Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Press Freedom

Press Freedom

‘Well Wezi,’ I said, looking at the young man lounging on the ruined sofa, ‘what are you doing now? Did you manage to get into Yunza?’

‘Hah!’ he spat, ‘Fat chance! I was expelled from school last year, so I couldn’t sit for my Form Five exams.’

Just then Aunty Lillian came in with a tray of tea and biscuits. ‘Wezi says he was expelled from school last year,’ said Sara. ‘What happened? It’s the first we’re hearing of this.’

‘You ask him,’ replied Lillian, as she spread out the tea things. ‘He’s the one who likes explaining how he disgraced the family. His poor father must be turning in his grave.’

I turned to Wezi, who was now busy putting five spoons of sugar in his tea. ‘Last time we were here you were top of the class, and editor of the school newspaper. I had great hopes that you’d become rich and famous and look after your poor old Uncle Kalaki in his old age…’

‘Don’t you worry about that Wezi,’ said Sara, ‘the way your uncle drinks, he won’t live much longer.’

‘You must have done something really gross!’ I said, quickly turning the conversation back to Wezi. ‘Expelled! Did you vomit on the headmaster? Impregnate his daughter? Kill his dog?’

‘Nothing like that,’ sighed Wezi. ‘Anyway, poor old Mr Wakuba was quite used to those sorts of misfortunes, and always bore them with great fortitude. But what really drove him mad was my first and only edition of the school newspaper, Chinyengo High.’

‘Strange name for a newspaper,’ I said, as I took a quarter bottle of brandy from my pocket to lace my tea. ‘Is there such a thing as high chinyengo? I thought chinyengo was always low.’

Chinyengo High is the name of the school,’ said Lillian irritably. ‘It’s a co-ed boarding school in rural Katete. Anyway, it was definitely Chinyengo Low by the time Wezi finished with it.’

‘But what exactly did you do?’ I persisted, as I turned to Wezi. ‘I’m itching for the delicious details. Did you publish titillating pin-ups of the Form V girls on the front page?’

‘Nothing like that,’ said Wezi. ‘I just published a couple of stories about what was really going on in the school.’

‘Homosexual sex in the dormitory?’ I suggested.

‘Really!’ said Sara. ‘Will you please give your pornographic imagination a rest, stop salivating into your tea, and give the poor boy a chance to tell his story!’

‘Thanks Aunty,’ said Wezi. ‘What happened was, I did a bit of investigative journalism and discovered some very strange things. For example the Biology teacher was taking some of the girls to his house, and showing them the exam paper in advance.’

‘I bet he showed them more than that,’ I said.

‘Shut up!’ snapped Sara.

‘And we found that the headmaster, Mr Wakuba, had misused the school furniture allocation to buy bling-bling furniture for his house, and that’s why the Form Threes had no desks.’

‘You should have respected your headmaster,’ said Aunty Lillian. ‘No wonder you got expelled.’

‘Wakuba was always walking round the school in his Yunza graduation gown,’ said Wezi. ‘But when we checked the Yunza records, we found that he had never even been a Yunza student, let alone a graduate.’

‘So how did he get the job?’ Sara wondered.

‘The Provincial Education Officer is his mulamu,’ explained Wezi.

‘And you published all this in the school newspaper?’ I asked.

‘I had to reveal the truth,’ said Wezi. ‘Everything we had been told about the school was deception and lies, and the headmaster was a complete fraud.’

‘All the money I spent on his education,’ said Lillian bitterly, ‘and he just went there to destroy the place. And now he’s destroyed himself.’

‘But after you were expelled?’ I asked, ‘did the Ministry take any action to clean up the school?’

‘Wakuba was the one who took action,’ laughed Wezi, ‘to make sure such a thing never happened again. He burnt all the copies of the offending publication and appointed a new editor. He also appointed a Regulation Committee of teachers to control the newspaper, and to make sure that all the articles praised the school, and that it was suitable for sending out to parents and to officials in the Ministry.’

‘Let that be a lesson to you,’ said Lillian bitterly. ‘Pupils need to be proud of their school, and parents need to believe in a good education system. But you, not understanding these things, set out to destroy the reputation of your own school. Without education there will be no development, only chaos.’

‘Aunty’s right about that,’ I said.

‘So is Wakuba still the headmaster?’ Sara asked.

‘No,’ replied Wezi. ‘He’s was promoted, after The Minister for Lies and Propabanda, Mr Rotten Shikashiwa, heard of his good work in restoring the reputation of the school. So now he’s the Chairperson of the newly established National Press Regulation Committee.’

‘It’s marvellous,’ I said, ‘how some people get ahead. And what about you, Wezi, what are you thinking of doing?’

