Tuesday, January 25, 2011



I was sitting on the veranda having a quiet brandy, when round the corner came my old friend Amock. ‘Come and sit down!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have a drink!’

‘I’ve given up,’ he said.

‘Since when?’ I laughed.

‘Since this morning,’ he said seriously.

‘Ha!’ I scoffed. ‘I’m told there’s no booze in Heaven, so I’m taking my share now while it’s still available. But have it your way, you can have a glass of water! Tell me, what’s the latest?’

‘Have you seen today’s Post?’ he asked.

‘No, what’s happened?’

‘Nothing much,’ he laughed. ‘I was just amused by Nyamasoya telling us that Lusaka’s horrific traffic jams are the result of the government’s enormous success in promoting economic development.’

‘So instead of moaning, we should be grateful!’

‘That’s the obvious implication,’ Amock agreed.

‘Then perhaps we shouldn’t complain that Nyamasoya is flying to so many countries,’ I suggested. ‘Instead we should be proud that he is showing off Zed as a rich country, and distributing our tourist brochures all over the world.’

‘Very good!’ laughed Amock. ‘And we shouldn’t complain about the police or the Chinese shooting us, because Nyamasoya is building so many new hospitals to treat our wounds.’

‘And we shouldn’t complain,’ I said, ‘about the floods. Instead we should take advantage of the tourist potential by building waterfront lodges and fishing safaris.’

‘And people complain about the violent MMD cadres,’ said Amock, ‘not realizing that they are practicing for the world boxing championships.’

‘Ho ho,’ I laughed. ‘We could go on for ever! But what did Jennifer say about the government’s infuriating pride in gridlock traffic jams?’

‘I left early this morning, before she had woken up,’ he explained. ‘But her theory is that the government is deliberately trying to provoke everybody.’

‘Really? But why should they want to do that?’

‘You know old Nyamasoya is a leftover remnant from the one-party state. He wants to unite the whole country into one party!’

‘Unite behind the MMD?’

‘Of course not. He’s been sent there to destroy it!’

‘Then how's he going to unite the country?’

‘Well, obviously it’s a clever strategy,’ explained Amock. ‘Everybody will become so infuriated that all the parties will unite against MMD. It will be just like independence, a united struggle against the despised enemy. UNIP will rise from the grave and organize the Cha Cha Cha!’

‘Half a minute,’ I said. ‘Haven’t you over extrapolated a bit too much from this little example of praising traffic jams? What else is the ruling party doing to annoy the people?’

‘What else?’ laughed Amock. ‘Well may you ask! The evidence of the policy is everywhere. They have taken MMD’s original policy on privatizing parastatals, and are now privatizing everything!’

‘Poof!’ I scoffed. ‘They've only privatised ZAMTEL!’

‘Don’t you see what’s going on?’ he asked, rather seriously. ‘By legalizing corruption they have privatised the Treasury, and can now use our money as they please. They’ve privatised the Judiciary, so the government cannot be prosecuted for their crimes, and they can lock up their political enemies as they please. They’ve privatised the Police Force, to wage war on all those who protest. Next education is to be privatised, and government schools will be up for sale. Obviously this is a well orchestrated plot to infuriate everybody, provoke the revolution and destroy the MMD!’

So saying, he stood up, as if to leave. ‘Amock,’ I said, ‘you’ve only just got here, where are you going?’

But he was walking away from me, and into the house. ‘I haven’t got much time,’ he said. ‘I have to go upstairs.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘this house hasn’t got an upstairs!’


Then I heard a voice saying ‘Dead! Dead!’

I woke up with a start. There was Sara standing at the bedroom door, in black skirt and scarf.

I sat up straight in the bed. ‘Dead!’ I shouted. ‘I’m not dead! I just overslept’

‘Not you!’ Sara sobbed. ‘Amock! He died suddenly. Early this morning.’

‘Nonsense!’ I cried angrily. ‘I was talking to him only two minutes ago. Then he went upstairs.’

‘We haven’t got an upstairs,’ said Sara.


Two days later I was standing in church as the congregation sang Amock’s favourite hymn. But I was singing it differently…

What a friend we had in Amock

All his food and drink to share!

What a privilege to send him

All the way to God up there!

Have we trials and tribulations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

Just climb up the stairs to heaven

You’ll find Amock waiting there!

Are we weak and heavy laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Go upstairs and talk to Amock,

You will find him waiting there!

Do your friends despise, forsake you?

Go to Amock up the stairs!

In his arms he’ll take and shield you,

You will find him waiting there!


[Kalaki acknowledges some input from Facebook friends Mweembe Hampande, Alexander Mwalula and Chola Bwalya. Amock Israel Phiri, who died last week, was the inspiration for the character Amock in many of Kalaki’s stories]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Refugee

The Refugee

I was sitting on the veranda sipping a brandy and contemplating the infinite when round the corner came a scraggy figure with a bandage round his head. Heaving his backpack onto the ground, he clasped his arms around me. ‘Uncle Kalaki!’ he exclaimed, ‘Bwanji! How nice to see you again!’

