Sunday, July 8, 2018

The blind side of my beatitude

“This is my testament. Tomorrow I may not walk among you. For I man, like many before me has to pass on.  I am not immortal, and this I have always known. As celestial is the eclipse of the end of time, tomorrow, I will walk away, far beyond the future. A distance, the past can not equal.” He paused, and I looked searchingly into his eyes. Trying to understand, a lesson I knew may be the last. He sighed, and I sat up.  Yonder into the deep blue skies, his eyes locked. Mine too, sought the depth of the deep blue skies. It can not be. It surely can not be. But it was. In the deep blue skies, I saw him.

From the depth of our silence, he continued.

“I may not have lived my existence to the fullest. I may not have been as good as many may have expected. And, indeed, I may not have achieved what many thought I would achieve. But, in my heart I am contended. I walked in meadows, dry brushes and patchy sands attesting to the footprints of those who heard my cries. I sought not echoes of understanding from others. But, if it be there were echoes of understanding, and nought was learnt, then let it be known, I too have my failings.

In this testament, I seek that you not look to the heavens seeking that which afflicts you, I seek that you look closely into your shadow, look over your shoulder and seek my understanding.

If it be that you relate to my understanding, I am sad. For how it be, we continue letting a truth that should create deeper blue skies for the children be shrouded in our own inability to walk among the free.

 Didn't, you hear that child yesterday calling out for someone to reach and touch her hand? You heard, but just like me, you said it is not my child. If it be it is not your child, how it be you too where a child.  Look inner yourself and reflect on whose child you were, then you will surely find that it was the child in you that was calling out to you.” He paused, looking down on his scraggy hands like he was counting the many years gone, toiling for a people.

“So what you say for yourself,” he asked.

And I answered.

“I grew up in a rather moderately well off family. In the early years, we did not lack for anything. We grew up as most urban kids did. The tribulations of our parents were their own. After all, there was always food on the table. That a people could go hungry was alien, until in later years. But then, it really did not happen to us. This I only witnessed. Could be if I too had been hungry, may be I could understand why a people can let themselves slide into an abyss of despair. Yes, why a people can let themselves slide into abject poverty, while the very people they voted for to govern and realise their aspirations line their pockets to utterly contemptible levels.

When, I was of school going age, again there was nothing lacking in my existence. The politician was there, but really the politician was merely the person who at Independence Day celebrations delayed the fun. The politician always seemed to enjoy talking to himself. It was mostly a him, then.

I never really could understand why the people afforded this fun-spoiler so much time. There they were looking up at the podium, gobbling even the foulest words that fell out of the foulest mouth. And did they clap!

Like thunder the ovation always was and the birds the skies they took. I guess the birds too really did not understand why a people could disturb so much peace just because the politician has opened his mouth. It never really occurred to me that this person who the people seemed to love so much could be the very person who in time the people come to hate so much. I believe I was one up from the people. After all, I already hated this person. But I guess it was all for the wrong reasons. Surely, I could have had more reasons, but really it did not matter.

The politician I recall used very strange words. Humanism, man at centre, was rather prevalent those days. Words that had no meaning to me. I was innocent as all children are. Then, there were the times, a new tall building came up, and the politician would again make an appearance. Of course, having a two storey building in your town was something exciting. And if it had lifts, then you should imagine how much fun us kids had!

Yes, my father would also often be there. Being a somebody in the town, he somehow had to make an appearance. And did we glow. That is my father up there.

Looking back, I believe I never really witnessed my father smile whenever next to the politician. Could be he always knew something. Must have been a secret. For why else did he not tell us what it is about the politician’s presence that did not make him smile?”

He raised his scrawny hand, you could count the veins. I paused.

“What you say is of the other, what I ask is of yourself,” he slowly said.

“Perhaps, my happiness is in seeing wrong in others. For of their wrong, I can speak well.” I replied.

He coughed, spittle dripping down his lips.

“My son. That is the blind side of your beatitude. Your happiness should lie in seeing the wrong in yourself. Your father did not smile in the presence of a politician, because in the politician he saw himself. A failing, an abyss of reason. Go now and redeem your beatitude.”

