Friday, December 23, 2011

No Crib for His Bed

[It is now nine years since the Catholic Church in Zambia celebrated Christmas by bulldozing houses in Ng'ombe]

No Crib for His Bed

          It’s not every day we can afford lunch, but yesterday we managed a feast of nshima and beans. ‘Aren’t we supposed to have chicken at Christmas?’ moaned Kupela. ‘Last year Aunty Jane brought us a chicken from Petauke.’
‘You were smaller then,’ snapped Jumani. ‘That was a pigeon.’
‘This year Aunty Jane can’t afford the bus fare,’ explained Sara. ‘But don’t fret, we can still celebrate the day by watching Henry Ngalazi’s Christmas Special on TV.’
          So we all settled ourselves in the sitting room in front of the ancient Supersonic, which was persuaded to gradually come back to life. Then slowly into view came Henry, microphone in hand. In the background we could see the Grand Banquet Hall at the Presidential Palace, the long table groaning under the weight of a many roast pigs.
          ‘I have with me here,’ announced Henry, ‘the Honourable Nuisance Dimba, Minister for Gluttony and Vomit, who would like to say a few words about the importance of this occasion to the nation as a whole.’
          ‘Here we see the advantages of privatisation,’ began the Honourable Nuisance. ‘In the bad old days of the Second Republic, Christmas was for everybody. Nobody wanted to work and everybody wanted to feast. Ordinary villagers would feast for seven days at Christmas, and were not be able to work for weeks afterwards.
          ‘That is why your government has privatised Christmas, to conform to the capitalist division of labour between those who produce and those who consume. Last year the entire agricultural surplus amounted to only twenty-six pigs. Behind me you see all our cabinet ministers consuming these on behalf of the nation. This amounts to only one pig per cabinet minister, and not four, as announced by Cycle Mata on Radio Phoenix.’
          ‘Having been given a whole pig,’ ventured Henry nervously, ‘some people are saying that it is unfair for each cabinet minister to also be given a new Mercedes.’
          ‘They’re being most unreasonable,’ growled Nuisance. ‘Do they really think that any normal cabinet minister could possibly squeeze himself into the back of a Toyota Corolla after eating a whole pig?’
          ‘And do you have a Christmas message for the viewers out there?’ asked Henry.
          ‘Yes,’ said the Minister. ‘This year, because of limited resources, viewers have had to watch quite a small feast. But by next year they will be paying TV licence fees, so we hope that, with the funds raised, that we shall be able to show them a much bigger Christmas feast!’
          ‘Marvellous!’ said Henry. ‘I’m sure we’ll all look forward to that!’
          But suddenly the picture changed, to show a dusty shanty town, where an armoured bulldozer was taking another run at a house, knocking down one side, and causing the roof to collapse. People were screaming, picking up their children, and running hither and thither. On the far side, a determined gang of Intifada rained a hail of stones upon the bulldozer.
          ‘My God!’ said Sara. ‘This must be Bethlehem! The Israelis are celebrating Christmas!’
          But it wasn’t Bethlehem, because surprisingly Henry’s head again came into view. ‘We have come here to Ng’ombe to find out how the Catholic Church is helping the good people of Ng’ombe on Christmas Day.’
          ‘Good afternoon Father Kamakama,’ said Henry, as a fat cleric waddled into view, through the rubble and dust.
          ‘Looks like he’s wandered into a wrong place,’ sniggered Kupela. ‘He should have been part of the feast!’
          ‘Perhaps as part of the menu,’ said Jumani.
          ‘Tell me,’ Henry shouted to the holy father, above the noise of screaming and demolition, ‘what do we see happening here?’
          ‘Here,’ said Father Kamakama, ‘we are clearing thirty acres of land which we bought in 1962, in order to build a Catholic Shelter for the Homeless.’
          ‘Are there many homeless here?’
          ‘There weren’t any, but we’re in the process of solving that problem. There should be about twenty thousand homeless by the time we have finished clearing this site!’
          Just then a woman came screaming towards the camera holding the lifeless body of baby, and an angry mob began to surround Father Kamakama, shouting ‘Nimwana wa Maria na Yosefe! Abadwa lelo mawa! Chiwumba chamgwela!’
          ‘What are they saying?’ said the priest, turning to Henry.
          ‘They’re saying the wall fell on the baby!’
          ‘Born on Christmas Day!’ chanted the crowd. ‘Jesus is dead!’
          We sat there shocked and stunned. Nobody said anything. Then Kupela broke softly into a sad Christmas carol:

Away in Ng’ombe
No crib for his bed
The little Lord Jesus
They smashed his sweet head
The bulldozer driver
Looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus
Had got in the way

          ‘I wonder,’ said Jumani, ‘how much the Catholic Church paid for those thirty acres of land.’
          ‘Not much,’ said Sara. ‘Just thirty pieces of silver.’

