Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Blue Chitenge

The Blue Chitenge

‘Where in this land are the people who really love their Great King Nyamasoya?’ the king roared to his indunas, as he pointed to a large map of Zed hanging on the palace wall.

Then a wizened little induna, the Minister for Corruption and Coercion, stepped forward with a pot of paint and a brush, and daubed one or two blue spots on the vast canvas of the Land of Zed. ‘Here Oh Mighty King!’ he declared, ‘we have full control of the markets and bus stations!’

‘Did they have buses in those days?’ asked Thoko suspiciously.

‘Our word bus comes from the old Aramaic word borse, meaning a horse,’ I declared. ‘Just try not to interrupt the story…’

‘Am I the King of Markets and Bus Stations?’ roared the king, ‘Or am I the king of All Zed?’

‘You are King of All Zed, Oh Mighty Excellency,’ chanted his faithful indunas, as they groveled before the king, competing with each other to lick his filthy fat festering feet.

‘Then I demand that all of Zed must love me and obey me!’ declared the king. ‘The entire Land of Zed must be painted blue!’

‘Why blue?’ wondered Kondwa. ‘Why not red or green?’

‘Kings have blue blood,’ I explained. ‘Ordinary mortals have red blood, warm and sweet. But kings and queens have blue blood, cold and acidic.’

And God looked down at these kings and queens, and saw the wickedness that was upon the Earth, and he was sorely troubled. So the Lord now looked down upon one who had found favour in his eyes, his faithful servant Cycle Mata. And the Lord spoke unto Cycle Mata, saying unto him that there will be a great flood upon this Earth for forty days and forty nights. And the Lord commanded him to make a great pabwato out of mukwa, that could rise above the flood, and rescue his people.

Then, as was quite usual in those biblical days, the Lord’s prophecy began to come true the very next day. The king made a great declaration, saying ‘I shall cover this land with a great flood of blue chitenge, with my own face upon it. And all my people will lie beneath the blue chitenge, and my army and police march on top! Then my people will look up at my face and love their king! But anybody who protests will feel my weight!’

And so it came to pass that the king took all the tax money that he had collected from his long suffering people, and bought enough blue chitenge to cover the entire land. Then he ordered all the people to lie under this great national blanket of blue chitenge.

‘Meanwhile,’ said Thoko, ‘Cycle Mata was already building his Great Pabwato.’

‘Shush,’ whispered Kondwa, ‘Don’t kubeba!’

Then one day an old fat induna came running to the king, saying ‘The people say they want medicines and food, and are complaining to the judges that all this expenditure on blue chitenge is corruption.’

Then the king rose in a fury, saying ‘Anybody who complains must have his mouth stuffed with blue chitenge! And the judges must lower the national flag over the Supreme Court, and instead raise the blue chitenge!’ Then turning to the old fat induna he shouted ‘And you were employed to take the king’s voice to the people, not to take the people’s voice to the king! So you’re fired!’

But the king never worried about affairs of state for very long, and the next day found him and his foul fat friends consuming a huge feast of T-bone steak, washing it all down with many buckets of beer. Suddenly another frightened little induna came running into the palace crying ‘Oh Your Great Beer Swilling Excellency, your loyal subjects are respectfully complaining that they don’t like the boots of the Royal Thugs marching all over them, and they are threatening to kick back!’

Now of course the king was mighty annoyed that the sanctity of a royal feast had been so rudely interrupted, and he roared angrily ‘Ours is a peaceful nation and I have always been against violence. But if these malcontents are threatening violence then I have no option except to crush them!’

But as the police guns advanced on the people, to loyally protect the nation from the malcontents who did not love the king, the word went round that Cycle Mata had finally completed his Great Pabwato. So now, with one great cheer, the people all ran out from under the oppressive blue chitenge which had rained down on them for forty days and forty nights, and a great flood of people now lifted the Pabwato up and away, up to the top of Mount Munali.

‘So what happened to all the blue chitenge?’ wondered Thoko.

The flood of blue chitenge just ran away, down the hills and into the valleys, to form the rivers and lakes of the Land of Zed. Even to this day, when you look at the map of the Land of Zed, you will see that all the land is painted green, but all the rivers and lakes are painted blue.