I sadly looked at him, stood up, and walked away. A tear fell, but I knew his last words were an altruism.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A panga for my grandmother

“Those of us who have only ever known life in a democracy, however flawed, would find it hard to imagine what living in a dictatorship and enduring the absolute loss of freedom really means”
-  Arundhati Roy (Not Again)

 MY grandmother recently turned 90 and if I thought I will be free of her inquiries on why the myriad political promises she has been hearing for nearly all her life-time have not come to roost,  I was very wrong. The old fellow now seems to have a keen interest in the political happenings in Northern Rhodesia. With every call, SMS I receive, I regret having bought a television set for her. Now she wants a panga!

Strange, because out there in Shangombo, she always tells me she is a citizen of Barotseland, and not Northern Rhodesia.

This is how, the panga demand came to be.

"Sonny! Please, come quickly. I am in big trouble."
"What, Nana?" I asked. My mind dancing around whether that third Baobab tree by the second bus stop, near the first Baobab tree at the Shangombo market is still standing. Who knows! Someone could have mistaken it for Mukula ornamental wood.  Else, it will be a tall order to locate her hamlet in the Barotse sands.

"Last night, there was a big crowd at my shebeen. Was a busy, profitable night. They danced and chanted some unknown psalms. I could not help, but join in the chanting as I served them." She paused. I waited. Really, forgot I meet her mobile talk time bill. And it is not cheap.

"Couldn't understand what they were on about, as they were using their own local language." Well, I could relate to that. Most Lozi speaking people can barely understand each other, when the other uses his or her own local language. Lozi is a national language, by the way.

"Imagine! I actually, joined in the chanting, when suddenly they stopped. You should have heard their heartbeats. Boom, boom, boo. Then, this elderly weasel that always drinks on credit pointed at me, and shouted. 'That is the witch killing us with her paraffin and battery acid laced seven days. Today, the witch will die. We need development, the seven days is making us always vote for the opposition'." A long pause again. Thick foul tobacco spittle must have hit the ground.

"Sonny! All this time they were actually chanting, 'today the witch will die, today the witch will die' meaning me. Please, bring a panga for me." And the phone cut.

Tried calling her back. But that jealousy girl, I hate so much, answered my call.

"Sorry. You have insufficient Jameson alcohol to make this call". My apologies, the tragic tale of the dance for Nana must have made Jameson intrude in my thoughts.

Perhaps, I really don't need to rush to Shangombo. My beloved grandmother is wise enough to know, you don't just join in a dance and chant without first asking what it is all about.

In hindsight, I laughed softly. Her world famous paraffin and battery acid laced seven days alcoholic brew is a marvel!


The brew actually removes cobwebs that prevent the gray cells upstairs from communicating properly. Now not surprised they believe she is a witch. Unfortunately, they need development served on a sizzling platter of rats in sindambi[1] soup. They surely must have heard someone saying, if you do not vote for the party in government there will be no development in your area.

Sic! This fellow thinks he uses money from his dear departed father’s hamlet. Anyway, that is a story for another day.

The point is, the paraffin and battery acid laced seven days always made them realize that tyranny is an erotic temptation, when the delusion of power is one's eiderdown.  They live apart from their sons rotting in prison for simply asserting that Barotseland is a State within a State.

In voting for the opposition, they were simply asserting that obedience of tyrannical rule is no different from the obedience of corpses; throw them in an ox-cart; turn them roughly in the morgue, chop them up in the guise of a post-mortem, not a protest will you hear. And more so that, development served on a sizzling platter of rats in sindambi soup only during an election is sophistry. After all, they have evidenced a people being pulverize to pulp, so that they accept the tomorrow promise of development!

Well, I am off to the nearest hardware shop to buy a panga for my beloved grandmother.  I really hope, I will not regret my decision. Tomorrow, I head off to Shangombo, to deliver the panga. I am sure she will proudly hang it under the Baobab tree in the centre of her hamlet, so that all can now see her new political affiliation.

