‘Grandpa,’ said Thoko, ‘My teacher is always talking about Judgment Day. She says on Judgment Day we shall all have to answer for our sins. But when is Judgment Day? Is it coming soon?’
‘Judgment Day,’ I explained, ‘comes every five years. In a Christian Nation, it’s the name we give to Election Day. That’s the day when we all make a judgment on the sins of government, and decide whether to throw them out.’
‘My teacher didn’t say anything about elections,’ objected Thoko. ‘She says that it’s the day when all the graves have to be opened.’
‘That’s right,’ I said, ‘I was coming to that. You see, bad governments bury all their sins and mistakes in the ground. So the first job of the new government is to find all these graves and open them up, so that the sins of the previous government can be revealed and investigated.’
‘Huh,’ laughed Thoko. ‘You’re just making up one of your stories. When I was a little girl I used to believe all your stories!’
‘You don’t believe your own Granpa!’ I exclaimed, as I picked up a copy ofThe Boast. ‘Look at the front page! Two billion in fifty pin notes, dug up on a farm of former minister Mr Awful Litako!’
‘Good gracious,’ said Thoko, as she picked up the paper. ‘The money was even found in a coffin, down in a grave, with concrete poured on top! What on Earth was he doing? Why bury money? Had he stolen it? Is he a witch?’
‘Nobody knows,’ I replied. ‘Some people say that he believes that money grows on trees, so he planted all this money to grow an orchard of money trees. It was seed money for his development programme!’
‘Silly man,’ laughed Thoko. ‘Seeds can’t germinate inside a coffin!’
‘But he doesn’t know that!’ I laughed. ‘He’s not an educated person like you. He never completed his Grade Seven.’
‘So what else has been dug up?’
‘Graves are being found over the country. Huge graves full of bicycles and motorbikes!’
‘But why bury bicycles?’
‘Some people say that the sinners planned to flee to Malawi before their sins were discovered.
‘Have any other sins been dug up?’
‘Lots of them. The entire Task Force, which is supposed to look for suspicious graves, was found dead and buried.’
‘Wasn’t that against the Constitution?’
‘The Constitution?’ I laughed. ‘The New Constitution was also murdered and buried. The coffin was lowered into a very deep grave and covered with twenty metres of concrete. On top was built a heavy marble mausoleum, which was so large and magnificent that it took eight years to build and cost over seven hundred billion. On it was carved the words Freedom and Justice For All.’
‘And did the former president know about all this?’
‘According to what they have dug up, he never was the president!’
‘What? Has he been dug up? When did he die? Did they find somebody else in the grave?’
‘He’s still alive, so instead they dug up his parents from their grave. And the parents admitted that they were foreigners!’
‘Now I really don’t believe you,’ laughed Thoko. ‘How could dead people have talked?’
‘The police have their methods,’ I replied grimly.
‘But how were all these dirty secrets buried for years without anybody knowing?’
‘The government bought a hundred black hearses from the Chinese government,’ I explained. ‘They would move around at the dead of night, supervised by the deadly Red-Lipped Snake.’
‘So now all of these graves have to be dug up?’
‘Exactly. There are probably thousands of them, and it’s the job of the new PF government to dig up all of them. PF means Pathology and Forensics. All government departments are now fully occupied with digging up the buried treasure, exposing the dirty secrets, re-discovering the judiciary, and investigating and prosecuting the culprits.’
‘But is the entire government supposed to be occupied with all this digging?’ wondered Thoko.
‘Of course. That’s what we elected them to do. That’s what Judgment Day is all about. The whole nation is waiting for the court cases. In the absence of any proper TV station, it’s our only form of public entertainment.’
‘But they can’t be doing this for five years!’ exclaimed Thoko. ‘What about all their election promises?’
‘Once all the exhumations have finished, they have to begin the burials.’
‘Don’t you mean re-burials?’ Thoko wondered.