‘So Cycle Mata became king,’ said Kondwa. ‘Did democracy now come to the Land of Zed?’

‘Good gracious no,’ I laughed. ‘That didn’t happen until hundreds of years later.’

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Election Victory

Election Victory
It was a lovely warm Wednesday evening in September, and Cycle Mata was due to be sworn in the following morning. So I decided to join in the celebrations at my favourite watering hole in Chainda, the Just One More.
‘Hi Kalaki!’ said a few voices as I stepped inside. ‘How did you vote?’
‘I voted for Donchi Kubeba,’ I laughed, ‘at three different polling stations.’
‘Ha ha!’ they all hooted, raising their glasses. ‘Come and join us!’
‘Hang on a minute,’ I said, ‘I’m looking for somebody.’ I had already spotted my young friend Oxford Sishuwa sitting at the end of the bar. ‘Sishuwa Sishuwa Sishuwa!’ I exclaimed, as I gave him a high five, ‘You were right after all! How did he do it? What’s the opinion from Oxford?’
‘A double Lavelle for Kalaki,’ Sishuwa called to the barman, ‘and a dry sherry for me!’
‘Hah!’ I cackled, ‘you never find dry sherry here!’
‘He keeps a bottle for me under the counter,’ explained Oxford, as the barman poured the drinks.
‘A little bit of Oxford right in the middle of Chainda!’ I exclaimed.
‘That’s right,’ he chuckled. ‘Now that Nyamasoya is gone, the good times are back! Away with chibuku and tujilijili! We shall all be drinking Mosi Gold with whisky chasers!’
‘You never answered my question,’ I said. ‘How did he do it?’
‘Try to be more precise, Kalaki. How did who do what?’
‘How did Cycle Mata win?’
‘That’s the wrong question?’
‘What? He won, didn’t he?’
‘No,’ said Sishuwa calmly. ‘It was Nyamasoya who lost. Cycle Mata was just the accidental recipient. Cycle Mata didn’t do anything except go round the country making strange hiccupping noises into the microphone. Nobody understood what he was trying to say, so he didn’t annoy anybody.’
‘But when they cheered, he cheered!’
‘Exactly,’ he agreed. ‘And when they snarled, he snarled. He was very reflective of the mood of the people. People saw themselves in him. If he had said anything definite, he could easily have annoyed them.’
‘And Nyamasoya managed to annoy them?’
‘Shot himself in the foot,’ declared Sishuwa, as he took a delicate sip of his sherry.
‘By insulting Cycle Mata?’ I suggested
‘He gives as good as he gets,’ laughed Sishuwa.
‘By destroying the new constitution?’
‘A constitution can’t collect votes!’
‘He annoyed them by trying to bribe them to vote for him! All that sugar and mealie-meal, corrupting the youth with tujilijili, chitenges for everybody!’
‘What a puritan you are, Kalaki,’ laughed Sishuwa. ‘You can’t annoy people with bribes! They love them! Chitenge everywhere! In the end everybody had chitenge dresses, chitenge shirts and chitenge suits, chitenge curtains and chitenge bedding. Cycle Mata told them to enjoy it all, and even dressed his own dog in blue chitenge!’
‘So what was the problem? Why did Nyamasoya lose?’
Sishuwa pointed to a very thin old man, sitting by himself in a dark corner, sipping a glass of water. ‘Go and ask him. He knows. He’ll tell you.’
We both walked over to this fellow. ‘Tinkaleko pansi, mdala?’ I said.
‘Feel free,’ he replied graciously, raising his bony hand in the direction of two chairs.
‘We were just wondering, mdala,’ I began, as we sat down, ‘why, would you say, that Nyamasoya lost?’
‘He lost because of all the lies,’ he replied. ‘Twenty years of lies. We ask for higher wages, there was no money. We wanted medicines in hospital, there was no money. School books, no money. We were reduced to complete starvation, but still there was no money.’
I looked at the old man, wearing an old tattered trilby hat and threadbare suit. Terribly thin, just skin and bone. His eyes were sunken.
‘How they lied,’ his dry voice rattled. ‘They had the money all the time, the Movement for Multi Deception, fat and rich. When they want our vote, suddenly there is money everywhere. Billions of it! Trillions of it!’
‘What about you, mdala, how did you survive?’
‘Survive? Survive? How could I survive? Thirty years I paid in for a pension, but when I asked for it, there was nothing. My wife, she died in childbirth. My daughter, gone to prostitution. My son, went mad and long since gone. Grandchildren, dead from malnutrition. Me, I was once an Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. Now I’m a dead man walking.’
‘You voted against them?’
‘We all rose up against them! We are the ghost voters! Two million of us! We kept our voters cards. We all came back to vote.’ I looked into his eyes, there was nothing there. As he rose to go, I saw the green mildew on his ragged suit. I saw the white bone of his ankle as he walked out through the door, out into the night, in the direction of Leopards Hill.
‘Christ Almighty!’ I said, as a shiver went down my spine. ‘I need another brandy!’
‘I was more right than I realized,’ said Sishuwa, as we reached the bar. ‘We were saved by our ancestors!’
‘I thought we’re supposed to be a Christian country!’
‘We are,’ he said, as the glass shook in his hand, ‘and yesterday was Judgment Day.’