I really love my grandmother. But, in the days to come, I am slowly seeing myself on fast twos, her in an ungainly sprint behind me with panga raised. At 90, how will she easily differentiate between her grandchildren and members of the opposition? Perhaps, I should tell her that a panga is violence, and that violence, is the nemesis of democratic rights?

Or that the law obligates a State, the executive and legislature, to do something for the citizenry, not just for those with a particular political affiliation? Hence that, the psalm of development served on a platter of rats in sindambi soup, only when one has a panga hanging outside their door is not right. It is immoral.

No. I will just have to seek solace in the gecko on my wall, and deliver the panga. I hear in Shangombo they still burn witches. Wouldn’t want that to happen to Nana.

But, before I hand it to her, I will remind her that she once said,
"Being in authority or power, or being close to authority or power, does not mean instruments of authority or power are one's toilet tissue. Even if it became so, one has to be careful as unwise use of toilet tissue can soil one's hand."

And further that,
"The denial and defense of rule of lawlessness, is no different from wondering why everyone you seek to greet refuses to touch your hand. It is simply because you soiled your hand after number two, but you deny the smell".

I am sure my grandmother is wise enough. Can’t wait. It surely cannot be a case of the Iron Age never really ending in some parts of the world. Were pangas not first invented in the Iron Age?

Via, veritas, vita.

[1] Sindambi is a Lozi traditional vegetable

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thief outside the window

Off portraits, rat whiskers walking sticks and being God chosen.

I once read somewhere that, "a thief is always outside the window". No, I think I wrote that before the grey matter got clouded with my beloved grandmother's paraffin and battery acid laced seven days. 

Now tired of running to look outside the window whenever I hear a fire engine's siren. I always really want to jump out of the window and chase after our new Lego set of fire tenders, shouting "lisholi, lisholi". Catch, them and do a citizen's arrest. But, I don't do so. 

For, outside the window I also see a Kawambwa Tea Mukula tree, gold plated bitumen drums, sisal and rats. I end up getting spoilt for choice, as to which one I should chase.

"I will chase them, tomorrow", I always console myself. Yet I know, tomorrow I will simply walk among the tombstones in the graveyard of hope. Hoping someone else, not me, will do the chasing, shouting and arresting.

I really just hope, tomorrow those to come after me, will not be chasing me and shouting, "lisholi". For in my reticence, I am actually stealing their future.

Yes, in my reticence, I am also the thief among the thieves that only see thieves outside the window.

Ora pro nobis.


"Lisholi" means thief.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Councillor election participation – mukanda a precondition?

“If democracy means rule of the people, by the people, for the people, then it also follows that no one people may rule another.” – Nadesan Satyendra

SHE was not charmed at all. Urban dwellers representing some big NGOs are always an excitement to many in rural Zambia. What with the chance of wetting one’s beak in a free cold coca-cola, or the chance of one striding  back to his or her hamlet with some cash in the pocket. I really do not blame them. That is what we have made them believe. We always leave the comforts of our city life, head to the bundus, round them up for some workshop or interviews, fete them, and later pay them a pittance for the knowledge gleaned. We really seldom give them an ear, when in fact we simply cook the same story we do every other year. After all, we city folks are the heart and soul of knowledge!

“You call me at short notice, and you come late. What is this councillor issue you want to talk to me about?” She ranted. I understood her anger, but I was not really the culprit. I was just like a dog on the leash.

I asked the first question. She laughed. It was that kind of laugh that tells you that you must be stupid. Rather reminded me of Shumpi - our childhood tormentor, and mukanda[1]. Seeing our friends head off to mukanda always fascinated us. It seemed like a nice break from school. And Shumpi would always laugh at us, saying if only we knew what happens there. Well, later she told us that, that is where willies were cut. The thought of having one’s willy cut changed our minds. Shumpi now started calling us - yellow. Damn her! After all, it was all about just nicking the foreskin not cutting the willy.

