Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Minister's Visit

The Minister’s Visit

What a scene it was at Shoprite Manda Hill!  Suddenly the ZNBC camera crew arrived and set up their lights, right in front of the checkout counters. Next came a bunch of security men, black suits and dark glasses, jabbering into their walkie-talkies, and forming a menacing circle in front of the cameras. Then down from his upstairs office came the managing director, Mr Johannesburg Kurtz, to see what was going on. Finally, there was a roll of drums, and trotting into the shop came a huge fat rhinoceros of a man, squeezed into a bright blue suit three sizes too small for him.
A shiver of excitement went through the crowd of shoppers, as they began to crowd around this impromptu theatre, wondering what was going to happen next.
The rhinoceros took a step towards Mr Kurtz, who put out his hand to greet him. But the rhinoceros ignored the hand and instead stabbed a short fat finger into Kurtz’s chest and barked into his face ‘Do you know who I am?’
The hapless Mr Kurtz leaned backwards, trying to escape the stench of bad breath. ‘I don’t doubt that you’re about to tell me.’
‘Don’t think you can be rude to me!’ squealed the rhinoceros, now spitting fire into Kurtz’s face. ‘I’m the Honorable Mr Chipembele Kambilimbili, Minister for Labour, Factory Inspections, Work Permits and Instant Deportations.’
Now Chipembele pushed his finger up Kurtz’s nose, as Kurtz raised himself on his toes to try to save himself from this embarrassing intrusion into his person. ‘You wouldn’t be allowed to be rude to a minister in your own country!’
‘Well actually,’ said Kurtz, as he finally managed to lift his nose off from the end of Chipembele’s finger, ‘that’s not entirely true, because in my country…’
‘Well you’re not in your country now!’ squealed Chipembele, ‘You’re in my country. And here you have to be polite to the minister!’
‘Certainly sir,’ said Kurtz, bowing slightly. ‘Is there any matter in which I can be of assistance? Are you returning some foodstuffs which were not entirely up to your expectation? Some ice-cream that was too cold? Some chocolate that proved too sweet? A bottle of wine, perhaps, which tasted of alcohol?’
A ripple of mirth went round the audience.
Chipembele put his mouth up against Kurtz’s ear and screamed ‘Ever since you arrested my nephew for stealing a tube of toothpaste I’ve been waiting to get even with you. And now I’ve come to sort you out! I’m here to inspect your shop!’
‘Certainly sir,’ replied Kurtz, ‘Let me first show you our extensive range of toothpastes, all at competitive prices.’
‘But not free of charge,’ said a voice from the audience, as everybody laughed and clapped.
But Chipembele now ignored Kurtz, and instead bent down to the cashier at the checkout counter. ‘How much do they pay you my dear?’
‘Twenty thousand a day,’ she replied sadly.
‘Just as I thought!’ shouted the minister. ‘Slavery! I hereby increase your wage by 100%! You will now receive two million a day! With immediate effect!’
‘Hurray!’ shouted the crowd. ‘A man of action!’
After the cheering had died down, Kurtz said ‘I think you’ll find a 100% increase on twenty pins brings the daily wage from twenty to forty pins.’
‘Boo!’ laughed the crowd. ‘Deport him!’
‘Everybody knows,’ scoffed Chipembele, as he turned to the crowd, ‘that a 100% increase means adding two zeros, so twenty thousand becomes two million! We employ foreigners who can’t even do arithmetic, while our own graduates remain unemployed!’
‘Revoke his work permit!’ shouted the crowd, as they laughed and clapped.
Now the minister, encouraged by the crowd, was warming to his task. He turned to the woman who had been just about to pay for her grocery. ‘How much are you being charged for all this?’
‘Three hundred and twenty thousand,’ replied the woman.
‘See how this Kurtz robs us!’ shouted Chipembele. ‘He knows very well that my government has just knocked off three zeros, and the right price should now be three hundred and twenty kwacha!’ He turned back to the customer, saying ‘Just give the cashier a one thousand note.’ Then turning to the cashier, he said ‘Now you give her change of six hundred and eighty kwacha.’
‘Hurray!’ laughed the crowd. ‘More money in our pockets!’
‘And look at this!’ Chipembele crowed, as he picked up a tin of sardines. ‘It says expiry date June 2016!’ Then he put his finger into the ring on the tin, and ripped off the lid. ‘Look!’ he exclaimed triumphantly, as he lifted a sardine high into the air for all to see, ‘These sardines are all dead! They suffocated! They expired a long time ago!’
‘Even the chickens!’ laughed the crowd. ‘They’ve all expired!’
Then Chipembele swaggered up to Kurtz and tipped the contents of the tin over his head. Kurtz stood there patiently, wearing a wry smile, and wondering what might happen next, as the sardine oil dripped down his face.
And what happened next was even more surprising. The film director leapt out from behind the camera, shook Kurtz by the hand. ‘Well done!’ he said, as everybody cheered. ‘You have just appeared on Candid Camera!’
‘Good God!’ laughed Kurtz. ‘I never guessed! That ugly fat fellow really looks like Chipembele! I really thought he was the Minister of Labour and Whatever!’
‘And so he was!’ laughed the director. ‘But there was another reshuffle last week, and now he’s the Minister for Comedy and Error. We’re putting his comedy show on TV every night.’
‘I’ll watch out for it,’ said Kurtz. ‘What’s it called?’
‘It’s called The News,’ he replied.   

