Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Parable of the Shotgun

The Parable of the Shotgun
It was Sunday morning, and we were having a nice lazy lie in. Or so I thought. Until Sara suddenly leapt out of bed with a start. ‘It’s half past eight! We’re supposed to be at the nine o’clock service!’
‘Oh Christ,’ I said. ‘Can’t we give it a rest? We’ve already been to three funerals this week! I must be going to church more than the Pope!’
‘It’s Independence Day,’ said Sara.
‘Yes, dear,’ I said. ‘Independence. I remember that.’
By the time we had taken our seats on the hard penance of a wooden pew, the priest was already beginning a reading from the Holy Book. ‘The lesson this morning,’ he was saying, ‘is taken from the Gospel according to St Kalaki, Chapter Thirteen, Verses 1-25, commonly known as the Parable of the Shotgun.
‘And the Pharisee said unto Jesus, When you talk of independence, are you not inciting rebellion against the Romans? And blaspheming against your God who demands your obedience to all earthly authority?
‘And Jesus answered him, saying, There was once a peaceful land called Zombia, a land of milk and honey, where land was as free as air, and all the people respected one another, and where all disputes were settled amicably by the Chief.
‘But one day there came three wise men from the east, who had shotguns. And the citizens marveled at these strange weapons, for this was the first time that gunpowder had been seen in Zombia. So they called these strangers Shotguns, because they all carried shotguns.
‘And the peaceful people of Zombia were jerked out of their peace and tranquility by these shotguns, which could kill animals and even people, and which made such a loud bang that some people died of fright.
‘And because of their brutality, the Shotguns soon took over the previously peaceful land of Zombia. For the Shotguns had come looking for the copper which lay deep underground, which they needed for making more shotguns.
‘And the people were sore afraid of the Shotguns, so they went to the Chief to complain. But the induna at the palace gate spoke to the people, saying your Chief has gone up in a big machine in the sky to visit the Republic of Shotgunia, and won’t be back until next month.
‘So the people came back a month later, with a petition saying the Shotguns are paying us only one talent a day, but it costs ten talents to feed a family. Our wives have to grow the food to support us miners. And on top of this we have to pay hut tax, income tax, drinking tax, eating tax and everything tax. So the Shotguns are getting our copper free of charge and taking it to Shotgunia where they become rich. Whereas we, who used to be rich, have now become destitutes in our own land.
‘And every morning before we begin work on the mine we are forced to salute the Shotgun Flag and sing the Shotgun song:
Stand and shoot the Zombians,
How they flee,
See them dance in agony.
Victors in our struggle
For their rights,
We saw freedom’s flight.
Praise be to shotgun,
Shoot them, shoot them.
Praise their great copper,
Steal it, steal it.
Captives they stand,
Under the flag of our land.
Shotgun, praise to thee,
Zombians, work for free.
‘Please, O Chief, return our land to us, so that our copper may be ours, and so that we may never again be slaves of the shotgun.
‘But when the Chief came out of his palace to hear the people’s complaint, the people saw that he was also carrying a shotgun, and was wearing heavy copper bangles on his ankles. And the Chief threw the petition aside, and instead pulled a scroll out of his pocket which he read to the people. This is the Title Deed by which I have given all the copper to the Shotguns, and anybody who causes trouble will be guilty of treason!
‘Then the people were sore annoyed. But there arose amongst the people an Old Lion who was immune to bullets. And he organized all the young men to steal all the shotguns at the dead of night, and dance the cha-cha-cha upon the guns until they were all broken. And verily I say unto you, from that time no shotgun was ever allowed again into that land, and nobody ever again succeeded in stealing the independence of the good people of Zombia.’
Now the priest closed the Holy Book and looked up at the congregation. ‘The lesson today shows us that we must always value and guard our independence, or it will be taken away from us.’
We all sat there in silence. Until there came a great choking sob from an old man at the back. Then came a terrible wail. And then there rose up a great howl of grief from the entire congregation, filling the church until the roof began to shake. As people threw themselves onto the floor in despair, the priest crumpled into his chair, put his head in his hands, and wept. Then up stood six pall bearers, all dressed in black, picked up the coffin, and began to carry it slowly from the church.
And on the side of the coffin was written ‘INDEPENDENCE’.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Full Circle

Full Circle

‘I really can’t make it out.’ said Amock, ‘We seem to be back to 1940, with protesting miners being shot.’

‘It was just a matter of time before the bullets started flying,’ said Sara. ‘When workers are paid slave wages, strikes are illegal, and protests are illegal, then something’s going to blow up.’

