Tuesday, July 30, 2013



            ‘This is Stephen Cole on Al Jazeera. For our weekly Africa Interview we go over to Sulaka, the capital of Zombieland, to talk to the famous government propagandist Kibamba Chanyama. Welcome to the interview, Kibamba. First of all I’d like you to give us a bit of background on how the one-party state managed to re-emerge in Zombieland.’
          A fat self-satisfied face appeared upon the screen. ‘Thank you Stephen. It all began ten years ago, in 2013, after Zombieland’s most intrepid explorer, the late Dotty Scotty, had reached as far as North Korea, a country that no Zombie had previously reached. What he found was a revelation. All the people were dressed exactly the same, and spent most of their time marching up and down in front of their Great Leader Kim Jong Un, singing and cheering and waving their flags, and obeying his orders without question and with happy smiling faces.’
          ‘Dotty Scotty must have been terribly shocked.’
          ‘Good gracious no, he was very impressed, and declared that this looked like a very good system of government!’
          ‘Was he a fascist?’
          ‘Oh good gracious no,’ laughed Kibamba. ‘But he was very impressed by such a show of national unity. You see, in those days Zombieland was a very confused place and government was very difficult. The new Zombie government of the Punching Fist had been energetically punching in various directions, but not hitting any of its targets. Everybody had a different idea of how the country should be governed, and nobody took the government seriously.’
          ‘Didn’t the Punching Fist have a clear programme?’
          ‘Unfortunately not. They had promised everything to everybody and therefore nothing to anybody. Everybody was saying different things and arguing with each other. So when Dotty Scotty went to North Korea and saw everybody speaking with one voice he was very impressed.
So he stayed there for some time to study the system, so he could bring its benefits back to Zombieland.
          ‘Who was the president of Zombieland at that time?’
          ‘A man called Cycle Mata. But when Dotty Scotty explained to him the Korean system, he immediately changed his name to the Great Leader Pscho Ma Ta. His Punching Fist became the Paternal Father, meaning that he was now in charge of everybody.’
          ‘So how did he gain control over his constantly quarreling rabble.’
          ‘The first thing he did was to change the Constitution, which had previously been a long rambling document of 200 pages which nobody understood. He replaced it with a single sentence which said The Word of the Paternal Father is Law and All Must Obey.’
          ‘But did parliament agree to this?’
          ‘Stephen,’ laughed Kibamba, ‘You’re not seeing the implications properly. If the Paternal Father makes the law, then there is no need for a legislature. So parliament was automatically abolished!’
          ‘Wasn’t this challenged in court?’