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Presidential Appointments

Presidential Appointments

The President was tired. He had spent a long day behind his desk, dealing with the long queue of job-seekers. He had done all he could to give them suitable jobs, sending the most crooked and dangerous as ambassadors to faraway places such as Outer Mongolia or Canada. But just as he thought his day’s work was done, and he was almost nodding off in his chair, he was jerked awake by a banging on the door. ‘Come in,’ he shouted, with some exasperation.
To his surprise, a donkey trotted into the room, stood in front of him and said ‘Hee haw!’ Even by the general standards of the queue of bootlickers, thought the President, this one looks particularly hopeless and dull. Perhaps he could send the poor fellow to Malawi.
‘Yes,’ said the President, what can I do for you?’
‘I am Due Process,’ said the donkey.
‘So what job do you want?’ asked the President wearily.
‘I want to be the supervisor of all your ministers and permanent secretaries,’ declared the donkey, ‘to make sure that they follow all the correct rules and procedures.’
‘What!’ shouted the President, rousing himself from his chair and chasing the cheeky donkey out of the room, ‘That’s my job! I’m the one to supervise the government! Get out!’
As the donkey’s hooves clattered down the corridor, the President returned to find a huge fish eagle perched on a chair.
‘And who do you think you are?’ shouted the President.
‘I am a legal eagle,’ said the fish eagle solemnly. ‘My name is Rule of  Law, and it is my job to make sure that the law is administered fairly, without any witchhunting or favouritism, or bribing of the judiciary.’
‘Unless you’re interested in prosecuting my enemies,’ sneered the President, as he opened the French window wide, ‘you’d better look for a job elsewhere!’
But as the legal eagle flew out, in walked another strange bird. An ostrich! ‘Jesus wept!' screamed the President. ‘What do you want? All the jobs are filled for today! Get out!’
‘My name is Transparency,’ said the ostrich calmly. ‘My job is to look at everything your government is doing. With my huge transparent eyes and long neck, I can look into every nook and cranny to make sure you are doing what is required by Due Process and Rule of Law.’
The President stood there with the French window still open. ‘Your two friends have already left,’ he said sarcastically, ‘so I suggest that you follow them. And quick! Before I call security!’
The President now slumped back into his seat, thoroughly exhausted. ‘My God,’ he sighed to himself, ‘All the years I sought this job, never realizing what was involved.’ He closed his eyes and thought back to happier times, when he was unemployed.
Then he heard a loud snort. He opened one eye. There was a huge elephant. ‘My name is Old Constitution,’ said the elephant sternly, ‘and I am here to make sure that you keep your oath of office, and do all the things that I tell you to do, and none of the things that I tell you not to do!’
‘Get out of here!’ screamed the President, as he leapt on his desk and began prodding the elephant with the national flag. ‘I’ve set up a commission of inquiry to investigate you. You can’t come here while you are under investigation! The commission has been asked to report on how to reduce your power and size so that you never again try to throw your weight about! Get out!’
The President felt a satisfying feeling of Presidential power as Old Constitution suddenly disappeared from the scene. But worse was to come. As the President was still standing on his desk, a huge crocodile came out from underneath, and opened its jaws wide.
‘Who are you?’ said the President bravely. ‘Are you Freedom of Information? Gender Equality? Accountability? I don’t fear any of you! I’m the President! I’m the one in charge! Go away! Get out!’
‘My name is Corruption,’ laughed the crocodile. ‘And I am going to eat you up!’
‘I chased all the other animals,’ sneered the President. ‘Now it’s your turn!’
‘Ha ha,’ laughed he crocodile, ‘you don't seem to realise your problem. It’s because you chased away my enemies, Due Process, the Rule of Law and Transparency, that you’ve now got me, Corruption, instead.’
But as the President looked down into the beguiling hypnotic eyes of the crocodile he began to feel dizzy, and lost his balance. He felt himself falling down, down, down into the throat of the crocodile…

‘Aaarrgh!’ The President woke up with a start and sat bolt upright in the bed, immediately waking up the First Lady. ‘Another bad dream, darling?’
‘I’ve just been swallowed by a crocodile! Assassinated!’
His wife calmly took his pulse and temperature. ‘Don’t worry dear, you’re definitely still alive. So you haven’t been assassinated! It must have been a bad dream.’
The President threw his arms around her neck. ‘You don’t know what it was like!’ he sobbed. ‘There were all these terrible animals. Due Process! Rule of Law! Transparency! I was so frightened!’
‘Don’t worry, my dear,’ she said gently, as she patted his little fat belly. ‘Those are all mythical animals. They’re only seen in dreams. They don’t exist in real life! Nobody worries about them!’
‘But what about the crocodile?’
‘Oh he’s real enough,’ she agreed. ‘But don’t worry, I can inoculate you against him!’ So saying, she took a syringe out of her bag and gave him a jab.
‘Don’t worry dear, now you’ve got immunity!’
After that, the President was reassured. He went back to sleep with a smile on his face. He knew that he was now safe.
But was he?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Graveyard

The Graveyard

We had decided to skip the funeral service and go straight to Leopards Hill Cemetery. As Sara put it, ‘I can’t stand another priest explaining that death is a great mystery. If he can’t explain it, he should just shut up, or go into some other line of business.’
But when we got to the graveyard, our funeral party still hadn’t arrived. ‘The priest’s explanation of his ignorance must be taking longer than usual,’ said Sara.
‘Knowledge is sweet and simple,’ I laughed. ‘But ignorance is long and complicated, and interspersed with endless metaphors of dubious relevance.’
As we were talking, we became aware of a most unusual sight. Dispersed amongst the graves in front of us were some fifty men in orange overalls, all slashing at the elephant grass and weeds that previously concealed the graves. As we stood transfixed by this unprecedented sight, from behind a distant gravestone stepped the figure of a tiny woman dressed in a bright green shiny ballgown. On her head was a long straight muzungu wig, and her mouth was bright red like a bloody open wound.
‘Aarrgh!’ I cried, staggering backwards. ‘A ghost! The ghost of a murdered dwarf!’
I might have hit the ground had I not fallen into the waiting arms of one of the flower sellers, as Sara also nearly fell over, laughing at me. ‘That’s not a ghost,’ she hooted, ‘it’s Clueless Cluo, Minister of Vocal Government!’
‘She may be Clueless Cluo,’ I gasped, ‘but what’s she doing popping out of a grave?’
‘She's supervising the clean-up of the graveyard,’ said the flower seller, who turned out to be Njovu, whom Sara employs to look after her mother’s grave.
‘Njovu,’ said Sara, ‘let’s go and have a look at gogo’s grave, and see if you’re keeping it properly. Then maybe you can have another twenty pin.’
‘Half a minute!’ I protested, as I now recovered my composure, ‘what’s a whole Minister of Vocal Government doing here, supervising the cleaning up of the graveyard?’
‘It’s only ten years,’ explained Sara, ‘since she was Minister of Death, and sent a lot of people here. Being a kind hearted woman, she’s very keen to see that they’re all being looked after nicely.’