‘I think I’ll emigrate to Canada. Get a job on the Toronto Star.’

‘Good idea,’ said Sara. ‘You’re very bright, honest and hardworking. There’s no future for you here.’

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


A servant in a crisp white uniform led me through the huge government mansion to the swimming pool at the back. As I walked out onto the patio I found a massive shapeless lump of a man stretched out on a sun bed under a spreading flamboyant tree. ‘Hey Kalaki!’ he shouted, raising his head, ‘who let you in? Go to the bar and get yourself a drink, then come over here!’
I had arrived at the official residence of the Honourable Toad Chidumbo, Chief Induna for Constitutional Affairs, but best known for his role as the Cackling Clown in the long-running soap-opera, the National Constitutional Comedy, popularly known as the NCC.
‘So what brings you here?’ he asked, as I sat in a deck chair beside him, and the barman delivered my cold Mosi on a tray. ‘I suppose you’ve come to find out more about Utopia.’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘You’ve been falling over yourself laughing, saying a new constitution can’t bring Utopia. You say the government can’t give citizens the right to water, or the right to shelter, or the right to sanitation, or the right to food. But I look round here and find the government has provided you with all of these things! Don’t you feel embarrassed?’
‘Look here Kalaki,’ he said, as he sat up and signalled the barman for another gin and tonic, ‘I am a Chief Induna, so of course I have a right to these things!’
'I guess this mansion must have about six toilets!'
'Eight,' cackled the Toad, as his huge belly wobbled. 'As a Chief Induna, I'm entitled to eight. It establishes my status in society.'
'But do you really need eight toilets?'
'Certainly,' he replied. 'With the amount of feasting in this house, all eight are often occupied simultaneously!'
‘So when people write a constitution for themselves, are you not surprised that they also consider that they should have a right to decent sanitation?’
‘Very surprised and very amused,’ laughed the great Toad. ‘That’s why so much of our time at the NCC is spent laughing. Sometimes we roll around on the floor laughing, before we cross out the silly and utopian demands of the people, who imagine they should all live like the ruling class!’
‘And have decent toilets?’
'Look, Kalaki,' he said, as he slurped the remainder of his gin and tonic, 'ordinary people are mostly destitute and starving, they rarely need to visit a toilet. One latrine for about twenty of them, that's all they need.'
'So why are they demanding more?'
‘Ha ha!’ laughed the great fat Toad, as he rolled around on his bed in amusement. ‘The answer to that is easy. They’ve been misled by people like you, Kalaki. Misled by well meaning idiots. This Constitutional Commission went round the country asking people to imagine Utopia. To imagine God’s Kingdom here on Earth! They were told that they are all citizens, and that they are our masters, and that they can therefore decide how their country should be governed.’
‘And are they not citizens?’
‘Not in our tradition. They are subjects of the Leader and must obey his commands.’
'Do they not have human rights?'
'Of course not! Only the Leader has rights! The Leader has rights over his people, and the people have obligations to him.'
‘But is it not the duty of the Leader to provide for his people?’
'Certainly not!' the Toad laughed, 'you've got things upside down again! It's the duty of the people to provide for the Leader. They feel proud to keep their Leader and his indunas in wealth and splendour.'
'While the people themselves live in poverty?'
'They have all they need, in their simple life. You can't have a rich ruling class if you don't have the poor. That's why Utopia is impossible. That's why the NCC keeps laughing at the silly suggestions of the Commission!'
‘So the Leader sent you there to laugh?’
‘He’s a very jolly fellow, and he likes a good laugh!’
Just then his cell phone rang, and he picked it up. ‘Hullo? … No! … Oh dear … What happened? … Taken to St Theresa Mission Hospital? … OK, I should be there by this evening.’ He turned to me. ‘Bad news,’ he said. ‘My mother’s been taken ill.’ He stood up, as if to walk towards the house, but instead fell flat on the ground.
A week later, I was sitting at breakfast with Sara, as she was reading bits from the newspaper about the joint funeral of mother and son. ‘For all his money and position, they couldn’t keep him alive,’ she said. ‘Evacuated to Johannesburg at government expense, but he had too many problems. High blood pressure, high sugar, liver problems, grossly overweight, strain upon the heart. Only fifty years old.’
‘What about the mother?’
‘Fell down at night, broke her hip trying to reach the latrine, while suffering from diarrhoea. Taken to the local mission hospital on a wheelbarrow, but died the next day from intestinal infection, malnutrition and dehydration. Mind you, she was nearly eighty.’
‘I suppose she’ll go to the Great Utopia Upstairs?’
‘Definitely,’ said Sara. ‘But I’m not sure about him.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘He was very much against Utopia. But I suppose he’ll be much happier laughing with his friends in the Other Place, Downstairs.’

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Give and Take

Give and Take

'We are gathered here today,' intoned Bishop Bundu, 'for the funeral
service of our departed leader. Here was a man so loved by the people
that they gave him the name Givewell Milile, meaning a man who gives
himself for the wellbeing of others. Although Givewell retired from
his position as Minister of Public Works more than twenty years ago,
the government has generously granted this simple and humble man a
State Funeral. Let us now bow our heads in a prayer of remembrance.
Our Givewell, who lies in coffin,
hallowed be thy name,
thy day has come,
to leave this Earth and go to Heaven.
You gave us each day our daily bread,
and coupons for our breakfast,
and even forgave us for voting against you.
We were led into temptation,
and delivered into evil.
But we'll always remember,
the goodness of Givewell,
for ever and ever.
'And now,' said the bishop, 'I call upon the Minister for Propaganda,
the Honourable General Reverend Rotten Shikashiwa, to say a few words
about the departed.'
A huge rhinoceros of a man now rose up from the crowd of assembled
dignitaries and ambled to the lectern. 'Your Excellency Sir, and
distinguished members of the congregation,' began the General, 'I hope
we have all put the bishop's prayer in its proper context, to ensure
that it's not wrongly interpreted as yet another inflammatory
statement by the church which could cause public unrest and anarchy.
'We must remember that, although the late honourable minister was
undoubtedly extraordinarily generous, all this happened just after
independence. This was a time when the lower classes had the mistaken
notion that they should be given free bread as one of the fruits of
'We must also remember that there was no ruling class in
those days, and even the late honourable Givewell Milile had the
mistaken working class notion that the job of government was to
provide free services to the people.
'We should therefore understand that the bishop's prayer was trying to
highlight the evil of providing free services, due to a wrong
conception of Christianity which is still being spread, even to this
day, by a few rogue Catholic priests.

'We therefore thank the Lord for the life of our departed brother
Givewell Milile, because it was his example that taught us about the
dangers of excessive generosity. By his emphasis on giving instead of
taking, he failed to use his position in parliament to increase his
own salary, or to give himself a pension. He was so concerned with
giving to others that he quite forgot to take anything for himself.
Consequently he failed to give himself a car loan, or per diem, or
travel allowance, or even a sitting allowance. The poor man, out of
mistaken generosity, used to sit down entirely free of charge. We
thank the Lord for giving us this example of his poverty, so that we
were able to see the need to change our ways to ensure that leaders
are now properly remunerated. '
'Hallelujah!' chanted the congregation. 'Thank the Lord!'
'And now,' said the bishop, 'I call upon the Minister for Private
Works to say a few words.'
The diminutive figure of the Honourable Mouth Mulufyanya now stepped
up to the lectern. 'I just want to say a few words about the
arrangements we have made for this State Funeral. Our Great Leader has
generously made a donation of twenty billion of taxpayers' money for…'
'Hallelujah!' chanted the congregation in a passionate display of
Christian ecstasy. 'Manna from Heaven!'
'Part of this will go to the late departed, to compensate for what he
missed in life. Five billion has been allocated for building him a
large comfortable retirement mansion in Heaven. A further two billion
has been allocated for the presidential jet to take him there. Another
two billion has been put in a brown envelope for St Peter, to ensure
easy passage through the Pearly Gates.'
'May his soul rest in luxury,' chanted the congregation.
'In terms of funeral provisions, four billion has been used for the
refurbishment of the Leader's Palace, to ensure a suitably comfortable
venue for the reception which follows the burial. One billion has been
used for the red carpet from this church to the Leopards Hill
Cemetery, so that all potholes are properly covered. A further billion
will be made available for printing the extra pages which we expect
will be needed in next year's Auditor General's Report.
'The remainder of the allocation will cover the expenses of all the
distinguished members of the government who have generously given
their valuable time to attend this important national event. To cover
your sitting allowance, standing allowance, per diem, travel allowance
and miscellaneous expenses, each dignitary is respectfully invited to
collect their brown envelope at the door as they leave…'
On hearing these words, the entire congregation began an unseemly
scramble for the door at the back, as pews were upturned, and bibles
and hymn books strewn all over the floor. The bishop was left alone at
the front, together with the eight soldiers in ceremonial uniform who
were trying to lift the coffin. But they dropped it.
'What's the problem?' cried the bishop.
'Somebody's stolen the brass handles,' one of the soldiers replied.
The bishop solemnly gave the sign of the cross. 'That's the way of the
world. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.'