‘Bwino! Good gracious! It’s Henry! Aunty Alice’s boy! I hardly recognized you! What has happened? You look like a refugee from a war zone!’

‘I am,’ he laughed. ‘Most of the boys got rounded up, but I managed to get on a bus. The conductor hid me on the luggage rack.’

‘Come and have a bath,’ I said, ‘then I’ll find some of Jumani’s old clothes, and clean up that wound on your head, then you can tell me all about it.’

An hour later he made a second and more civilized appearance on the veranda. ‘Now tell me all about it,’ I said. ‘Did you set fire to the headmaster? Kill his dog? Impregnate his daughter?’

‘It began from almost nothing,’ he said, as he sipped a cup of cocoa. ‘On the first day of term, my friend Simukoko was sent home for not bringing his school fees. He had only 330 pins instead of 700. He pleaded with the Headmaster to defer the remainder until next term, since his parents were both unemployed. But Mr Wopusa wouldn’t hear of it.’

‘So you were all annoyed.’

‘Simukoko is captain of the school football team, and we were due to play St Joseph’s the following Saturday. That evening we called a meeting and decided to send a delegation to talk to Mr Wopusa the following morning.’

‘But he still refused?’

‘He said he couldn’t make an exception for one, and without money he couldn’t run the school, and we were trying to undermine his authority. Then he put us all in Saturday morning detention for insubordination.’

‘Wasn’t he over-reacting a bit?’

‘He always does. He seems to have no confidence in his position. Some say he’s got no degree and others say he only got the job because he’s related to the minister.’

‘So you called another meeting.’

‘Yes. And a lot of things were said. It was pointed out that the government has declared that education is free, but this Wopusa has invented a lot of fees. We have a computer fund, but no computers. A bus fund but no bus. A swimming pool fund but no pool. Meanwhile Wopusa sends his children to Simba School at $2,000 a term and drives round in a Jaguar. So we resolved to go on class boycott until Simukoko was reinstated.’

‘So Wopusa expelled the ringleaders.’

‘Exactly. How did you know?’

‘Incompetent bullies always overreact, and then get deeper and deeper into trouble. So you had to call another meeting.’

‘This time we invited the press, and voiced our complaints that the national education policy wasn’t being followed. There were not supposed to be fees, but the Headmaster was collecting fees and misusing them. There was supposed to be equality of opportunity, but other schools are much better than ours. We demanded the sacking of the Headmaster.’

‘So instead Wopusa sacked all of you?’

‘Exactly. The next morning we all got expulsion letters, which stated that we would be allowed to return only after we, and our parents, had signed a declaration that we would never contact the press, would never organize a class boycott and would never hold another meeting.’

‘But you called another meeting?’

‘We had no choice. The next morning we congregated in the quadrangle to plan our march to the Provincial Education Officer, to demand our educational rights as laid out in the Education Policy, and our human rights as laid out in the Constitution, as explained in our Civics textbook.’

‘And did you march?’

‘No. The Police Mobile Unit arrived with batons, tear gas and guns, surrounded the school and attacked us. The battle lasted for the rest of the day, leaving two students dead, ten with bullet wounds, two hundred in prison and five hundred hiding in the forest’

‘So that’s when you burnt the place down?’

‘Yes,’ he said ruefully. ‘That battle saw the end of Limulunga High School. We razed it to the ground. The best bit was burning the Jaguar, it went up like a Tunisian fireworks display.’

I walked into the house and collected Jumani’s old baseball cap, and a large blue RB chitenge. Then I went back to the veranda and asked Henry to stand up. I put the cap on his head and the chitenge as a gown round his shoulders.

‘You have now learned that all law and human rights are not worth the paper they are written on, and the parasites in charge are a bunch of idiots who will do anything to stay in power.’ Then I rolled up a copy of Sangwapo and gave it to him as his certificate. ‘Congratulations,’ I said, ‘Your education is now complete. You are now a graduate.’

‘Thanks, Grandpa,’ he said. ‘A graduate of what?’

‘A graduate of Political Science.’

‘Shall I be able to get a job?’

‘You’ve already got a job,’ I said. ‘You are now a political thug. You’ve been educated by the government.’

Tuesday, January 11, 2011



‘Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘before I go to bed, tell me a story with a happy ending.'

‘Once upon a time,’ I began, ‘in the land of Zed, there was a farmer called Mrs Zedia Bantubonse…’

‘I thought farmers were men,’ Nawiti objected.

