sara, ‘might find it in the toilet.’

‘What Cycle Mata doesn’t understand,’ shouted Muwelewele, his face turning purple with rage, ‘is that by the abolition of public toilets, this government has turned waste management into an efficient public enterprise.’

‘Wait for something smelly,’ said Sara.

‘The secret of our agricultural success has been the huge pile of dung produced by the ruling class of elephants. It is only we, in the government, who can afford to eat the huge excess of food that is necessary to produce the vast supply of rich fertilizer which is needed for our new deal agricultural revolution.’

As he spoke, a series of dull thuds were heard coming from behind the elephant, as a cloud of steam rose in the air. ‘I hope you can now appreciate all I have done for you,’ trumpeted the Great Elephant as he waved goodbye to the crowd. Then off he trotted, leaving behind a huge pile of steaming dung.

Now at last the crowd showed real interest, surging forward, all scrambling to push the precious fertilizer into big brown envelopes. ‘How extraordinary,’ I said. ‘Everybody seems to have a brown envelope. Where did they all come from?’

‘From the leader who visited them yesterday,’ said Sara.

‘HaHa!’ I laughed.

‘Exactly,’ said Sara.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Race to State House

[First published on 17 August 2006, more than two months before the election of October 28th]

Race to State House

‘Turn on the news,’ said Sara. ‘We may have some election results.’

The screen was filled with the huge nose of Philipi Nozi. ‘We now go over to Henry Nkalaushi, who was at Lumumba Bus Station earlier today.’

The camera now moved to the confusion of a dusty bus station, where Nkalaushi stood with microphone in hand. ‘Today is Thursday 28th September, and the crowds are here today to see the beginning of the Presidents Race to State House. Right now I am standing next to the Mercedes bus of the amusing Mr HaHa, who is confident that his bus can win the race. People call him HaHa because he has never driven a bus before in his life. But Ha Ha argues that he is experienced as the manager of a large company, so he must be able to manage a small bus.

‘Over here we have the bus of Cycle Mata, so-called because he has been driving round and round the same roundabout for the past five years. People say that if only he could only develop a sense of direction, he could go a long way.

‘Now we come to the third competitor, who traveled all the way from Chipata in this oxcart.’ The camera peered into the ox-cart, but it appeared to be completely empty. ‘I am told,’ sniggered Nkalaushi, ‘that this presidential aspirant was very big in Chipata, but as he traveled along the road to Lusaka he became smaller and smaller, and now he has disappeared completely.’

‘Our fourth contestant, meandering around in that wheelchair over there, is the famous General Meander. He will explain to anybody that cares to listen that he is a born leader, and all he needs is somebody to lead. He admits that, without anybody to push his wheelchair, he is sure to come last in the race. But he also explains that his strategy is to collect evidence of corrupt practice by all the other contestants. After the election he will petition the Supreme Court. Then all the others will be disqualified, and he will be declared the winner.

‘But the biggest talking point here today is the unexpected absence of the reigning champion, the fearsome Great Elephant Muwelewele. Neither the elephant nor his bus have so far appeared.’ As he spoke, the burly figure of the Suspector General walked up to Henry Nkalaushi, and took the microphone…

‘By virtue of the powers vested in me under the Electoral Act, I am hereby banning the use of petrol or diesel in this Race to State House. Such use of petroleum products would give an unfair advantage to those with money who have bought large buses, contrary to the spirit of the Electoral Code of Conduct.’ So saying he took his gun out of its holster and fired in the air. ‘The race begins!’

The camera now turned to a crowd of people in the corner of the bus station, all pulling at a large tarpaulin, which gradually rolled away to reveal a huge grey heap sprawled on the ground. ‘Muwelewele! Muwelewele!’ they cried. ‘Wake up! Wake up! Time to be president again! Time for the great race!’

‘The Great Leader is answering the people’s call,’ Henry Nkalaushi shouted in exhultation, as the Great Elephant rose slowly to his feet. Then, encouraged by his supporters pushing at his rear, the Great Muwelewele finally broke into a little trot. Off he went, at a steady ten kilometers per hour, down Lumumba Road, and off in the direction of State House.

‘My God,’ I said, ‘couldn’t HaHa get out of his bus and run after him?’

‘No,’ laughed Sara. ‘As a managing director, his only previous experience has been running other people, not running himself!’

‘What about Cycle Mata?’

‘He can only run round in circles.’

Now the nose of Nozi reappeared on our screen. ‘We now take you to the scene at State House, where the Great Muwelewele has claimed victory and another five years in office!’

As the huge crowd cheered, the Great Elephant slowly climbed the steps and re-joined the mighty She Elephant who had been confidently awaiting the return of her partner in power. Up they went on their hind legs, as they came together in one shuddering conjugal embrace, mouth to mouth, tongue to tongue, trunk to trunk, and leg to leg. The crowd stood hushed, amazed and frightened at such display of primordial ecstasy.

‘It will take a gynaecologist to prise them apart,’ said Sara.

‘Aren’t they supposed to turn and thank their supporters?’ I wondered.

‘No,’ laughed Sara. ‘The happiness is just between the two of them. They did it for each other.’

‘I suppose their supporters will get their reward,’ I said.

‘Very likely,’ laughed Sara. ‘They’ll soon be arrested for the corrupt tricks they used in helping the Great Elephant to win the race!’

‘That seems a bit unfair,’ I said.

‘Not at all,’ said Sara. ‘Our Great Leader is the champion of the fight against corruption.’