          ‘Try to adjust your thinking,’ replied Kibamba impatiently. ‘There is no need for a court to interpret the law if the Paternal Father is the law. So courts were also abolished.’
          ‘But on what principles was the Great Leader operating?’
          ‘He acted according to his own philosophical principles.’
          ‘Did he have any?’
          ‘That’s where I came in,’ replied Kibamba proudly. ‘I was appointed the Chief Commissioner for Ideology and Propaganda and employed to write the Thoughts of the Great Leader Pscho Ma Ta which became the curriculum in school and university. All other books were banned.’
          ‘So did people stop quarreling?’
          ‘Of course. People had to follow the Thoughts of the Great Leader, so they were all of the same opinion.’
          ‘Didn’t the chiefs rebel against this intrusion into their traditional power over their subjects?’
          ‘The Great Leader had the Great Idea of putting CCTV cameras in all their bedrooms, and it soon became apparent that their nocturnal behaviour transgressed all traditional moral norms. After the public exposure of their scandalous behaviour they were all detained on Lichubi Island.’
          ‘Did anybody complain?’
          ‘Only a few. They were also sent to Lichubi Island.’
          ‘And did the economy improve?’
          ‘We soon had full employment, just as the Great Leader had promised. Half of the labour force was put into the army to march up and down and praise the Great Leader. The other half of the labour force was put down the mines to dig out copper to be sent to North Korea.’
          ‘What happened to all the money from the copper?’
          ‘It was used to pay the army to march up and down in praise of the Great Leader.’
          ‘Surely there must have been a lot of argument about all this in the press?’
          ‘All argument,’ explained Kibamba, ‘was banned in favour of national unity, peace and harmony, which were the essential principles in the Thoughts of the Great Leader. North Korean technology was used to channel all news through a department under my control known as ZNBC, Zombie News Banning and Censorship. In this way people didn’t get upset about anything divisive, unpatriotic or treasonable.’
          ‘And then this great African totalitarian experiment collapsed earlier this year, when Paramount Chief Kalaki escaped from Lichubi Island and began his great thousand mile march on Sulaka and, with his rallying cry of  Democracy and the Human Rights, restored multi-party democracy to Zombieland.’
          ‘It was a sad day for dictatorship,’ replied Kibamba.
          ‘Do you think democracy can ever work in Zombieland?’
          ‘Never!’ replied Kibamba.
          ‘Is that because the principles of democracy and human rights have been forgotten?’
          ‘Certainly not!’ replied Kibamba.
          ‘So the principles of democracy have been remembered?’
          ‘Certainly not!’ said Kibamba. ‘They were never understood in the first place!’
          ‘Well, thanks for talking to us,’ said Stephen. ‘And we do hope that you’ll soon be released from Kamfinsa Prison.’  