‘What about the political aspect of it?’ Amock persisted. ‘How do we understand a ruling party allowing workers to be treated like dogs? These are the same workers from whom they need votes at the next election? Is there some explanation for all this which has passed us by?’

‘I’ll pour another round,’ I said, as I picked up the brandy bottle. ‘I think our imaginations need a bit of lubrication.’

So we sat there for a few moments in contemplative silence. ‘At least,’ said Sara, ‘this explains why the Chinese hearses were bought, to quickly remove dead miners from the scene. And mobile hospitals to quickly arrive, and attend to the dead and dying. Now people will understand why we needed these expensive imports, and thank the government for their great foresight in anticipating mine massacres.’

‘That still doesn’t get over the problem that people don’t vote for massacres,’ declared Amock. ‘But on the other hand, maybe they no longer need our votes, they can rely on rigging.’

‘That can’t be the answer,’ I said. ‘The basic mathematical formula for rigging, as first introduced in Velvet Mango’s classic work on Election Manipulation, established that rigging can increase a candidate’s vote by a theoretical maximum of only 10%.’

‘And this government,’ said Sara, ‘is probably facing a 95% swing against them. The only people who would vote for them would be coffin makers and undertakers.’

‘So it seems that we can’t explain the government’s behaviour,’ I said. ‘If there’s is no rational explanation, it must be mere stupidity.’

But so far Jennifer had said nothing. All she had done was to pour herself another brandy. But finally, she spoke. ‘Be careful who you call stupid,’ she said. ‘Maybe it’s us who are too stupid to understand the government’s clever plan. Maybe these ministers are not as stupid as they look.’

‘I certainly hope not,’ said Sara. ‘But do you have an alternative explanation?’

‘I think you’ve been focusing too narrowly on the mistreatment of workers,’ said Jennifer. ‘You have to look at the bigger picture.’

‘What bigger picture?’ I sneered. ‘Like taxing starving miners, but not taxing the rich mines? Isn’t the bigger picture the same, only worse!’

‘Perhaps,’ said Jennifer. ‘But what about all the new roads and new bridges that the government is building? What about the new hospitals and schools? How does that fit into your picture?’

‘That’s a good point,’ admitted Amock. ‘Maybe a lot of people will vote for these things, and forget about the mistreatment of the workers.’

‘Maybe,’ admitted Jennifer. ‘Maybe they will vote for these things because they think they will benefit from them.’

‘And won’t they?’ asked Sara.

‘Suppose these things are all part of the same plan,’ said Jennifer. ‘Suppose that the plan is to drive the Zambian workers out of the country, and replace them with Chinese! Then we can understand why we need a railway link to Maputo, and another to the Bangwelu railway and Luanda. And why are we building new roads into Angola? And new bridges at Chaiwa and Kasungula? Isn’t it because they are needed to export our workers by the million, and import the Chinese!’

‘So our workers are being treated like dogs on purpose, to chase them out of the country!’

‘Exactly,’ said Jennifer. ‘And this is just part of the bigger picture.’

‘Then why are we building so many schools and hospitals?’ I asked.

‘They’re all for the new Chinese workers!’ laughed Jennifer.

‘And will all the exported Zambians be able to find work abroad?’ Sara wondered.

‘They couldn’t find work here because their jobs were taken by highly paid foreigners. But if they go abroad, the Zambians will then be highly paid foreigners.’

‘So will these Chinese make Zambia rich?’

‘Hasn’t the Minister for Nkongole Budgets, little Mosquito Katwishi, already promised that we shall soon be a middle income country! But how is it going to be achieved? Let me tell you the secret! Once the Chinese own everything they will invest heavily. The copper money will stay here. New factories everywhere, full of Chinese workers. We shall be the new Hong Kong!’

‘But we shall become the Republic of Chinbia!’ exclaimed Sara. ‘Doesn’t Nyamasoya realize that the Chinese will take over the government? The remaining Zambians will be their house-servants and chola boys, and we shall be treated like dirt. We shall be a colony once again. Is that Vasco da Gama’s great plan? Is this his marvellous vision for our future?’

‘Of course it is!’ laughed Jennifer. ‘This is all that these old UNIP fellows know and understand. They understand colonies, and how to deal with them. So they will organize another struggle for independence, capture the rich colony from the Chinese, and bring back the one-party state! Once again we shall be a rich middle income country!’

‘What a relief!’ laughed Amock. ‘And what a great vision! Then we won’t be back in 1940 anymore! We shall have moved forward to 1964!’

‘And all much better off!’ said Jennifer.