Friday, December 16, 2011

Going Nowhere

First published in October 2002, Kalaki looks at a new government which is going nowhere...

Going Nowhere

Sara and I were just settling down to watch the evening news when the front door flew open with a bang, and in strode Kupela, long dreads swirling as she threw her rucksack to the floor in a cloud of dust.

‘I left you at the bus stop at ten o’clock,’ I said. ‘What happened? Weren’t there any buses to Ndola? Or did you go to visit your boyfriend instead?’

‘Typical of you! Always thinking the worst! You don’t even know what its like out there! You just sit in your chair and pontificate!’

‘That’s what fathers are for,’ laughed Sara.

‘Look,’ I said calmly, ‘It was lovely having you back for the long weekend, but you need a good certificate if you’re going to escape from this country. You know there’s no employment here; the whole place has collapsed.’

‘Yes,’ Koops sneered, ‘especially the bus station. So perhaps you can also tell me how to reach school and obtain my certificate?’

‘What happened at the bus station? Didn’t you manage to get a ticket?’

‘Hah!’ laughed Koops. ‘That was the easy bit. I bought an FDD ticket…


‘Famous Delivery and Destinations, they have qualified drivers who know where they’re going.’

‘What were the alternatives?’

‘Not much. There was the Up and Down, which is known to give rather a bumpy ride. Then there was the dreaded Multiple Mysterious Destinations. Nobody knows where they’re going.’

‘So you got on the FDD bus?’

‘There wasn’t one. We waited and waited for nothing. It turned out the police had impounded all the FDD and UPND buses because they didn’t have police permits.’

‘Did they need a permit?’

‘Of course not. But try telling that to the police.’

‘So what happened to all the FDD and UPND tickets which people had bought?’

‘They were treated as spoilt papers, and re-issued as MMD. Then we were all herded onto a big blue MMD bus by the call-boys, who were all MMD cadres.’

‘OK, so you didn’t get the bus you chose. But why didn’t the MMD bus take you to Ndola?’

‘The main problem was that MMD has only one driver. The first delay was waiting for a big red carpet to be laid across the bus station, so that the driver could make his triumphal and ceremonial walk from his office to the bus. When he finally arrived he was welcomed by a traditional band and dancing girls, after which several speeches of welcome were made. Since the MMD has only one bus, the driver is also the president of the company.’

‘What was his name?’

‘Sounded like Muwelewelewele. When he finally came on board he asked us where we were going. Some people shouted Ndola and others said Chipata and others demanded Mazabuka. It was pandemonium.’

‘So what did Muwelewelewele say about that?’

‘He told us the bus was not presently fit to go anywhere because it had been crashed by the previous driver, Wabufi Kafupi. He had obtained a licence by dubious means, and was too short to see over the dashboard. After crashing the bus he had stolen the engine.’

‘So what did the passengers say about that?’

‘Most people accepted the situation. Some said that they hadn’t chosen this bus, but now they were stuck with it, and had better to make the best of it. Others said it was better to first catch the thief. Others pointed out that we had to get the engine back first, and any talk of a destination was entirely premature at this stage. But this democratic and mature discussion was suddenly interrupted by an old woman at the back who began to wail, saying she and her children would starve to death if she had to stay on the bus, and she had to get back home to Chipata.’

‘So did Muwelewelewele assure the old woman that she’d be fed?’

‘He fell into a terrible rage, shouting at the top of his voice, saying that it was illegal to die on his bus, and he’d have everybody arrested if they talked like that! Then he shouted that he had to go to America to find new investors for his bus company. As he turned to go he fell down the steps, and was carried away on a stretcher.’

‘Let’s turn on the news,’ said Sara, ‘and see what our hand-picked leaders have been deciding on our behalf.’

The placid and reassuring face of Dozy Dee filled the screen. ‘Reports are coming in from Ndola of a riot at Wapanshi Girls Secondary School. Starving pupils are reported to have set fire to the school, and are now marching on the office of the District Administrator.’

‘Just as well you never went back,’ said Sara.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Everything has turned out for the best.’

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Real Police

This piece was written in 2002, when the police were still looking for the Rule of Law. As indeed they still are…

The Real Police

‘Good morning Defective Suspector Mumbo Kapumpunta,’ I said, as I walked into Badlands Police Station and greeted the Officer-in-Charge. ‘I’m Spectator Kalaki of The Post.’

‘Kalaki!’ he beamed, ‘so pleased to meet you at last! We read your column every week, always hoping to find grounds to throw you in the cells!’

‘Well now’s your chance!’ I laughed. ‘Everybody’s talking about your new VIP Cell, so I’ve come to have a look at it!’