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Winterstein's Monster

Winterstein’s Monster

            Kusala was a very frightened city. There was a serial killer on the loose. Every other week another corpse was found. Not only that, but there were body parts missing. Sometimes the eyes, sometimes the brain, sometimes the heart. And the police were making no progress. But to be fair to the Zombie Police, they had never been trained to investigate, only to follow orders in locking up the enemies of the government.
          If the police had been interested in investigations, they might have taken an interest in the strange goings on at the Kusala Museum. This sinister memorial for the one-party state faithfully and reverentially preserved all the relics, bones, charms, chains and instruments of torture from this bygone age.
          Visitors to the museum had been complaining for months of the strange sickly smell of formaldehyde which permeated the museum. But the janitor at the museum, Professor Winterstein, had always explained that there was nothing unusual about the smell, because he had to use formaldehyde to preserve the bones and relics which would otherwise be eaten by termites, or even by the visitors. For this was a very hungry time in the starving city of Kusala.
          But if there had been any detective to detect, he would have found that the sweet sickly smell of formaldehyde was not coming from the exhibits on the lower floors, but was permeating slowly down from the uppermost floor. It was here that Professor Winterstein had his own apartment, right under the glass dome which formed the roof of the museum.
          Or rather, to be more precise, this was where Winterstein had his laboratory, where he also lived as a recluse. For the professor was also an earnest and dedicated researcher into the occult, dedicated to finding the secret of eternal life. More precisely, his project was to collect the parts from various corpses and sew them all together into a new human being. And not only into a new human being, but a superman. A man of extraordinary intelligence, wisdom, courage and strength. For Winterstein was one of the most dangerous people on Earth – he had a passion to do good.
          One of the most mysterious aspects of the serial killings was that the victims were mostly prominent citizens, and always with a different part cut out. The body of a politician was found his tongue cut out. The body of a judge had been found with no brain. The priest had no heart. The wrestler had both his arms missing. The city’s most famous womanizer was found with his essential equipment entirely missing.
          All this was because Winterstein was following his theory that society is flawed because of our human imperfections. We had clever people with no heart, people who talked excessively but without brains, and fools with excessive reproductive energy to reproduce more fools, and so on. Winterstein’s aim was therefore to build a perfectly balanced man whose parts were all excellent – a superman!
          But the theory went further. Winterstein had seen that government, like the human body, had its own specialized parts. The executive was the tongue, which gave the orders, the judiciary the brain, parliament the rules, the opposition the devil’s advocate, civil society the heart, the media the eyes, investigating agencies the nose, always sniffing. But each part was always arguing with the other, and government was going nowhere.
          So Professor Winterstein had the brilliant idea of bringing all the best of these organs into one body. And this one body would unite all the different organs of the state, which would then work together without argument or discord or conflict, provided everybody did as they were told by Superman. All the previous failings of the one-party state would now be overcome as it was personified into the rule of Winterstein’s Monster.
          And then, after Winterstein had sewn together all the parts, and erected the high copper antenna above the museum, there finally came the fateful night of a big thunder storm, the climax to Winterstein’s great experiment. Down came a great bolt of lightning straight into the borrowed heart of the monster, who quivered with life, and lurched up from the huge laboratory bench and staggered in the direction of the brilliant professor.
‘You are my Superman!’ squealed Winterstein, ‘Look at yourself in the mirror! See how beautiful you are! You have all the best qualities of several humans all rolled into one!’
‘You fool,’ roared the monster, as he staggered towards the mirror. ‘I am an ugly monster, not made in the image of God but in the image of the idiot Winterstein! How shall I ever find a wife?’
‘You are made from all the very best organs,’ squealed Winterstein excitedly, ‘all working in perfect harmony’
‘They are all working against each other,’ bellowed the monster, ‘I’m in the most terrible agony.’ So saying the monster picked up little Winterstein and hurled him off the museum roof, where he met his death by crashing into the Freedom Statue, which remains to this day with broken chains.
And then Winterstein’s Monster leapt down from the museum roof and into the city, where people screamed and threw stones when they saw him coming. So he ran all the way to Zumbubwe, where One-Party Monsters are better understood.
And for the next week a strange sickly smell of formaldehyde pervaded the entire city of Kusala, so much so that the government had to put out a statement that the chemical had been found leaking from all Zombiebeef products, and that all the directors had been arrested.
And that was the last time that anybody tried to re-introduce the one-party state in Zombieland.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Great Zombieland National Disaster