‘That’s not it,’ declared Njovu bluntly. ‘As Minister of Vocal Government her job is to clean up the streets, remove the vendors and return control of markets and bus stations to the councils.’
‘Exactly my point,’ I said. ‘So what’s she doing here?’
‘The president stepped in and stopped her. Those vendors and kaponya were the ones who voted for him, so he sent her to look after the graveyards instead.’
‘A very fitting switch of priorities,’ laughed Sara, as we began walking towards gogo’s grave. ‘This is the graveyard of all their promises.’
As we were walking, we came to a freshly dug grave, with withering flowers on top. But instead of a mound of earth, the ground was sunken down. ‘Whose grave is this?’ I asked the knowledgeable Njovu.
‘The Kwacha,’ he replied sadly. ‘Everyday the soil has dropped further down.’
‘What causes it to sink?’
‘Some people say,’ said Njovu, ‘that every time the president opens his mouth, the Kwacha sinks further.’
Next we came to a new gravestone, whose newly carved epitaph proclaimed Here lies the once honorable Sebastopol Juju SC, TAW, Former Minister of  Inquiries, Stitchups and Witchhunts.  
‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize he’d passed on. What happened?’
‘One day last week,’ said Njovu, ‘he solemnly declared, hand on heart, that if this government tried to bury the New Constitution, it would be over his dead body. The next day he was gone.’
‘Juju was very old,’ said Sara. ‘Maybe it was just a strange coincidence.’
The next epitaph read Here lies Mother Justice, who was buried here by her faithful servant, Earnbest Sakata.
‘He can’t have been a very faithful servant if he let her die,’ I scoffed.
‘At the funeral service he explained that there wasn’t enough money to keep her alive,’ said Njovu.
‘What happened to the money?’
‘He ate it all himself.’
‘Here lies Dotty Scotty, his body preserved in alcohol,’ said the next epitaph.
‘What killed him?’ I asked.
‘One day poor old tottery Dotty Scotty poured a totty, then raised his glass and sagely declared that a political party can last only ten years. Unknown to the unfortunate fellow, he uttered these words on the tenth anniversary of the formation of his own party, and consequently dropped dead on spot.'
As we were talking there was a terrible sound of wailing, then along came a lorry carrying a coffin draped in black, mourners all dressed in black, moving at speed towards an open grave that had a very old headstone.
‘Who’s funeral is that?’ I asked Njovu.
‘The New Constitution,’ he sighed. ‘Originally murdered by the government in 1973. But each new government digs him up and promises resurrection.’
‘Why was he murdered?’
‘Because he spoke for the people instead of the government.’
‘But when he is resurrected,’ said Sara, ‘he might do the same again.’
‘Exactly,’ said Njobu. ‘That’s why he soon get's reburied.’
‘And now he’s being reburied yet again!’ said Sara. ‘Do you think that the government really tried to resurrect him?’
‘So they claim,’ said Njovu. ‘They even employed four Catholic Bishops, who very much believe in resurrection, and have studied it all their lives.’
‘But they failed. What reason did they give?’
‘They said that death is a great mystery.’