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In the Dark

In the Dark
Yesterday afternoon I was at the Downtown Shopping Mall with Kupela, who was looking for a car at Japan.Salaula.Com. ‘I’ll find you back here,’ I said, ‘I need a drink.’
Going down the corridor, I came to a row of windows all painted over in gothic letters saying In the Dark. I pushed on an elaborate chromium handle, and in I went. Sure enough, I was completely in the dark.
I stood there, waiting for my eyes to adjust, I finally made out the shape of a chair, and sat down. I could just see that I was sitting at a black table in a large black room. A row of white teeth suddenly appeared in front of me.
He put out his hand to shake mine, and then spoke authoritatively into the darkness, ‘Bring a double brandy for Spectator Kalaki!’
‘You know my name?’ I asked, more than a little surprised.
‘You may be in the dark,’ he laughed gruffly. ‘But I’m not.’
Suddenly the darkness was pierced by a few pencil beams of green laser light, just enough to reveal a thin bony man with black suit and black shirt and black tie. He had a thin face, shaped like a hatchet.
‘I seem to recognize the face,’ I said.
‘Whiplash Bandit,’ he replied, ‘I’m the Protector General.’
‘Sounds interesting,’ I said hopefully. ‘What do you protect?’
‘I thought you knew these things, Kalaki. I protect the rich from the poor, the powerful from the weak, and leaders from the led.’
‘Ah ha,’ I said, ‘Now I recognize you. You work for the MMD!’
‘Not the Movement for Marketing Dictatorship,’ he replied. ‘The Militia for Modifying Dissidents.’
Just then the drinks arrived, as if from nowhere, and an invisible voice announced ‘A lemon juice for Mr Bandit and a double brandy for Mr Kalaki.’ Then a swinging laser beams briefly illuminated the owner of the voice, an angel carved out of pure black ebony with black hair and wearing a black apron. ‘Thanks,’ I said, then watched transfixed as her beautiful blackness swayed rhythmically away into the blackness.
‘As far as I can make out,’ I said, as I gulped down the entire brandy, ‘she’s not wearing anything except that little black velvet apron.’
‘She’s one of the Nude Nubile Nubians from Nubia,’ he smiled, revealing a gold tooth. ‘They fetch a good price down in Hillbrow. Here in Lusaka, we’re on the main trade route.’
‘What about human rights?’
‘Exactly,’ he snarled. ‘We don’t want human rights interfering with good business. That’s why we must vote for the MMD.’
‘Half a minute,’ I said, ‘I thought you said your MMD is not anything to do with the MMD?’
‘Quite right,’ he said. ‘The Militia for Modifying Dissidents is a business organization, set up by the Godfather of the Nation, to protect big business from any unnecessary change in the political system.’
‘So you are working for the Movement for Marketing Dictatorship!’
‘Big business is non-political,’ explained Bandit. ‘We’re not interested in one party or the other. We work at modifying dissidents because we want stability. We’re naturally conservative. Big business just doesn’t like change.’
‘Why not?’
‘Take the present system of corruption. If the government changes, how shall a businessman know which one to bribe? How much to pay? He could easily get arrested for bribing the wrong person! His business could collapse!’
‘Better not to bribe!’
‘Bribery is only part of it. We have a system for avoiding tax. Half the copper on the black market. All the emeralds under the radar. Pay ten percent and you can do anything. That’s why the economy is developing, because we business people are accumulating capital rapidly!’
‘And it could all change?’
‘Exactly. We could get some nutter voted in by promising to collect all the surplus money as taxes and using it to pay the poor and starving! Or putting up wages so we can’t employ anybody! Or wasting money on the dying! The whole nation could be destitute within ninety days!’
‘You have to save the nation!’
‘Exactly. These dissidents are obviously trying to use this election to undermine the government! Treason! They even admit that they oppose the legitimate government of the day! We must stop them!’
‘Kill them?’
‘Oh no, we’re opposed to violence. We just buy their voters cards, give them sugar and mealie-meal. Bicycles and chitenges. Beer and roast beef! We’re a benevolent organization, just like the Rotary Club.’
‘No violence at all?’
‘Never. Not unless they insult our Godfather, then we shall come down on them heavily. If they talk too much, we shall cut out their tongues. And of course if they raise their fists in the air, we shall have no option but to shoot!’
‘Protect the government from being overthrown!’
‘Exactly! Protect the nation! Instill discipline! Maintain the rule of law! The police will help us! They’re on our side!’
‘Thanks for the chat,’ I said, as I made for the door. ‘I’ve got enough for this week’s article!’
‘Feel free,’ he sneered. ‘Nobody believes a word you say!’
I walked out from the dark, into the bright light of day, to find Kupela laughing with her friend Lorraine. ‘Everything may seem happy and marvelous to you!’ I exclaimed, ‘but I just found something very dark and dangerous!’
‘Poor old bally,’ laughed Kupela. ‘It’s all in your mind!’

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Slippery Selection

Slippery Selection

‘Heard the latest?’ asked Sylvia. ‘A naked old woman fell from the sky and landed on a roof in Mutendere last night. She was found wandering in the street, muttering that she was looking for ladies of the night!’

‘Another mfwiti!’ I exclaimed.

‘It was Clueless Cluo!’ laughed Maureen. ‘She’d been sent by the MMPF as their parliamentary candidate!’

‘MMPF?’ asked Sara, as she came in with a tray of tea. ‘What’s that?’

‘The Mad Movement of Patriotic Fury,’ explained Maureen. ‘Buffaloes fleeing from the MMD are being adopted to contest seats for the PF, so the party is now the MMPF.’

‘But what has happened to their previous MP for Mutendere?’

‘She’s been bewitched by the mfwiti,’ laughed Sylvia, ‘and is now running around Ng’ombe howling like a hyena.’

‘How exactly are these selections done?’ I wondered, as I popped a drop of brandy in my tea. ‘I don’t believe it’s witchcraft. There must be a due process for selecting these candidates.’

‘Of course there is,’ said Maureen. ‘You should hear the stories from my friend Cynthia. She’s a member of the Central Committee, and attends all the selection meetings.’

‘So what happens?’ we all asked.

‘Listen,’ said Maureen, ‘I’ll tell you what she told me…’

When the Great Leader comes in, we all stand up and salute. Then he begins, saying, for example, ‘Fakue Constituency, which is the preferred candidate?’

‘We have Ms Hope Chisubilo,’ replies the provincial chairman. ‘She has lived in the constituency for ten years, joined the party when it was formed, has been doing community work all this time, and is very popular in the rural areas. She was selected as number one by the constituency, district and provincial committees.’

‘We need someone with experience of national politics,’ says the Great Leader, ‘tell her to stand as a district councillor. We have just welcomed Mr Bossy Mboo from the MMD and I have him lined up as my Minister of Wildlife. I think we’ll put him in Fakue.’

Just then my friend Mr Kalandisha raised his hand.

‘Yes, Kalandisha,’ says the Great Leader, ‘if you want to visit the toilet, you have my permission.’

‘No, Your Excellency,’ says the poor man, as he grovels and claps his hands, ‘I just wanted to say something.’

‘Look, Kalandisha, we have come here to make decisions, not to open up new discussion on cases which have already been discussed at the lower levels. Next constituency!’

‘So that’s what it’s like,’ laughed Maureen.

‘Good gracious!’ said Sylvia. ‘I feel sorry for Ms Hope Chisubilo.’