The Great Zombieland
 National Disaster

I was carefully and reverentially pouring another brandy when swinging round the corner came a huge leather satchel, closely followed by a school uniform containing the skinny figure of Thokozile. ‘Grandpa!’ she said, ‘before you drink too much brandy, I’ve got a question for the Paramount Chief of Kalakiland!’
          ‘Fire away,’ I said. ‘Anything except Quantum Theory.’
          ‘Why is it that all the land to the north of us is nothing but empty bush? My friend Rochelle says that nobody lives there, except a few scary zombies. I asked my Geography teacher, but he told me not to worry about that because it’s not in the syllabus.’
          ‘It all happened more than a thousand years ago,’ I said, ‘when that place was called Zambia. In those days it was a highly developed country with more than ten million people.’
          ‘What d’you mean by highly developed? Did it have spacecraft, intergalactic tourism, time travel and that sort of thing?’
          ‘Good gracious no,’ I laughed, ‘it wasn’t developed in that sort of vulgar futuristic way. But it was developed in the sense that people enjoyed life, looked after each other, ate well, drank well, and were peaceful and considerate. People were happy and laughed a lot.’
          ‘So what went wrong?’
          ‘Things went wrong after they elected the new Chief Ukwa to be their new king.’
          ‘Wasn’t he any good at running the country?’
          ‘He wasn’t asked to run the country. In those days people were very well organized and civilized, and they knew how to run the country.’
          ‘So what was the king supposed to do?’
          ‘In those days the most precious and civilized thing was laughter. And Chief Ukwa was their most famous comedian. They always elected ridiculous leaders to make them laugh, and Ukwa was generally reckoned to be the best yet. He could tell a joke in a very dry and droll fashion. And while everybody else was falling around laughing, he would just stand there sternly with a straight face.’
          ‘Why didn’t he laugh?’
          ‘He had very bad teeth.’
          ‘So couldn’t King Ukwa develop the country by further developing everybody’s sense of humour? What went wrong?’
          ‘It all went horribly wrong because Ukwa was not content with being a great comedian. Instead he had dreams of being a great leader, who would take charge of everything. He declared himself to be the Great Omnipotent Dictator.’
          ‘Did people really have to call him the Great Omnipotent Dictator?’
          ‘He preferred the shorter version – GOD.’
          ‘Didn’t people laugh?’
          ‘Well, yes, to start with they did. Until they realized that this was not just another joke, the man was really deadly serious.’
          ‘So he didn’t develop the country?’
          ‘It wasn’t that simple. He had a completely different idea of development. He said it meant more roads, hospitals and schools.’
          ‘But didn’t that make the people happy?’
          ‘Schools don’t make people happy, they make people miserable. And before long he was very puzzled to find that he had no money to pay the teachers.’
          ‘Why not?’
          ‘He had spent their salaries on building more schools. Just as he had also spent the doctors’ salaries on building more hospitals.
          ‘And did he still keep building more roads?’
          ‘He needed them to bring in the big machines to build the hospitals and schools.’
          ‘So he needed to find more money. What did he do?’
          ‘He took it from the people. He removed the subsidy on mealie-meal, so that poor people had to pay more for it. He removed the subsidy on farm inputs, which made things even worse, since now farmers couldn’t produce much maize. He increased the tax on petrol, so that people had to pay more to go to work. People became more hungry and more angry. They stopped laughing and started shouting  Is this what you mean by development?
          ‘And how did he answer?’
          ‘He didn’t answer. He stayed in his palace. He was too busy with his plans to build more roads, more schools and more hospitals.’
          ‘So what happened next? Did the people protest? Demonstrate? Rebel?’
          ‘They could not. King Ukwa had been careful to feed his army well, and the people were now weak and starving. And then the next thing was, without any medicines in the hospitals, all the old diseases came back: TB, polio, pneumonia, kwashiorkor, cholera, and typhus. The hospitals were full of dying patients. The doctors and nurses had all fled abroad, making good use of the new roads.’
          ‘So what happened then?’
          ‘The survivors all fled. All that can be found now is the crumbling ruins of all those schools, hospitals and roads, overgrown with creepers, vines and trees. People say that the ghosts of all those that died still haunt the land. That’s why it’s now called Zombieland, and the king’s reign is now remembered as the Great Zombieland National Disaster. Nobody has ever dared to go back.’
          ‘And those who survived and fled, where did they go?’
          ‘They fled over the border and into a neighbouring country.’
          ‘Tell me, Grandpa, how do you know all these things?’
          ‘Because it was I, Kalaki, who led the exodus into the hinterland which is now called Kalakiland, where I became Paramount Chief Kalaki, and where you are the Princess Thokozile.’
          ‘That means, Grandpa, that you are more than a thousand years old!’
          ‘Yes,’ I said, as I refilled my glass. ‘I am well preserved in brandy.’