It was really just an impulsive question. She was too young, too eloquent, and too confident to be a councillor. “Aren’t you too young to be a councillor,” I had asked. Looking back, I really do not know why I asked that question. It was not even part of the knowledge I sought from her.

 I decided to tiptoe around her and she warmed up. We discussed so much, and I realized why Shumpi and mukanda came to mind. One numbing question she had was, whether there was representativeness in the politicized mechanisms responsible for selecting councillors, mayors and council chairpersons.

“Sir, why do I have to belong to a political party to represent my people? And if, I am employed as a civil servant - a teacher, for example. Why do I have to resign to contest a local government election, when I can be better placed to serve my community?”

I told her that local government electoral law does not dictate that one has to belong to a political party. But that, unfortunately the Constitution provides that a public officer cannot seek to be elected[2].  The Constitution further tells us that, a “civil servant means a public officer appointed by the Civil Service Commission”[3]. Sic!

I really scratched my nape on this one. This definition as it stands can actually mean one who is appointed by a public service commission other than the Civil Service Commission is not a civil servant. Anyway, I am sure the drafters of the Constitution meant a public service commission, which includes the Civil Service Commission, Teaching Service Commission, et cetera. So much for fast tracking Constitutional review!

Sorry for digressing. The inarguable fact is that the unwritten and written local government electoral participation laws in our country mean that a significant number of citizens and residents cannot aspire to be elected to represent their communities.

Many can meet the requirements prescribed in the Constitution, Electoral Process Act, and the Local Government Elections Act.

Yet many cannot. Because in seeking political hegemony, we have reduced local government electoral participation to first going to or first leaving a mukanda. Belonging to a political party is like going to a mukanda. Being a civil servant is like being in a mukanda.  

I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that local government is a civil order that should enable local decision making constituting members of the local environment or community so as to democratically promote and have actionable strategies that promote their social, economic, environmental, and cultural livelihoods.

Now if we socio-politically dictate that one has a greater chance of winning a councillor election if they belong to a political party, we are somehow dictating that one has to first have his/her willy cut so as to conform to the ideals and aspirations of that party.  In so doing, we forget that the ideals and aspirations of a party can seldom holistically represent the ideals and aspirations of a community or community members at a local level.

The only ideals and aspirations that can represent a local community are those held by individuals and or groups of individuals within a particular local environment. Which is, interested individuals, and representatives of local interest groups.

In truth, interested individuals, and representatives of local interest groups seldom have partisan interests. They pursue community interests! And sadly most often, they are scared of Shumpi laughing at them for not going to a mukanda.

To which end, local government boards are failing in this country, because we have neglected their premise and paradigm. A councillor is a part-time person that seeks to enhance the provision of goods and services within his/her local environment. It is not a partisan endeavor, nor is it one where public servants can be dictated not to participate.

Clearly, if we have to strengthen local government in our country, we need to redress the mukanda-like unwritten and written local government electoral participation laws.

Politicized mechanisms for selecting councillors, mayors and council chairpersons should not be the norm at local government! It is in fact, such mechanisms that have resulted in the civil servants cannot seek to be elected constitutional dictate. They can and they should at local government.

Verbum satis sapient (a word to the wise suffices).

[1] Mukanda – traditional circumcision camp, but herein, also used to mean a place of forced political likeness.
[2] Article 186
[3] Article 266

Monday, August 21, 2017

Prisons, warts and migodi

“We are all prisoners but some of us are in cells with windows and some without.” - Kahlil Gibran

In the last couple of dark moons, a singsong that has caught my attention the most is the one on prisons and warts. For now, put aside the play scripts on the allegations of cowards; “haulas”; namby-pambies in sisal wigs; and, of treason for allegedly eating, then stealing Pride, the King’s prized cockerel. Take a Yoga position, and mull over Hakainde Hichelema, Mwaliteta, prison and warts. Think of their memory of our prisons.

“Dehumanising, urine, faecal matter, disease infested, migodi (pit latrines)..,” are surely their memories. Rather nightmarish.

Lest we forget, the Zambia Human Rights Commission has for years, consistently provided us with Reports on prison conditions in the country. The singsong is the same, only the time changes.

Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions! This is, in part due to unreasonable durations of pre-trial detentions. Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, the Reports say, have resulted in the prevalence of diseases like scabies and warts.

For instance, the 2007 Annual State of Human Rights in Zambia tells us that, “there are 1, 826 terminally ill prisoners countrywide”. In the same year, we are also told of a prisoner who had been locked up for 5 years without trial as he never appeared in Court since his arrest in March 2002; and of, another individual who the Court sentenced to 5 years imprisonment after waiting for 5 years for his judgment (Well, he was released as he had already spent 5 years in Scheol).

In 2008, the singsongs include a suspect accused of robbery, who had been in prison since 2005, last appeared in Court in 2006 and allegedly had been locked up without trial because his case record could not be found; and, an HIV positive individual remanded in prison and denied access to ARVs for two months.

Come 2015, the singsong is now mangy dog-eared. People die! ‘The most common illnesses that result in natural deaths in these facilities are tuberculosis, pneumonia, hepatitis B, malaria...’[1] Of course, people die!

Really wonder why the Human Rights Commission ever bothers.

Well, let us get back to Hichelema and Mwaliteta. It now should not surprise you that their walk to freedom is not as memorable an experience, as the warts. I do not seek to minimise the unacceptable cruelty suffered. I really thought an enforced wart on a fellow like Hichelema, Mwaliteta or the late Michael Sata (he once spent 27 days in prison, long enough for warts to set in) would make us howl together with the Human Rights Commission.

Fact is, Hichelema’s, Mwaliteta’s concern on warts in our prisons cannot evoke howlings on what we are as a people, just like the Human Rights Reports do not.  We just do not care!

If we did. We would not have the majority of our people still doing their early morning rituals in migodi; they will not still be drinking water from holes connected to migodi. This happens, while in an unthinking stupor we celebrate a sickening self-impoverishing public expenditure culture of luxury SUVs. How then can it be that warts will really concern us!

Could be, that is why we even build roads that tomorrow, are migodi.

I have been on prison condition visits, before. Our prisons are places that make you more somber than the places of many crosses where we like wetting our eyes. The prisons call out to your inner soul, even if you do not have a conscience. They call forth in you, questions of how we can treat fellow humans worse than hogs on an average European farm.

Enforced warts can be very painful, especially if they develop in the nether ends. Unless of course, if one is juiced on my beloved grandmother’s paraffin and battery acid laced seven-days brew. Pity, my grandmother has not yet secured a prisons export permit for her brew. So, it is unlikely that anyone who has experienced our prisons cannot lament about enforced warts.

Let us start saying, no to warts and migodi. Warts and migodi are an inerasable epitaph of what we are, what we need to change in ourselves, irrespective of how often we break the stone.

In any case, it is written in the stars, that our existence should light the path of darkness, not only for ourselves but more so for those that come before us, for those that do not have the strength to walk with us, and for those that fall before us.

We are the light, and our ways, not our words, should be the living monuments of that light. We should never dance to warts and migodi. This is the promise, and we should always keep it.

Pax vobiscum - Peace be with you.