‘Certainly!’ he laughed, as he ushered me out of the office. ‘But I’m afraid it may be too good for you the likes of you. It’s designed for former presidents!’

‘By the way, why’s this station called Badlands?’ I asked, as we walked down the steps from his office. ‘Aren’t we supposed to be in Goodlands?’

‘We don’t have any good people in here,’ he laughed, ‘in here we’re all bad. So watch your step, Kalaki!’

The VIP Cell turned out to be a three-roomed apartment, complete with en-suite bedroom. ‘What a huge bed for such a little fellow!’ I exclaimed.

‘He’s still very active,’ explained Kapumpunta.

‘When are you bringing him in?’

‘Tomorrow,’ he replied.

‘Tomorrow? Are you ready? Are the investigations complete? Are you ready to arrest? Ready to charge? Got a watertight case to put before the court? ’

‘That’s not the way we work’ he cackled. ‘First we lock them up, then we do the investigations, to find out what they’re guilty of!’

‘Suppose they’re innocent?’

‘Don’t be silly, Kalaki, everybody’s done something! Once we’ve locked them up, they soon squeal!’

‘Suppose they don’t?’

‘The always do. Once we’ve squeezed their testicles, they can’t stop squealing!’

‘What about the Rule of Law?’

‘The Rule of Law? Do you know how it looks like?’

‘You mean what it looks like.’

‘Don’t presume to correct me. I learnt my English in England!’

‘And where did you learn your law?’

‘In Libya.’

‘Aha,’ I laughed. ‘That could be the problem. The Rule of Law sets out the rules for ensuring that government officials do not misuse their authority.’

‘How does it looks like?’ he repeated.

‘It’s a big green book with many pages.’

‘Hah hah!’ he cackled, pushing me into the cell and clanging the grill door behind me. ‘How do you know it’s a green book? We’ve been looking for that book for years! There was only one copy! You must be the one who stole it! This country has been without the Rule of Law all these years, just because of you! Now we’ve got you! You’re under arrest!’

‘What!’ I gasped. ‘Surely there must be more than one copy!’

‘What are you talking about! Everybody knows that the Rule of Law completely disappeared in 1973 when the Mad Munshumfwa burnt all copies and replaced it with Humanism Part II. He kept only one copy, just for himself, which he wouldn’t show to anybody. That’s what we were looking for when we searched his books!’

‘Is it an offence to have a copy of the Rule of Law?’ I asked innocently.

‘Of course it’s an offence! That’s how you’ve managed to write all these seditious criticisms of the government, you have a secret and illegal copy of the Rule of Law!’

I languished in the cell for nearly an hour before Kapumpunta came back. ‘We’re off to search your house,’ he declared, as six policemen threw me into the back of a police van already stuffed with twelve CID officers. We were followed by a truck load of paramilitary with AK47s, and a pick-up full of barking dogs.

‘What are the dogs for?’ I asked.

‘Because we don’t need a search warrant if we’re looking for drugs,’ he laughed.

‘You won’t find any drugs,’ I retorted.

‘Don’t you be too sure,’ he laughed. ‘Alcohol, tobacco, aspirin, they’re all drugs.’

‘What’s all this?’ asked Sara, as the convoy swung into our yard.

‘There looking for something to charge me with!’ I said.

‘They should find plenty!’ she laughed. ‘See you later, I’m off to a women’s meeting, so I’ll leave you boys to play your games.’

‘You promised to stick by me, for better or worse!’ I pleaded.

‘Hah!’ she snorted as she drove out, ‘I didn’t know how worse you could get!’

‘What’s this?’ growled Kapumpunta, waving under my nose a paper entitled How the Shushushu Rigged the Election. A story like this could bring down the government! Therefore it threatens the security of the state, so I’m arresting you for treason!’

Just then a dog came running out of the kitchen with a cabbage in its teeth. ‘We’ve found the Rule of Law!’ shouted a policeman. ‘Big and green, with many leaves, just like he said!’

‘They were promised the Rule of Law,’ I laughed, ‘but all they got was a cabbage!’

‘Well done, Kalaki,’ laughed Suspector Mumbo Kampumpunta, taking off his hat.

‘Mumba Kapumpa!’ I laughed. ‘I should have guessed it was you! I thought the name sounded familiar! But I didn’t recognise you without the whiskers and wearing that silly hat! Are you all from Twikisa Theatre?’

‘Of course. We’re thinking of developing one of your stories as a comedy at the Playhouse, so we decided to do a theatre workshop with this one.’

‘This one? I never wrote this one!’

‘But you will,’ he laughed. ‘You will!’

‘Do you know,’ I confessed, ‘I actually believed you were real police!’

‘Don’t be silly,’ he laughed. ‘We don’t have any real police!’

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Forget It!

Forget It!