‘She would never have gone far,’ said Maureen sadly. ‘She believes in following the rules.’

‘Were all the selections like that?’ I wondered.

‘Let us return to the meeting,’ said Maureen solemnly.

‘Next constituency,’ says His Prospective Excellency.

‘Kubeba’ says the Provincial Chairman. ‘Mr Bent Chipondo came number one at the constituency and district levels after donating cell phones in order to facilitate the election campaign. But then my provincial committee unfortunately found out that he did not qualify to apply, since he did not reside in the constituency, and had never visited the place before he came for interview.’

‘Did Mr Chipondo give cell phones to the provincial committee?’

‘He did not. He even refused to pay rent for the room in which he was interviewed. He refused to buy us lunch, and instead went to his Benz and ate his own sandwiches.’

‘Very good,’ says His Aspiring Excellecy. ‘I’m glad he didn’t try to use his enormous wealth to try to influence your decision. However, you don’t seem to realize that Mr Chipondo is the one who manufactures all our party vitenge, and gives them to us free of charge. Because of his support for the party, he is automatically our candidate for Kubeba.

‘And on the subject of vitenge, I hope you have informed all our candidates that each of them is required to buy at least 500 of these vitenges at twenty pins each from the party treasurer, for free distribution to our supporters.’

‘Ha ha,’ said Sylvia, ‘I can’t understand how your friend Cynthia ever got onto the Central Committee. Isn’t she the one that failed her Grade Seven twice?’

‘Being a broadminded democrat, the Great Leader has the enviable talent of being able to identify with those who are intellectually challenged.’

‘But how did she get elected?’

‘Very easily. The Great Leader reads the names of all those he has chosen, and then all the three thousand delegates at the convention have to vote on whether they approve the list by raising their hands in acclamation.’

‘But you admit that some people on the list are obviously incapable!’

‘That’s done deliberately, to test their loyalty to the Great Leader!’

‘Supposing some don’t raise their hands?’

‘Exactly,’ laughed Maureen. ‘There is a video camera. Dissidents are immediately expelled from the party!’

‘But when this Central Committee looks at those seeking adoption as parliamentary candidates,’ said Sara, ‘they have to follow their own elaborate system of rules and due process for selection of parliamentary candidates. But according to what Cynthia says, it seems that the Central Committee chooses the ones who cheat, subvert, manipulate and bribe, or even those who circumvent the entire system.’

‘You don’t understand what’s really going on,’ laughed Maureen. ‘Politics is a very tricky business. They are looking for people who are go-ahead and pragmatic, who will get to the top by any means possible! People of action who can get things done! They don’t want conventional people who just follow the rules! They want inventive people who will make new rules!’

‘But these are the very people who say they will end corruption!’

‘Exactly,’ said Maureen. ‘Only those who understand corruption can end it!’


[Kalaki is grateful for ideas from Facebook friends, especially Mulu Zulu]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Honorary Doctorate