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Passport Problem

Passport Problem

We were having a sundowner on the veranda when round the corner sauntered Sara’s cousin Kelvin. ‘My God!’ squealed Sara, as she hugged him. ‘Is it really you! What are you doing here? Why didn’t you say you were coming? How did you find us? Are you back for good?
That was more than a month ago. The very next morning he set off on the bus to Lundazi to visit his project, as he called it. For the past twenty years he’d been sending money back to his sister to build his retirement home, and now he wanted to have a look at it. ‘Be prepared to be disappointed,’ Sara had said. ‘Nowadays people are hungry, and can easily eat an entire house.’
‘Not my sister Enela,’ said Kelvin, ‘she’s the one who brought me up.’
‘Are you still married to that Malaysian woman?’ Sara asked.
‘That’s another long story,’ said Kelvin sadly.
It was a full forty years ago since Kelvin had disappeared into the melting pot of Glasgow, where he finally became Scotland’s only Zambian Glaswegian bus driver.
He had promised to visit us on his way back from Lundazi, But some three weeks passed and he didn’t return. ‘Maybe he’s found a new wife in Lundazi,’ said Sara. ‘There’s a few there who wouldn’t mind the inconvenience of a rich Zambian Glaswegian bus driver.’
But then, a week ago, he reappeared, dusty, dirty, unshaven and exhausted. ‘Good God Kelvin!’ I said, ‘What happened? Did they think you were a ghost? A witch? You found no house at all? We warned you!’
‘Nothing like that,’ he said, as he slumped into a chair. ‘Everything was fine in Lundazi, Enela is living in my house with her grandchildren, and the whole village welcomed me with a big feast. But I came back with no spare time to visit you, and had to rush straight to the airport. That was a week ago!’
‘A week ago! So why are you still here? What happened? Where have you been?’
‘Passport problem!’ he exclaimed. ‘Immigration confiscated it! And then locked me up!’
‘What, confiscated a British passport?’
‘No, I still have my Zambian passport. If I’d had a British passport I’d have been alright!’
‘So what was wrong with it?’
‘They asked me where my parents were born, and I said in Mzuzu.’
‘You shouldn’t have said that,’ said Sara.
‘They said I must have obtained it by dubious means, and confiscated it. Then they confiscated my cell phone and computer, and threw me in the cells.’
‘Your name must have been on their list,’ said Sara.
‘That’s how it turned out,’ said Kelvin. ‘They kept asking me about the Zambian Warthog, and insisting that I wrote stories for the Warthog, and demanded details of the identity of all the other journalists. It seems that one of the journalists they were looking for is also called  Kelvin Nhlane. After a week I got out on a police bond of K500, pending further investigations, but they’re still holding my passport. So I’m stuck here.’
‘Why didn’t you contact us?’ asked Sara.
‘I told you, they confiscated my phone and computer.’
‘You were entitled to one phone call, we could have got you a lawyer.’
‘They laughed in my face and said criminals don’t have human rights.’
‘We must apply to the court,’ I said. ‘We can get a judge to order that your passport is returned.’
‘What!’ laughed Sara. ‘All our judges are all hiding under their desks or under their beds. Even if you got a court order, the Immigration officials would tear it up in front of you.’
‘Haven’t you got connections?’ asked Kelvin.
‘Obviously not,’ I laughed. ‘Otherwise we wouldn’t be living in this little house in Chainda.’
‘What about my cousin Dingiswayo?’ asked Kelvin. ‘The one you said is an odious little bootlicker?’
‘OK,’ said Sara. ‘We don’t usually have anything to do with him. But I’ll take you to his place, and maybe he can just have a quiet word with somebody, and everything can be sorted out. Obviously there has been a terrible mistake.’
So Sara took him to Dingiswayo’s mansion in New Kasama, and they took him in, and took over the problem. Imagine our surprise when, only a couple of days later, we picked up our copy of The Post to find a screaming front page headline ‘Opposition Journalist Apologizes to Cycle Mata: Rogue journalist confesses his sins and pledges loyalty,’ accompanied by a picture of the Zambian Glaswegian bus driver, now dressed up in a new bling bling suit.
‘Maybe that’s the way to go,’ I suggested. ‘Don’t try to contradict their nonsense – just go along with it.’
‘If Kelvin can find his way through the Glasgow traffic,’ laughed Sara, ‘maybe he can wriggle out of this!’
The next the day the front page of The Post had a picture of Kelvin shaking hands with the dreaded Splinter Kapimbe, under the heading Internationally Renowned Journalist Joins the Party.
The next day was even better: Kelvin Nhlane appointed Member of Parliament and Minister of Propaganda.
And we knew the problem was completely solved when we picked up The Post the following day and read Nhlane Leads Delegation to UK: Nhlane to instruct British government on freedom of the press.
Two days later Sara got an e-mail from Kelvin: ‘Phew! Thanks for your help. Am back in Glasgow, driving my bus.’  