[1] 2015 Annual State of Human Rights Report

Monday, January 9, 2017

From the Archives - The Emperor's New Clothes

(The Monitor Newspaper June 20, 2003)
The political pornography, vanity and absurdity of this country is bedevilling. It is, hence, not surprising that as a country we are every day sinking into a bottomless chasm of decay. Political leaders strut around like in a strip show, and we elate and applaud.
There is no better apologue, which can capture our bedevilled reality than the 'Emperor's new clothes.'[1]
You see, once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it.
      "We are very good tailors and after years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. The cloth is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."
The Emperor listened, and vanity wining, the scoundrels were contracted. The two scoundrels then pretended to weave the suit. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent.
Days later, he asked his prime minister, to go and see how the work was proceeding.
"Here, Excellency! Admire the colours, feel the softness," the scoundrels said. The prime minister tried to see the fabric that was not there. He did not see anything, but if indeed he did not see anything it meant he was stupid, and this he could not accept, as he would be discharged from his office. "What a marvellous fabric," he said.
Well, at some point, the Emperor had to show his subjects his extraordinary suit. A ceremonial parade was formed in the town square. Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!" They all could not see the clothes, but none was willing to admit his or her own stupidity. However, a child who had nothing to lose went up to the carriage. "The Emperor is naked," he said.
          Indeed, the Emperor was naked, and in this godly country the nakedness is pornographic! The many proliferate so-called leaders are simply au naturel emperors that have no idea of the core needs of this country. They both weave and wear a suit that will surely get this country out of the self-inflicted socio-economic chasm.
Beyond politics, it must be understood that the emperors' suit is costly. Christopher is dying; the youth are lost in an abyss of destitution. Yet there are many of us, the media not excepted, that stand up and hail the emperors. The fact is the emperors' suit is just misunderstood conceptions like control of corruption. And indeed, uncovering ludicrous conspiracies about who is power hungry and who is not.  There is no suit!
Just the other day, a god-fearing Veep, sprang into a ZAF helicopter and went to Mumbwa to "drum up" support for his party - the MMD. This is a Veep that wears the suit that can control corruption. It berates me as to what corruption these fellows keep talking about. I need the Veep to tell me what an act of abusing public resources for partisan interests, is called. 
Corruption is a state of rot! Electoral corruption as manifested by abuse of public resources is corruption. And, of course Mr. Veep, the MMD will win the by-elections simply because as a people, the emperors' new clothes are irresistible.
Surely, what else can give the Veep the right to use public resources for party politics, other than the simple fact that none of us want to be that child who said - the Emperor is naked? Well, could be the MMD pumped in gas into the helicopter.
Zambia shall not be saved if people cannot construe an act of abuse of public resources for partisan interests, as an act of corruption.
In any case, given that within less than a month of ascent to the office of Veep, the Veep is already behaving in a manner detrimental to Christopher, for the sake of Christopher, his assertion that he is a reject could be - is a truism.
Behold! In the scramble to praise the emperors, even chiefs do not want to be left out. A chief in Mumbwa warned his subjects against supporting the opposition in the forthcoming by-elections. I wonder if this chief realises that the money being spent on the by-election inflicted on the poor through desires for political hegemony, could alleviate some of the problems in his chiefdom. Any way, the point is, he is not the child that said the emperor is naked. If it were that he was, he would have said: "as a chieftaincy we are not going to allow costs incurred through individuals pornographic and absurd behaviours. We will simply boycott the nonsense, as sir you are politically au naturel!" 
Well, the bottom line is that this one saga makes one realise that no wonder lately chiefs are hauled before the courts for criminal and other offences. They are just mere mortals who seek not to look crackbrained in the face of political pornography, vanity and absurdity.
Any way, never mind the chief - he was merely exercising his freedom of mis-expression! Tetamashimba, Liato, Mazoka, Shikapwasha and Mwanawasa better characterise our reality.  But, I will tell the story beyond the politics of this saga next time.
For now, I seek to argue that the emperors of Zambia do not deserve a shred of applaud or newsworthiness. We should as a people seek greater heights of development, and look beyond the politics and categorically state when the emperors are naked.
It is irresponsible of a citizenry to trumpet accolades for a leadership that has not created jobs, that is not changing the state of our health care. A leadership that sees corruption, only when it suits them. A leadership that still continues to murder Christopher.
Christopher needs health care, education, and social security, and not the political pornographic aspirations and connivance for absolute power.
     In the apologue of the emperor's new clothes, the child was reprimanded by his father. "Don't talk nonsense," the father said. But the boy's remark, had been heard by the bystanders, and it was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:
      "The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"
          Understood beyond politics, as a nation we need to assert ourselves. We cannot continue being irresponsible and allow ourselves to wallow in regressing poverty whilst the emperors core business is vain illusions of political grandeur.  We have nothing to lose, for poverty is a state of need. And one cannot lose that which one needs.
These emperors are naked! They are au naturel!

[1] "The Emperor's New Clothes" - a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen