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.’

No comments:

Post a Comment