‘Then you thought wrong,’ I replied. ‘In Zed the farmers were all women. Their husbands’ job was to drink beer and look for more wives, so that the farm could have more farmers.’

‘And what was the name of the farm?’

‘It was called Carrotseland, because Mrs Bantubonse was very good at growing carrots. But she also grew maize and groundnuts and kept cattle and goats. It was a very large farm, with thousands of workers living in the many villages of Carrotseland.’

‘So what was the problem?’ asked Nawiti.

‘As with all farms in Zed,’ I explained, ‘the problem was theft. The crops were being stolen by monkeys, eaten by rats and trampled by elephants and hippos. What with all the thieving animals and the lazy husbands, the farm just couldn’t make a profit.’

‘They just needed a big guard dog,’ declared Nawiti.

‘Several guard dogs had been trampled by the elephants, and one had been eaten by a crocodile. But one day a large hyena came knocking at her door. ‘Excuse me, Mrs Bantubonse,’ said the hyena politely, ‘but I have heard of your problem. Me and my friends can help. We can stay on your farm and protect everything.’

‘How much would I have to pay you?’ asked Mrs Bantubonse suspiciously.

‘No, you wouldn’t have to pay anything,’ the hyena assured her. ‘It’s all in the general interest. It will be a win-win situation. We shall eat the naughty monkeys, and your crops will be protected, and we shall all be happy.’

‘And what is your name?’ asked Mrs Bantubonse.

‘Call me Ragbo,’ he answered. ‘Or RB for short.’

‘So did Ragbo do a good job?’ asked Nawiti.

‘Everything went very well for about a year,’ I replied. ‘Then one day Ragbo again knocked on Mrs Bantubonse’s door. ‘Madam,’ he said politely, ‘your farm is now selling lots of produce and all you humans are now fat and rich, but we hyenas are poor and starving!’

‘How’s that?’ asked Mrs Bantubonse.

‘We have done our job so well that there are no monkeys left to eat,’ said Ragbo. ‘You just let us eat the goats, and you can have the rest, and we can all live happily together. It will be a win-win situation.’

‘So they signed the Carrotseland Agreement,’ suggested Nawiti.

‘Exactly,’ I replied. ‘But a year later Ragbo knocked on her door again. ‘We have eaten all the goats, so now we need the cows. You can have the carrots and maize. It will be a win-win situation.’

‘Certainly not!’ said Mrs Bantubonse. ‘You’ve eaten too much already! You and all your friends can now leave my farm!’

‘Your order has no force,’ sneered Ragbo, ‘According to the Carrotseland Agreement, we hyenas are now in charge!’

‘Then we’ll have an election,’ declared Mrs Bantubonse, ‘to see who’s in charge!’

‘Very good,’ said Ragbo. ‘And as Chief of Security and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I shall be the one to organize the election and count the votes.’

‘And so the hyenas organized themselves into the Movement of Murderous Dogs, and the humans became the Peoples’ Farm, and the election was held.’

‘Didn’t the cows also form a party?’ wondered Nawiti.

‘No. During the election the hyenas ate all the cows. But the monkeys all voted in favour of the Murderous Dogs.’

‘What!’ shouted Nawiti. ‘You said that the hyenas ate all the monkeys.’

‘I never said that,’ I retorted. ‘What I said was that Ragbo said that. But of course he was a compulsive liar. In fact he did a deal with the monkeys that they could eat the maize while the hyenas were eating the goats. You see, it was the monkeys who taught the hyenas how to steal, and Ragbo became best friends with Kolwe Kafupi, the chief of the thieving monkeys.

‘But surely there were many more humans than hyenas?’

‘Yes there were,’ I admitted. ‘But the humans lost the election because the hyenas did the counting. So they swallowed most of the human votes, and also some of the humans. So Ragbo declared he had won the election, appointed himself President of the new Republic of Chimbwi, and then tore up the Carrotseland Agreement.’

‘Oh dear,’ said Nawiti. ‘Did he turn out to be a good president?’

‘Of course not. He sold off all the land to foreigners from the Republic of Ching Chang, so the former farmers now became wage labourers on their own land. When they were sick and starving, he built them a big hospital.’

‘At least that was good, wasn’t it?’

‘No. The job of the hospital was to squeeze out the last drop of blood, which was being exported to the Republic of Ching Chang for $9,000 a ton.’

‘So the humans voted them out at the next election?’

‘Of course not. The hyenas were still counting the votes.’

‘So they went on strike!’

‘The hyenas had made strikes illegal!’

‘They protested in the street!’

‘That was treason, punishable by death!’

‘So how were they set free?’

‘There is still a legend amongst the people of Carrotseland that one day a young woman called Nawiti will come amongst them and set them free!’

‘Yes!’ shouted Nawiti. ‘When I grow up, I shall save them!’

‘There you are!’ I said gratefully. ‘The story has a happy ending!’