‘Quite a few re-burials,’ I admitted. ‘Having exhumed the New Constitution, it will have to be re-buried. In fact the Constitution Re-Burial Committee has already been appointed, complete with three bishops to arrange the funeral. Similarly the Barotseland Agreement, having been dug up, and caused a great stink, now has to be quickly re-buried.’
‘But also some new burials?’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘We already need burials for Windfall Tax, Minimum Wage, Gender Equality and Free Schooling. Even as we speak, the Government Printer is busy producing the funeral notices.’
‘What about More Money in our Pockets?’
‘That has already been buried at somebody’s farm. The next government will have to find out where.’
‘And while the government is busy with all this digging and burying,’ said Thoko sadly, ‘the Chinese continue to dig up our copper free of charge, and bury it in China.’
Dear Diary, I’m getting increasingly worried about my dear husband. When he came down the stairs this morning he was swinging his arms and shouting ‘Left right, left right.’ At the bottom of the stairs it was ‘Left turn!’ as he marched to the French window, saluted the flag in the front garden and shouted ‘One Zambia, One Chilufya!’
‘Sit down, dear,’ I said, ‘and eat your cornflakes. You’ve got a busy day of hiring and firing, you don’t want to over excite yourself too early in the day.’
‘How can I be in charge of the nation on a bowl of cornflakes?’ he shouted, ‘bring me a T-bone steak!’
‘Don’t you shout at me as if I’m your Cabinet Secretary,’ I told him. ‘I’m your wife and your doctor. It’s my job to control your temper and your cholesterol, so you don’t have another bad turn. We wouldn’t want our country to be deprived of such a Great Leader after waiting for all these forty-seven years.’
‘You’ve got a good point there,’ he said, as he quietened down, and stroked his battered chin pensively. ‘We don’t want a mere T-bone steak to interfere with my destiny. I remember the day I was dismissed as a police constable, and how I vowed to become president and dismiss everybody and…’
‘On this subject of hiring and firing,’ I interrupted him, ‘you had better stop this unfortunate and awkward habit you have developed of appointing a person one day and firing them the next. People are saying you don’t know what you’re doing.’
‘Hah,’ he sneered derisively, ‘it’s only you who doesn’t know what I’m doing. Don’t you realize that every now and again I deliberately pick some notorious crook, or otherwise a driveling idiot, and appoint them to a position that needs both brains and honesty. As soon as there is a public outcry I reverse the appointment, then everybody praises me as a listening leader.’
‘How clever of you, my dear,’ I replied, as I poured him another cup of tea. ‘Although sometimes you don’t reverse the appointment.’
‘Sometimes, of course, it is necessary to demonstrate the power of the Great Leader, who cannot jump to every whim of the ignorant mob. We mustn’t carry democracy too far.’
‘How wise you are in these matters,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t thought of these complexities that come so easily to your astute political brain. I’m only a simple medical doctor. But even so, my dear, I wonder whether you really need all these commissions of inquiry.’
‘Really my dear? What is your medical advice? Should I amputate them?’
‘Well, silly me, I just thought that perhaps these problems could be dealt with by parliamentary committees of inquiry.’
‘Hah!’ he scoffed, spilling his tea all over his latest shiny suit. ‘Typical of a woman! What a foolish suggestion! Haven’t you noticed that I haven’t got a majority in parliament! Already they’ve got too much control! And now you want me to give them control over my inquiries! Any more cheek from them and I shall dissolve parliament entirely. I shall send them back to their constituencies. If they can still find them. Some of them were taken there by helicopter and will never be able to find them again.’
‘A lot of questions are being asked in parliament. And your friend Dotty Scotty doesn’t seem able to answer them properly. He opens and closes his mouth without saying anything, like a fish out of water.’
‘Don’t make fun of my dear friend Dotty,’ he laughed affectionately. ‘His English isn’t very good. He does much better in Bemba.’