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Supermarket

The Supermarket

‘A double,’ I said to the barman. ‘The usual will do!’
‘And the same for me!’ said a voice behind my ear.
I turned round like a flash to see who was seeking  subsidy from my meager resources. ‘Fintufingi Bantubonse!’ I exclaimed. ‘I haven’t seen you for years! What are you doing nowadays?’
‘Still teaching statistics at UNZA,’ he said sadly. ‘Every year I’m a year older, and every year my teaching notes are a year older, but every year the students are the same age.’
‘I thought you’d be drinking at Crapsodys, not here at the Anzac Arms! I laughed. ‘I know you could retire if you wanted! Isn’t it your family that owns Bantubonse Supermarket? Must be a little goldmine!’
‘That’s all you know,’ said Bantubonse sadly, as he gulped his brandy. ‘Unfortunately all my money is in your imagination. When my father died he left the shop equally to all his children. We thought we were only three, me and my two sisters. But at the funeral, another seventeen turned up!’
‘Oh dear, I am sorry,’ I said. ‘Funerals can be so upsetting. But even so, a five percent share of the profits must come in very handy. A nice little money-spinner like that! Cheat on the VAT! Cook the books for the ZRA! Nice little house in Kabulonga! Drink yourself to death on cognac! What a lovely way to go! How I envy you!’
‘How little you know, Kalaki. All I have is a five percent share in a very large overdraft.’ A tear rolled down his cheek and into his glass, further polluting the filthy mixture of industrial alcohol which Duncan Gilbert and Mortuary presume to call brandy.
‘My dear fellow,’ I said, putting my arm around his shoulder, ‘what happened?’
‘It all began four years ago,’ he began, ‘when we appointed a fellow called Nyamasoya as Manager. He seemed to be a very pleasant fellow. Very experienced in business. He had once run his own company.’
‘What happened to his company?’
‘That’s what we forgot to ask.’
‘So things began to go wrong?’
‘Terribly. He bled us dry. He employed all his own relatives as shop assistants, and they were all thieves. We found out too late that he was into all sorts of deals. He would buy stuff from the Chinese at a high price and then sell it at cost price. We only discovered later that he was getting a twenty percent back-hander under the counter.’
‘So you fired him?’
‘Of course. But not until he owned twenty mansions on the Leopards Hill Road, and we owned a twenty billion overdraft at the National Ripoff Bank.’
‘So you employed somebody else?’
‘Fellow called Super Chilufya.’
‘Why him?’
‘To get rid of the dreadful Nyamasoya.’
‘No, I mean why did you choose Super Chilufya?’
‘He was the only applicant. Very old, far beyond retirement age, but we had no choice.’
‘What was his previous occupation?’
‘Business consultant.’
‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘But he promised to put the business back on its feet?’
‘His promises were marvelous. Everything would be back to normal in ninety days. He promised to get back the stolen money. He also promised that he would employ relatives of the shareholders as his shop assistants, that he would get rid of all the street vendors outside the shop, and that he would prevent the Shanghai Supermarket from stealing all our trade. He even promised that he would make enough profit to pay the school fees for all the shareholders’children, which presently number one hundred and thirty-four.’
‘More money in your pockets!’
‘And has he kept his promises?’
‘Far from it! He has closed the shop!’
‘What! Closed the shop! Why!’
‘He says that the first priority is to get back all the stolen money from the previous management. So he has sent all his new shop assistants to dig in the gardens of the previous shop assistants to see if they can find any Chinese bicycles buried in their gardens.’
‘So at least he did appoint the new shop assistants!’
‘Oh yes, he did that alright. But only from amongst his own friends and relatives. Most of them are very old and doddery.’
‘I’m still not clear why he had to close the shop.’
‘He says he first needs recover the stolen money to use as working capital to re-stock the shop.’
‘So no money to pay your children’s school fees?’
‘No, and school fees are going up.’
‘And no money in your pocket?’
‘We’re being bled dry by the overdraft, which is increasing every day.’
‘And has he cleared away the street traders?’
‘Since the shop is closed, he says that they might as well stay where they are.’
‘And what about the Shanghai Supermarket?’
‘It’s doing a roaring trade. They’re exporting dollars to Shanghai by the million.’
‘And what does Super Chalufya do all day? Does he just sit in his closed shop?’
‘Oh no. I’ll say one thing for him, he’s always very busy. He works hard collecting the evidence against the previous management as the basis for making detailed allegations at various police stations.’
‘What was the job of this Chilufya before he became a business consultant?’
‘He was a police constable.’

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Constable Chilufya's New Year Resolutions