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Question Time

Question Time

Friday night on the box is the Vice-President’s Question Time, starring Dotty Scotty as the hapless foot-in-mouth Leader of the House…

Speaker: I call upon the Honourable Member for Buka Buka.
Hon. Member for Buka Buka: Mr Speaker Sir, I rise to ask the Honourable Vice-President whether it is in order for the government to require opposition MPs to seek permission from the DC and the police before visiting their own constituencies?
Dotty Scotty: Mr Speaker Sir, if honourable members of the opposition wish to avoid this inconvenience, all they have to do is to join the ruling party. If the Honourable Member for Buka Buka would care to accept an appointment as a deputy minister, the government will provide him with a mansion and a chauffeur driven Mercedes for each of his concubines. Then he will be able to live like a king in Lusaka, and never again feel the slightest temptation to visit his constituency. All his problems will be over.
Hon. Member for Buka Buka: Mr Speaker Sir, is it in order for the honourable Vice-President to bribe me with the offer of a ministerial position?
Dotty Scotty: Mr Speaker Sir, I am grievously hurt that my well intended offer to allow the honourable member to serve his country has been so dreadfully misconstrued. Therefore my offer is withdrawn.
(General cheering and cries of ‘With immediate effect’)
Speaker: I call upon the Honourable Member for Namwanka.
Honourable Member: Does the Honourable Leader of the House have any explanation on why the Ndola Trade Fair had only 13 visitors this year, which is severely down from last year’s figure of 438,214?
Dotty Scotty: This disappointing result is due to this government’s diligent attention to the rule of law. Unfortunately the organizers of the Trade Fair had omitted to apply for a police permit to hold a public gathering, and therefore, under the requirements of the Public Order Act, the police had no choice except to close it down. Previously the opposition had claimed that the application of this Act was selective and partisan, so I am sure that the opposition will now be particularly pleased to see that in this case the application of the Act affected people of all political affiliation, age, gender, tribe and religion. I am sure the opposition would therefore wish to congratulate the government on this fair minded and even handed application of the law.
Honourable Member for Namwanka: Can his Honour the Vice-President please inform the House of the fate of the 13 people who managed to get into the show?
Dotty Scotty: Having failed to raise bail of K10m each, they are being held in remand prison until trial, hopefully before the end of next year. In such matters the government is keen to respect the independence of the judiciary, so nothing more can be said on that score.
Speaker: I call upon the Honourable Member for Chongololo.
Honourable Member: Prior to the general election of 2011, the ruling party promised that they would introduce the Freedom of Information Bill within 90 days. What has happened to this promise?
Dotty Scotty: This government always keeps its promises, and the government will soon put this Bill before parliament.
(cries of ‘When? When? When?’)
Dotty Scotty: When? When? I sometimes wonder whether my right honourable friends on the opposition benches are deaf. As I have already said, and as ruling party has always promised, the Bill will be presented within 90 days. I don’t know what more I can say.
Honourable Member for Chongololo: If I may ask a follow-up question on the freedom of information, when may we expect the president to hold his first press conference?
Dotty Scotty: I am somewhat taken aback by the lack of logic in this question, since the Honourable Member for Chongololo has himself just reminded this August House that the Freedom of Information Act has not yet been passed. Obviously, until this Act is passed, everything that the president says must remain confidential, which rules out any possibility of a press conference.
Honourable Member for Chongololo: When is this press conference likely to take place?
(Cries of ‘Within 90 days!’ from all sides of the House)
Dotty Scotty: I am pleased to observe that the Honourable Member for Chongololo seems to be the only member present who does not know the answer to his question!
Speaker: I call upon the Honourable Member for Sukulu.
Honourable Member: The Honourable Minister for Education has banned private tuition in order to maintain a level playing field in government schools. But is there a level playing field when all the ministers’ children attend private schools?
Dotty Scotty: Mr Speaker Sir, it is patently absurd for the honourable member to claim that all the ministers’ children are in private schools when no man can be sure how many children he has fathered, let alone which schools they are attending.
Speaker: I should caution members to come to this house with factual and verifiable information.
Honourable Minister for Chibuku: Mr Speaker, Sir, At last I have some important and verifiable information. The time is now 16.00h, and the Members Bar is now open.

(There is a mad scramble for the door, and Dotty Scotty is left alone, wagging his wobbly chin at the empty Debating Chamber)