‘I’ve got an idea!’ I said. ‘Why not have judicial inquiries?’
‘How little you understand these things,’ he scoffed. ‘When I appoint my commissioners, I always outline the findings which I expect to find in their report. Now the judiciary claims to be independent, so it’s enormously expensive to get them to behave otherwise. This country doesn’t need all this endless talk in parliament and in the courts. All we need is a strong leader like me to put things right.’
‘Half a minute,’ I said. ‘What about the new constitution. Isn’t there a big danger that it could limit the powers of the Great Leader?’
‘A very big danger,’ he laughed.
‘So what are you doing about it?’
‘I’ve already done it,’ he laughed. ‘I’ve appointed another commission of inquiry to suggest a new constitution.’
‘I thought it was a committee of experts?’
‘My dear, you need to have a more skeptical approach to political vocabulary. In this case, committee of experts actually means commission of idiots. But to bring a bit of sense to the committee I’ve taken the trouble to include three Catholic Bishops.’
‘Do they know anything about constitutions?’
‘Absolutely nothing. They are implacably opposed to constitutions, instead believing that I need to be guided only by the Ten Commandments, and of course by the Lord My God who in his Great Wisdom appointed me as the Great Leader.’
‘You were appointed by God?’
‘Of course. It is God who gave me my enormous belief in myself, and my enormous power over my people. Me, God, and my Commissions, we’re going to clean up this country, which has been going to the dogs.’
‘Going to the dogs?’ I laughed. ‘There aren’t any dogs!’
‘No,’ I said. ‘They’ve all been eaten by the Chinese.’
‘Good gracious,’ I said, ‘you were at Yunza all those years, just down the road, and we never knew!’
James Nkoma, the son of Sara’s cousin Emily, had finally tracked us down. Sara had spent most of the afternoon catching up on the story of his mother, Sara’s long lost cousin Emily, who had made rather an unfortunate marriage and disappeared from sight. But apparently, after her husband died, she’d been doing very well.
So now, while Sara was away in the bedroom trying to dig out some old family photos, I thought I’d dig into his educational background. ‘So what did you study at Yunza?’ I wondered.
‘History,’ he said. ‘I got a distinction in Modern Medieval History!’
‘Congrats!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have another biscuit! I hadn’t even realized there was anything modern about medieval history!’
‘It’s modern for Yunza,’ he explained. ‘Previously they hadn’t gone beyond Roman History.’
‘Getting to Yunza, that must have been a long and winding road. Where did it all start? MbuziPrimary School?’
‘That’s right. I came out top with 795 marks. I remember there were only twelve of us on that bus the morning we set out for LundaziSecondary School. All the others came out to wave us goodbye. But we never looked back.’
‘Can you remember any of them?’
‘I remember my friend Mkandawire, good at everything, except that he simply fractured when he came to fractions.’
‘Couldn’t you have helped him?’
‘I’d have liked to. But if you help somebody, they might get ahead of you!’
‘What happened to Mkandawire?’
‘I’ve completely lost touch. But I know he’s got the only car showroom in Lundazi. Importing from Dubai, through Malawi.’
‘So what do you remember from Lundazi Secondary?’
‘I remember one boy, Dingiswayo, Stinkiswayo we used to call him, asking the teacher why we had to learn to solve quadratic equations. To decide who gets to the top, answered the teacher.’
‘And did Dingiswayo get to the top?’ I wondered.
James lowered his voice. ‘He was more interested in bottoms!’
‘So what’s he doing now?’
‘Running a string of guest houses along the Great Beast Road.’
‘So next you were headed for Yunza?’
‘Six points. Left the rest of the school behind.’
‘What happened to the others?’
‘They got distracted. Became delinquents. But I wanted to get to the top and serve my country.’
‘But you also left the maths behind.’
‘At Yunza I came up against the square root of minus one, and entirely lost faith in the rationality of maths. So I decided to find some other way to serve my country at the highest level.’