The lawyer leant forward menacingly towards the man in the witness box. ‘Professor Donald Amnesia, you were born in 1957, is that correct?’

‘I can’t possibly be expected to remember that My Lord,’ said the absent-minded professor, looking to the Judge for mercy. ‘I was far too young at the time. I have only hearsay evidence from my parents, who were both notoriously unreliable.’

‘Surely you must know how old you are,’ said the Judge irritably. ‘Don’t you have a birth certificate?’

‘You will appreciate, My Lord, that a learned professor such as myself has an extensive personal library. Looking for one small document like that would need a bibliographic search that could take months.’

‘Just get on with it,’ the Judge snapped at the lawyer. ‘You are supposed to be looking for stolen property, not missing birth certificates.’

‘Moving on,’ said the lawyer, ‘in 1985 you came back from the States with a Doctorate in Amnesia and Forgetfulness?’

‘That’s right,’ said the professor proudly, thrusting his big belly forward and adjusting his wonky spectacles. ‘I wrote a thesis entitled The Role of Forgetfulness in the Criminalisation of the State.

‘What was it about?’

‘I can’t remember,’ said the professor. ‘But it was mainly composed of impressive quotations from other people.’

‘But soon after you came home, you were appointed Economic Adviser to Mupupu Wabufi, even though you had no qualifications in economics!’

‘I was not an adviser in the economy of money. I was an adviser in the economy of truth!’

‘You mean that you advised him how to lie?’

‘Good gracious me no! What are you suggesting! He was already an excellent liar! Everybody believed his lies! He didn’t need any advice from me!’

‘So what did he need you for? If nobody knew he was lying, there was no problem.’

‘On the contrary, My Lord, there was a very big problem. The problem was that he knew he was lying. All his lies and misdeeds used to give him nightmares. He dreaded the day when it would all catch up with him, and he would have to stand in this court and tell the truth.’

‘So you had to teach him to believe his own lies?’

‘That wasn’t possible either. Wabufi was a very clever little chap, and not gullible enough to believe his own lies. This is the terrible burden of great leadership.’

‘So what did you advise?’

‘I advised him that the solution to his problem was forgetfulness, which is the key concept in the economy of truth. I taught him how to forget all the lies and misdeeds of yesterday, so that he could better concentrate on lies for today and tomorrow. That is the secret of how to be a great leader. The secret of an easy conscience is lack of memory.’

‘Since you must know where all these lies were buried,’ suggested the lawyer, ‘it seems that you may be the very one to unravel the mystery of the missing funds. The incoming government has found that the entire contents of the Treasury have disappeared, and they have inherited nothing but huge debts. Do you have any information about this?’

‘I certainly do. I know for a fact that the previous Minister of Finance was extremely forgetful. Perhaps he absent-mindedly banked the money in a wrong bank. Or took it to the National Assembly instead of the Ministry of Finance. Or put it in a wrong tin trunk. I suggest you ask him.’

‘So you have managed to remember that he was forgetful. I was beginning to think you couldn’t remember anything!’

‘It is important to remember when to forget, but not to forget when to remember.’

‘How many houses do you own, Professor Amnesia?’

The absent-minded professor looked over his spectacles, put his tongue in his cheek, and scratched his head for a couple of minutes. But finally he had to admit his difficulty. ‘I have to admit,’ he admitted, ‘that as an academic specialised in qualitative matters, I cannot speak with any precision or certainty on purely quantitative matters. I’ve never had a good memory for figures. I suggest that you put your question to the Director of the Central Statistics Office.’

‘I put it to you that you bought twenty-four houses in the last year!’

‘Really? I can’t remember any such thing. It sounds rather unlikely. I’m sure I would have noticed all the title deeds. Perhaps you should ask my wife, she might know something about it. She runs a very successful little cafĂ© in Katondo Street.’

‘Are you the director of ten different companies which have all collapsed?’

‘You forget that a company which has collapsed doesn’t have directors, only liquidators.’

‘Why did you drive here in an old Datsun 120Y, when you have three new Mercs at your mansion in New Kasama?’ shouted the lawyer, banging his fist on the table.

‘Even me, I’ve been wondering about those Mercs. My wife says that they belong to the Shushushu. She says they parked them in my yard because they were short of space, but they seem to have forgotten about them.’

‘Nobody can remember anything!’ yelled the lawyer. ‘Can you remember swearing on the Bible?’

‘Swearing on the Bible?’ said Amnesia, stroking his chin thoughtfully. ‘No, I’m sure I never did anything like that,’ he finally replied. ‘I’ve sworn never to swear. I couldn’t forget a thing like that.’

The lawyer came close and hissed into the professor’s face. ‘Will you ever remember anything?’

‘If I ever get back into power,’ Amnesia growled menacingly, ‘I shall certainly remember you!’