Constable Chilufya’s 
New Year Resolutions

Constable Chilufya sat motionless at his massive desk, admiring the huge picture of his own stern face on the opposite wall. Suddenly this famous man of action leapt into action, as he firmly and resolutely pressed one of the buttons on his desk.
Almost immediately there was a timid knock on the huge mukwa door, and then, as the door slowly creaked open, there appeared the figure of a trembling adviser, the hapless Mr Wobbly Wamwenso, Presidential Adviser for Inadvertently Amusing Announcements.
‘You’re late!’ shouted Chilufya, ‘You should have been here three minutes ago with your proposed draft of my Ten New Year Resolutions.’
‘Sorry Your Excellency. Here they are Your Excellency,’ squealed Wobbly Wamwenso, as he quickly traversed the acre of excellent Persian carpet in front of His Excellency’s excellent desk. His wobbly knees knocked together loudly, and his hand shook as he offered Chilufya a fluttering sheet of paper, and tried not to piddle on the Persian carpet.
‘What!’ roared Chilufya. ‘Only one miserable page! You’re supposed to have been working on this since the end of September! Is that all you can produce! Let me have a look!’ he snarled as he snatched the sheet of paper and looked at it. ‘What! Only ten resolutions! The nation expects a lot more promises from a man of my enormous promise! Sit down!’
Poor little Wamwenso had to kneel down on the carpet because Chilufya’s huge throne was the only chair in the room.
Now Chilufya began to read in a loud derisive tone. ‘First Resolution: I shall continue the war against corruption. Is that all you can say?’ roared Chilufya. ‘Which corruption? Corruption is everywhere! What you should have said is that I shall continue the fight against corruption in the previous government.
‘What about corruption in this government?’ whimpered Wamwenso.
‘That’s the job of the next government,’ shouted Chilufya. 'Now the Second Resolution: I shall introduce the new constitution within 90 days. Within 90 days of what? What you mean is that I shall introduce the new constitution within 90 days of my retirement!
‘The next one is even worse! I shall introduce the windfall tax. Windfall tax? What is this, you miserable halfwit?’
‘I’ve no idea, Your Excellency. I just read about it in the newspaper.’
‘You idiot, you mean the rainfall tax. The revenue collected from this tax will be invested in the Meteorological Department to enable them to plan and implement a programme of increased rainfall in future.
‘And the next one, I shall increase the number of women in my cabinet?  Can’t you even finish a sentence?  I shall increase the number of women … provided that they promise not to provoke gender violence by talking about gender equality.’
‘My apologies, Your Excellency, I foolishly overlooked your abhorrence of gender violence.’
‘And even more foolish is the Fifth Resolution: I shall uphold the rule of law. You mean uphold the rule of law by telling the police who to arrest and by instructing the judges on which ones are guilty.
‘Sorry, I overlooked that bit.’
‘As a man of action I need to say how I am going to implement my promises. Now look at the next one: I promise to protect the security of the nation. You have completely omitted to say by putting the Shushushu to spy on all the opposition members of parliament who are undermining the security of the nation by criticizing the government.
‘And the Seventh is even worse. I shall ensure full employment for all. All of whom? All the unemployed? We can’t possibly employ all these lazy people! I can only promise full employment to the Chinese because they work hard and bring development.
‘Development, yes Your Excellency, sorry Your Excellency, I’d forgotten about that.’
‘Sorry is not good enough, you dunderhead,’ Chilufya shouted angrily. ‘You’re incompetent! Useless! You’re fired, with immediate effect!’
Poor Wobbly Wamwenso turned and made his wobbly way towards the door, leaving behind a wet patch on the Persian carpet.
He had nearly reached the door when he heard another coarse shout from the Mighty Chilufya: ‘Wait a minute, I have just seen your Eighth Resolution: I solemnly promise that I shall implement all of my New Year Resolutions, subject to my presidential discretion on whether to take action or not. Perhaps you’re not quite as stupid as I had thought. Come back here!’
Wobbly Wamwenso came wobbling back to the same damp spot on the carpet that he had left only a minute earlier. ‘I hereby revoke your dismissal,’ declared Chilufya, ‘and you are hereby re-appointed as a Senior Presidential Adviser, with immediate effect!
‘And now,’ continued Chilufya, ‘Let us look more calmly at New Year Resolution Number Nine. I promise to remain steadfast in all my decisions and never to flip-flop or U-turn.’
 Constable Chilufya stood there silent, slowly turning purple in the face. Finally he exploded with a scream. ‘Get out you cheeky chakolwa! Get out! You’re fired! With immediate effect!’
Chilufya was still trying to calm himself down when the First Lady put her head round the door. ‘I’ve got The Boast on the phone asking for your New Year Resolutions. What shall I tell them?
‘Tell them,’ replied Chilufya, ‘that I have only one resolution. I have resolved to give jobs to everybody.’
‘Yes, dear, if you say so.’
Now Chilufya was again alone in his office.  ‘That’s right,’ he growled at the closed door, ‘I have resolved to give jobs to everybody … except presidential advisers!’