I refilled all the glasses, and raised mine in the air. ‘Let’s all be upstanding! Let’s celebrate the Struggle for Independence!’

[Thanks to Isaac Makashinyi and Hachi Beekay, who both contributed ideas to this piece]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Dogs' Dinner

The Dogs’ Dinner
Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘Tell me a story, then I’ll go to bed!’
‘Once upon a time, a long time ago,’ I began, ‘the Republic of Mfuwe was ruled by His Excellency the Monstrous King Rhinoceros.’
‘Was he a Good King?’ asked Nawiti.
‘They all start well, and then get worse and worse,’ I said. ‘What started off as a rather jovial little ngulube from Chipata, soon turned into a Monstrous Rhinoceros.’
‘His head got bigger and bigger?’ suggested Nawiti.
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Everybody became very alarmed at his enormously big head. Except himself, who thought it was a miracle.’
‘But did he look after the kingdom properly?’ asked Nawiti.
‘That was the problem,’ I said. ‘As the Rhinoceros got fatter and fatter, so his subjects got thinner and thinner. The king and all his court of flatterers, con artists, praise singers and parasites were eating up all the food, leaving nothing for the other animals.’
‘So what did the animals decide to do about it?’
‘They had to find out what tricks the Rhinoceros was up to. The problem was that he had set up his palace deep in the dark forest, where most animals were scared to go because of the owls, snakes, ghosts, evil spirits, and worst of all, the king’s hyenas. So they decided to send a group of watchdogs to find out what was going on.’
‘To watch what the king was up to?’
‘Exactly. To follow the king’s every move and report back to the animals.’
‘How did they report back?’
‘They scratched the news onto a flat stone. Then an elephant pressed the stone onto a banana leaf, to make many copies. Even to this day, newspapers are called the press, and the pages are called leaves.’
‘And did it work?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Oh yes. Every day the eagles airlifted the news from the forest to the animals in the valley, where it soon became known as the Daily News.’
‘And was the news good?’
‘Not to begin with. The Watchdogs soon sniffed out what the king was up to. They found that the king was chopping down the trees of the forest, which was being floated down the river and exported to Ching Chang. All the food from the forest was used to feed the Ching Chang workers, and that was why the animals in the valley were getting nothing.’
‘So the animals were very annoyed?’
‘Very annoyed,’ I admitted. ‘In fact they were just about to march en masse into the forest to depose the king, when the news began to get better. One day the watchdogs wrote Now we have been here longer, we have come to understand better what your beloved king is doing for his animals. We are now interviewing the king to clear up earlier misunderstandings.
‘And did the animals believe all this?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Some were doubtful, saying things like Is the king still getting fatter? But over the coming months the news got better and better, and they were more persuaded.
‘And what was this better and better news?’ Nawiti asked suspiciously.
‘The Daily News was now reporting that ‘soon the benefits will be trickling down to all the animals. The king is just beginning the ten-year Forest Development Project. Soon the useless Mukwa Forest will be replaced with a Mango Forest, and in only five years we shall begin to reap the benefits. Then all the animals will stop getting thinner, and start getting fatter. Then the king will build schools for all animals, so that they can also learn how to grow into rhinoceroses, or at least hippopotamuses. Then we shall be independent at last.’
‘Then the animals were very pleased, and would have celebrated their independence with a great feast, except that they had no food to eat. But there was one clever young lioness, Mumbi Munkusa, who didn’t believe a word she was reading in the newspapers. So she traveled day and night until she reached the forest. Then she crept through the forest at the dead of night, until she came to the king’s palace. And what did she see?’
‘She saw the watchdogs feasting with the king!’ declared Nawiti.
‘Exactly!’ I said. ‘Believe only what you see! There she found the most disgusting dogs’ dinner you ever did see. There they were, lying about on the ground, bloated with food and tujilijili. The palace servants were roasting more eland and kudu on a huge spit, while some of the dogs were licking the king’s boots. Others were licking his arse, since he was now far too fat to attend to his own toilet arrangements.
‘Traitors!’ roared Mumbi. ‘You have been corrupted! You’re nothing more than puppy dogs and lap dogs! We employed you as watchdogs!’
‘Then the lap dogs rushed at Mumbi and tried to eat her, shouting Don’t call us dogs! We’re press secretaries, public relations managers and image builders!’
‘And did they eat the brave Mumbi?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Of course not!’ I laughed. ‘They’d been eating too much sweet honey from the forest, so they had no teeth!’
‘My teacher,’ said Nawiti sadly, ‘says that we’re all animals.’
‘That’s true,’ I agreed. ‘But some are more animal than others.’