‘So in what lofty capacity are you now using your high level knowledge for the benefit of the nation?’
He lowered his voice. ‘That’s the problem, Uncle. It’s been two years since I graduated, and I can’t find a job. That’s why I came to see Aunty, I’m told she’s got connections.’
‘Where have you applied?’
‘To the civil service, for hundreds of jobs. Not even an interview.’
‘Those are political jobs,’ I explained, ‘awarded for dubious political service, or even worse. Besides, ministers don’t want people more educated than themselves.’
‘I can’t even get a job in the private sector.’
‘That’s because you don’t have relatives in management.’
‘But I’ve got a degree!’
‘So do all their nephews and nieces!’
‘I never thought of that. Then what about the mines?’
‘Really, James, everybody knows that the main reason they bought the mines in the first place was to provide jobs for their own unemployed graduates back home.’
‘Then I’ll just have to start my own business! Lend me some money, Uncle!’
‘Look,’ I said, ‘entrepreneurship needs somebody with their own ideas, and imagination. You’ve just spent the past twenty years under the hammer of schooling which was specially designed to knock out the smallest sign of any initiative or imagination. It’s far too late for you to recover from what has been done to you.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ he sighed. ‘Otherwise I’d have thought of something by now.’
Just then we were interrupted by Sara coming back triumphantly bearing a battered shoe box full of old photographs. ‘Look at this, James,’ she said, putting a yellowing photo under his nose, ‘That’s your mother’s grandmother Ethel, who started her own church and wrote a book about it!’
James looked at the photo and seemed to perk up a bit. ‘Did she have a degree?’ he asked.
‘Of course not!’ Sara laughed. ‘She was a Standard Four!’
‘James has got a very nice history degree,’ I said, ‘but can’t find a job.’
‘Don’t worry about that!’ said Sara. ‘Go back to Yunza and get one of those nice little conveyor belt PhDs, on the history of PhDs, or something like that. Then apply for a job as a university lecturer. Supersata is setting up ten new universities all over the place, Mpulungu, Shang’ombo, Ng’ombe and even Mpika! All unemployed graduates will be made lecturers. A huge national investment and a brilliant idea to solve the problem! Good old Supersata! What a genius!
‘Half a minute,’ I said slowly. ‘That may solve the problem for now. But after ten years we shall have a worse problem, with ten times as many unemployed graduates!’
‘But by that time,’ laughed Sara, ‘Supersata will be out of office!’
‘And I shall be a Vice-Chancellor!’ declared James.
‘It happens every time,’ sighed Towani, ‘we elect somebody to State House who promises to do as we ask, but no sooner has he walked through the door than he begins to do the opposite!’
‘And it’s always a he,’ said Sara. ‘When we get a she, things will be different.’
‘Pass me the potatoes,’ I said, ‘before the president puts a tax on them.’
We were having a family lunch on the veranda, which is the best place to put the world to rights, since it can’t be done at State House. ‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘there’s something wrong with State House. Maybe the building has a malign effect on people. Ghosts, evil spirits, nasty smells, unwashed underpants from the previous occupant and that sort of thing.’
Kupela waved her fork in the air. ‘Speaking as a microbiologist…’
‘Speaking as a microbiologist…’ I mocked.
‘What is a microbiologist?’ asked Thoko.
‘A microbiologist,’ I explained, ‘is an extremely small biologist.’
‘It is very likely,’ persisted Kupela, ‘that the new arrival soon succumbs to all the microbes and parasites which have built up over the years.’
‘Maybe the house is still suffering from Nyamasoyitis and Muwelewelitis,’ I suggested.
‘The lingering smell of colonialism,’ suggested Towani. ‘Even Michael said he noticed a foul stench when he first walked in, and promised a clean up.’
‘But maybe the stench overpowered him,’ Sara sneered.