An Honorary Doctorate
It was Saturday night, and Sara and I were watching the new play at the Lusaka Playhouse, The Honorary Doctorate by Dickson Mwansa.
The curtain opened on the scene of a graduation ceremony on a university lawn. Onto the rostrum stepped the Vice-Chancellor, all dressed up in garish gown and mortar board. He was trying to look serious and intellectual, despite his ridiculous attire. Behind him were rows of similarly expensive gowns, all sitting on cheap plastic chairs. In the middle sat the King, sprawled on an enormous velvet sofa.
‘And now,’ began the Vice-Chancellor, ‘it is the honour and privilege of this Sorcery Development Academy to award an Honorary Doctorate in Political Sorcery to our Beloved Leader, His Excellency King Bwaume Nyamasoya, whom I humbly thank for gracing us with his distinguished presence this afternoon.’
‘It is now my pleasant duty,’ continued the Vice-Chancellor, ‘to call upon the Public Orator, Dr Buloshi Bupulumushi, Professor of Witchcraft and Juju, to deliver the Oration in praise of our Great Leader.’
‘Unusual name,’ I sniggered.
‘He was fired from Makerere,’ whispered Sara, ‘for exchanging grades for sexual favours.’
‘It wasn’t like that in my day,’ I sighed, ‘otherwise I could have had a distinction.’
As we were whispering, the play was progressing…
The shriveled little figure of Bupulumushi now crept up to the microphone. ‘It is our pleasure,’ began Bupulumushi, ‘to welcome here today this Great Son of Africa, who has done so much to improve this country. When our Beloved Nyamasoya ascended to the throne, this country was sorely divided. He found a country where parliament was independent of the King, and even refusing to approve funds for royal banquets. But with a little bit of juju our new King soon reduced the Speaker to a kadoli, and put him in his back pocket.
‘Even the Chief Justice had developed the arrogance of deciding who to punish, pretending not to realize that this was the prerogative of the king. But our wise new King cleverly re-arranged a few bones in the graveyard, cast a devastating spell, and now the Chief Justice is just another kadoli in the back pocket of the King. At last this country was being unified by a King who was able to marshall the authority of our ancestral spirits.’
‘One Zambia!’ Sara hissed.
‘One Nation!’ I replied automatically.
‘With some special muti in his supu, the Minister of Finance was soon turned into the house servant of the King, and the National Treasury was returned to its traditional place in the King’s wallet. By putting the hair of a dog under his mattress, the Chief of Police was turned into the King’s personal guard dog, with special duties to seek out the enemies of the King.
‘So this is why we honour our Great King today, for turning Political Science into Political Sorcery. This Great Son of Africa recognized that our entire Constitution was just a colonial legacy. That was why our new King devised public incantations to call upon the ancestors to uncage the Red-Lipped Snake, so that this odious reptile could be sent to poison the Colonial Constitution, and thereby return all moral oversight to our hitherto forgotten ancestors, now at last restored to their rightful place.
‘That is why all the foreign universities have refused to honour our Heroic King with any doctorate, because these foreigners were the very ones who usurped our ancestors and traduced our sacred traditions, which our own Great Leader has now restored.
‘And so today we take it upon ourselves to honour our own King, and also to humbly thank him for the grant of five hundred billion to build the Nyamasoya Memorial Hall to commemorate the momentous event that we are witnessing here today. So saying, I call upon the Vice-Chancellor to confer upon our King the Honorary Doctorate of Political Sorcery.’
‘Hurray!’ we all cheered and laughed.
‘Don’t laugh!’ Sara hissed. ‘This could actually happen!’
Now both the Vice-Chancellor and the King came forward to the rostrum, as the Vice-Chancellor unwrapped a huge gown made of many mealie-meal sacks and placed it around the King’s shoulders. Then he took another sack and tied it on the King’s head with a lovely tassel. Then he took a bucket of mealie-meal and emptied it over the King’s head.
‘Ul-lu-lu-lu-lu-lu!’ came the ululations from all around the theatre.
‘Is this serious or are we supposed to laugh?’ I whispered to Sara.
‘With these rituals,’ said Sara, ‘it’s difficult to know. Just watch the others.’
‘And now,’ said the Vice Chancellor, ‘I call upon our new Honorary Doctor to say a few words.’
The hideous flour bag now approached the microphone. ‘The last obstacle to national unity is the coming election. In order to achieve a peaceful election, I call upon the spirits to help us in our campaign to eliminate the opposition!’
As he spoke there was a chant of ‘Left Right Left Right’ from the wings, then onto the stage came a platoon of ragged bakaponya, each with a machete in one hand and a carton of chibuku in the other. As the King’s Task Force marched out into the night, a huge fat cow walked rather unsteadily onto the stage.’
‘What huge udders!’ I exclaimed.
‘That’s Dora Tujilijili!’ said Sara, ‘She’s leading the election campaign!’
‘Let the campaign begin!’ shouted the Honorary Doctor. ‘Let the ancestors lead us to victory!’ As he spoke he mounted the great fat cow, which then lumbered across the stage, and disappeared into the wings.
The Vice-Chancellor opened his mouth to say something, but his words were drowned out by the sound of a huge crash, followed by a long sad ‘Mooooooo.
How we all clapped and cheered! ‘Hurray! More! Praise the ancestors! Encore!’
‘I don’t think he’s going to go very far!’ laughed Sara.
‘Of course not!’ I shouted. ‘But it’s going to be fun to watch!’
[Written with a bit of help from Kupela Clarke]