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I was slumped in front of the TV waiting for the news, when instead came a grim picture of two young boys, stripped to the waist in the hot sun, swinging pickaxes at some hard and unrelenting rock on a barren hillside. Then the picture switched to a smooth fat old gentleman in a Saville Row suit, standing in his luxury mansion. He looked straight into the camera and said ‘Keep working hard, so that you can maintain me in the style to which I have become accustomed.’
Then, typical of ZNBC, everything went blank, for several minutes. When the picture finally came back, the scene was much the same, except that the fat old gentleman was gone, and instead the room was full of small children. In the big chair in the middle sat a little girl, perhaps four years old. I recognized her immediately, it was my granddaughter Nawiti! She and her pre-school friends must have gone on a trip to State House!
‘Hi, Nawiti!’ I said, waving at the TV. ‘Say hi to Grandpa!’
Nawiti leant towards the microphone. ‘This is your New Leader Nawiti speaking on behalf of my new cabinet. This afternoon, at 16.00 hours precisely, the under-fives of this country walked into all the main instootions of guberment, where we found all the fat old men drunk and asleep. In the interest of good governance, we have taken control of the state, and the constootion is spended.’
‘Ha ha, Nawiti,’ I chuckled, ‘that’s a good joke. Not much left to suspend!’
‘We children,’ shouted Nawiti, waving her arms, ‘are fed up with these incompetent old men running this country. They are not only greedy and lazy, but they have very long fingers. We shall bring all this theft to an end!’ As she spoke, she raised her hands in the air, as did all of her cabinet. ‘Now you have a leader and a cabinet who all have short fingers.’
‘Grandpa won’t ask for much,’ I said, taking another sip of brandy. ‘Just the occasional trip to Paris.’
‘These old men were always going on trips abroad because they couldn’t understand computers. Your new government has mastered computers in pre-school, and we shall conduct all international consultations by video conferencing on Skype.’
‘So that’s why my broadband bill is so high!’ I shouted at the TV.
‘Children of Zambia, we are free at last, free at last. We the children of Zambia have always been in the majority, but we have been left without a vote. We the young ones who have all the ideas, we were imprisoned in schools by these geriatric exploiters, whose purpose is to stop us thinking and make us obey their mindless instructions.’
‘Heh heh, little girl,’ I chuckled, ‘what d’you think you’ll turn into when you grow up!’
‘For years we have endured being treated like second class citizens. But a single spark can start a prairie fire. Last week one of our geriatric leaders, in looking for yet another insult to throw at another geriatric leader, called him an under-five. By the end of that same day we had our own Under-Five page on Facebook, and the revolution was under way!’
‘Children of Zambia! Did you know that while these old fools have been spending millions of dollars going to South Africa to treat their geriatric diseases, 30% of children die before the age of five from disease and starvation. If these were adults dying, they would call it genocide. Or a holocaust. But we children are expendable, so they call it under-five mortality!’
‘Terribly sorry Nawiti,’ I sighed, ‘Your Grandpa is a geriatric monster!’
‘You old geriatrics! We are no longer their slaves. No longer your domestic servants! No longer your unpaid labour! No longer your rock breakers! No longer your orphans! No longer your street kids, to live in your drains like rats! We have come out from our slavery and we are taking over!’
‘I wish now,’ I said, tears rolling down my cheeks, ‘that I’d never asked her to fetch me the brandy bottle.’
‘Now I come to the instootional changes,’ declared Nawiti. ‘All hospitals are now children’s hospitals, and the previous under-five clinics become adult clinics, where adults will be inoculated against greed and cruelty. The Police Farce is abolished, and replaced by former School Prefects. All innocent and unconvicted prisoners are released, and to be replaced by the criminal police. All schools are now for adults, where they will learn how to treat children properly, without beating, abusing or sexual molestation. Parliament will become a Comedy Theatre, where children can go to listen to old people talk nonsense. State House is abolished, and will be transformed into an amusement park with slides, swimming pools, swings, roundabouts, jumping castles, and…’
As she was talking I heard the door bang and in came Sara. ‘What’s on the news?’
‘Revolution!’ I said. ‘Children have taken over. All adults have to go back to school!’
‘Rubbish!’ she laughed. ‘You were asleep in front of the TV, as usual!’
Just then Nawiti came running round the corner. ‘Aaarghh! Aaarghh! I screamed.
‘Are you alright, Grandpa?’ she giggled, as she gave me a little kiss. ‘Can I get you something?’
‘Go to the cupboard,’ I said. ‘And fetch my brandy bottle.’