‘There’s no need to bring smelly ideology into a purely biological problem,’ said Kupela. ‘An old house like that is automatically full of all sorts of viruses, bacteria and fungi floating round in the air, and hanging on the curtains like invisible bunches of grapes. Then of course there are the parasites such as mice, rats, spiders, mites and mosquitoes.’
‘All lurking below the floorboards and above the ceilings,’ I suggested.
‘And especially,’ said Kupela, ‘in the drains and sewers. All the remains of the previous occupants, and all their diseases, waiting to come up and get you.’
‘We must respect all that is left to us from previous generations,’ I said. ‘It is called tradition. Presidents come and go, but all these microbes and parasites remain. They are the custodians of State House. They preserve the past, and pass it on to the next occupant, so as to maintain stability and continuity in society. We must respect and preserve our traditions. In fact we’ve now even got a minister to look after them.’
‘Gender discrimination,’ snarled Sara, ‘is a very nasty desease.’
‘We’re talking especially about State House diseases,’ said Towani. ‘Gender discrimination is everywhere.’
‘Especially in State House,’ Sara hissed.
‘I’m not sure about this disease theory,’ declared Towani, as she carefully examined the salad. ‘Does it explain how a man can walk into the house one day as a democrat elected by the people, but emerge the next morning as a king appointed by God?’
‘Diseases can change behaviour dreadfully,’ said Kupela. ‘Chicken pox makes people terribly bad-tempered, diarrhoea causes impatience, and pompositis famously causes extreme arrogance. A person’s behaviour can change in a day, and allergies are particularly erratic and unpredictable.’
‘How is that?’
‘An allergic person may be sent into a fit of sneezing by dust, but quite like the smell of flowers. Another may be allergic to corruption, but very attracted to the smell of money.’
‘I’m not sure I believe any of this,’ laughed Towani. ‘I’m old enough to have seen all five of our presidents, and nobody ever said they looked diseased.’
‘That’s because we have got used to their symptoms,’ explained Kupela. ‘We expect our presidents to be arrogant, selfish, deaf and bad-tempered. In any other person we would see the symptoms of various diseases, but in a president it appears quite normal.’
‘Perhaps it has become normal because these State House diseases have been passed on from one occupant to the next?’
‘Exactly,’ said Kupela.
‘But why doesn’t this State House disease spread out into the general population?’ I wondered. ‘Does State House arrogance make everybody arrogant? Does a president’s deafness turn everybody increasingly deaf, as he moves around the country spreading the disease?’
‘State House disease spreads alright,’ said Kupela. ‘But the strange peculiarity of State House disease is that it has the opposite symptoms in the general population. If the president talks all the time, the people have to stop talking and listen instead. As he becomes more deaf, they are the ones who have to hear. As he becomes more arrogant, they have to become more humble, and lick his boots. As he becomes more authoritarian, they believe more in democracy. As he becomes more satisfied with himself, they become more dissatisfied with him.’
‘But shall we ever clean out all the accumulated filth and disease from State House?’ wondered Thoko. ‘Maybe we should just go back to Sir Evelyn Hone and start again!’
‘Funny you should say that,’ I replied. ‘I read in today’s paper that the British Prime Minister has just appointed Lord Henry Bellingham as Minister for Africa! So obviously the British have resumed control!’
‘Then maybe he has appointed Michael as our new Governor!’
‘That would certainly explain a lot,’ said Sara, as she stabbed the table with her knife. ‘We voted for change, and now we’ve got it!’
Oh Dear Diary, When I came down to breakfast this morning I found my dear husband at the table, already dressed up in his Supersata suit, with his gold crown on his head, busy eating his cornflakes. ‘Good morning darling,’ I said, as I handed him The Post and gave him a little kiss on his battered old forehead. ‘Have a look at the news.’
‘I don’t need to read the news,’ he answered gruffly, ‘I am the news. I make the news, so that other people read about me.’