Wednesday, April 7, 2010



‘Your Excellency,’ said Joey Fidget, ‘thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the BBC. A lot has happened over the last few days, following your re-election victory…’
‘My free and fair election,’ said Nyamasoya, as he leaned back in his chair and smirked at the ceiling.
‘Almost too good to be true,’ said Joey, ‘winning 99% of the vote.’
‘Never before,’ replied Nyamasoya, ‘has this country had such a brilliant election strategist as myself. You see, Joey, elections are won well before the election, not on election day.’
‘And how would you summarise your election strategy, Your Excellency?’
‘In one word, transparency,’ he replied confidently. ‘It is essential that the voters know all about the candidates. Their lives must be an open book. Above all, any past misdeeds must be confessed and repented. Even adultery must be admitted, especially if committed on a Sunday morning. Transparency is the key.’
‘With all your problems,’ said Joey, ‘I’m surprised to find you so jovial. But before we come to the present situation, tell me more about your strategy of transparency. Did you entertain the voters with graphic accounts of all your past misdeeds?’
‘Good gracious no!’ he snorted. ‘What are you thinking? A President cannot even be suspected of any misdeed. If I were to reveal any misdeed committed by myself, I would be in danger of being arrested under the Defamation of the President Act! To suggest any misdeed would be to question the judgement of God, who annointed me as Father of the Nation!’
‘Now I’m completely confused.’ Joey confessed. ‘Then where was the transparency in your election strategy?’
‘Don’t be silly,’ scoffed Nyamasoya. ‘The strategy wasn’t aimed at me, but at my opponents. These were people who had never been presidents before. Their backgrounds were unknown and needed to be exposed.’
‘Now I get it,’ said Joey. ‘You saw the prospect of digging up a murky past for your main opponent, Cycle Mata.’
‘Exactly. I probed into his past, and what I found was profoundly shocking. After interviewing a few thousand key informants, the Shushushu came across a very old man, now deaf and blind, who said he once shared a desk with Cycle Mata when he was doing his Sub A at Mpiki Primary School in 1942. Apparently one day at school Cycle Mata was crying, and when the teacher bent down to ask the little fellow what was wrong, he hit her in the face.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Joey. ‘Obviously not suitable as a presidential candidate!’
‘There’s worse,’ said Nyamasoya grimly. ‘The teacher was employed by the colonial government, which immediately recognised the threat to its authority, and jailed Cycle Mata as a terrorist.’
‘Thereby excluding him from all elections on the basis of his criminal record,’ suggested Joey helpfully.
‘So you might think. But after independence all the terrorists were re-classified as freedom fighters and let out. So instead I had him arrested under the Gender Violence Act of 2010, and thrown back into prison.’
‘But,’said Joey, scratching her grey head, ‘wasn’t the offence committed sixty years before the legislation came into effect?’
‘That’s right,’ agreed Nyamasoya. ‘So I also had him charged with concealing the offence for sixty years. But it is not for me to pre-judge the case, I have to respect the independence of the judiciary. It was just an unfortunate legal necessity that Cycle Mata had to miss the election. And as it happened, all my other election opponents experienced similar embarrassments.’
‘Resulting in a presidential election with only one party and one candidate.’
‘Yes. But luckily that didn’t matter, because the only candidate was me.’
‘But things soon went wrong after the election,’ said Joey, ‘when the mob stormed the jail and released Cycle Mata and all the other candidates!’
‘Yes. A direct challenge to the rule of law, so I had no choice but to call in the army.’
‘But instead the army came for you, and now you’re sitting in the same prison cell that Cycle Mata has just vacated.’
‘That’s right. Unfortunately we have no suitable accommodation for presidents.’
‘So the coup was a direct result of your strategy of transparency?'
‘Certainly not! It was caused by another problem entirely.’
‘What was that?’
‘I had made the mistake of putting my young nephew Dingiswayo in charge of the National Brewery. After my election victory he invited all his friends into the brewery to celebrate, and caused a national beer shortage.’
‘I’m getting lost,’ Joey admitted. ‘How does a beer shortage cause a coup d’etat?’
‘Very easily,’ explained Nyamasoya. ‘We have always avoided coups by keeping the army perpetually drunk on free beer. It’s the only way to protect national security. But once the brewery closed, the entire army had time to sober up. Once sober, they were able to think, and also to get annoyed that there was no beer. So obviously they overthrew the government.’
‘I must say you seem very calm about the situation,’ said Joey. ‘Acting President Corporal Kaponya is threatening to put you before the firing squad at dawn tomorrow. Aren’t you frightened?’
‘Not at all. I’m doing a deal with Corporal Kaponya. I have promised to make him my Vice-President.’
‘Suppose he won’t agree?’
‘He will. Otherwise I shall reveal his adultery in 1995.’
‘A good strategy,’ said Joey. ‘We must have transparency.’