‘You should read this editorial here,’ I said, as I reached for a grapefruit, ‘it says that Michael should not be appointing …’
‘I’ll have him fired with immediate effect, or possible sooner,’ my dear husband snarled, in a quite frightening and quite unbecoming manner.
‘Half a minute’ I said, ‘I haven’t yet told you what the editor is saying.’
‘Oh yes you have! He can’t be calling me Michael! He must show some respect! My name is now His Excellency Machiavelli Chilufya Supersata SC!’
‘Ooh that’s nice dear,’ I said, trying to soothe him, ‘have you just appointed yourself State Council?’
‘SC means I am Supreme Commander,’ he shouted, as he pointed his spoon threateningly to all four corners of the compass, ‘I’m in charge of all twelve million people, including you!’
‘I’m glad you’ve included me,’ I said with a smile, ‘because I’ve got the same question as the editor. How can you be appointing Unsavory Chuma as your Personal Servant in Luapula when everybody knows he’s as bent as a cucumber? Previously you told everybody you were allergic to corruption! That you can’t stand the stink of it!’
He glowered at me from the other end of the royal table. ‘I can’t stand the stink of this Unsavory fellow. That’s why I sent him all the way to Luapula!’
‘Look, Michael,’ I said slowly, ‘in my job, I hear what people are saying. And I can tell you that they’re getting very fed up with you. You promised so much to the youth, then you pack your cabinet with ancient geriatrics and raise the retirement age. You promised positions for women, then you deliberately leave them out. You said you’d save us from the Chinese thieves and exploiters, then you give a slap-up lunch in their honour. You promised us more money in our pockets, but now you employ this Unsavory Plunderer to steal money from our pockets.’
‘I know you don’t understand these things,’ he growled, ‘you’ve only been trained to wipe babies’ bottoms at the hospital. You don’t understand politics or leadership. You just stick to your nappies and that sort of thing.’
‘Is that what you call leadership?’ I persisted. ‘Appointing a notorious and convicted crook?’
‘Look my dear, let me try to explain it to you. When I was on the campaign trail I had to promise everything to everybody. That’s how I got you into this comfortable house. But now that I am the Supreme Leader I don’t have to ask those people what they want, it is now my job to decide what they should be given.’
‘But can’t you at least give them some of the things they asked for, rather than do the opposite?’
‘Certainly not. I now have to establish myself as the Supreme Leader. I can’t be wasting my time receiving delegations of people all petitioning for different things. One group wants a new road, another wants a bridge, another a railway, and so on. It’s my job to make the decision, and when I do, a lot of people will get disappointed and angry.
‘But Michael,’ I said, ‘you are taking decisions which please nobody!’
‘Ah my dear,’ he said, ‘how little you understand the problems of a Supreme Leader. It is most important, at this early stage, to test the loyalty and discipline of my ministers and party members. The best test is to take a decision which is self-evidently ridiculous, and to see which one can be found whispering against me. This is how I can weed out those who have no loyalty. Such a situation identifies the subversive elements, who would seek to undermine my authority and challenge my position. As they whisper against me, they automatically and foolishly identify themselves. The subsequent purge removes the main danger, and teaches the meaning of loyalty to those few who are allowed to remain around their beloved Supreme Leader.’
‘So what’s you next earth shattering announcement to enrage the nation?’
‘I have been thinking about the problem of all these civil servants who come to work late, and then waste the entire morning chatting on Facebook. They only start work at midday.’
‘So does the Supreme Leader have a remedy?’
‘Certainly he does,’ he replied proudly. ‘This is a simple matter. I shall cancel mornings entirely and the whole country will move to a twelve hour day, beginning at noon, and having only afternoon and night. Tomorrow I shall instruct the Meteorological Department to adjust the speed of the sun so that daylight hours are reduced to six. With immediate effect.’
Oh Dear Diary, Does my poor dear husband really know what he is doing? I have a nasty feeling that, any day now, he is going to make a complete ass of himself.