I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but lately there’s been a shortage of goats in The ‘Hood.  Dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep, swine,  cows and village chickens that have since morphed into town dwellers and city slickers we’ve got in such abundance you’d think this here place is a bloody menagerie.  Even rats, which had almost gone into extinction because of being over-hunted by Ziese Phiri, my rodent-eating former houseboy from Lundazi are slowly returning to restore the delicate ecological balance of our community.  But goats?  No.

The last goat, my investigations reveal, was roasted three Saturdays ago when the Nkhomas invited us over to celebrate a visit by their second born son, M-Net who’s been ensconced at the Police Academy for a while now training to become a law enforcer, if you could call ba kapokola that.  Since then, there hasn’t been a single mbuzi anywhere in sight for miles around.  It’s hard to believe that something as ubiquitous as goats have become like UFOs, never seen—only sighted.  And that, good people, is a major cause of worry.

I will tell you why.  Around here, goats have the same level of importance as camels in the desert.  Not that we ride them the way them Arabs do, though a few weirdos have been tried to ride them in a manner civilised society considers abominable.  Or, as our legal colleagues would say, have carnal knowledge of the poor creatures.

Roast goat, in case you didn’t know, is a democratic imperative—a crucial part of the intellectual discourse  at the neighbourhood fleshpot and den of sin where The Brethren congregate seven nights a week to discuss matters of public interest over all kinds of intoxicants.

For the business of the day to go on smoothly and for debate to be rich and animated, a Brother has to have a stein in his left hand and a strip of michopo in the other.  So when there are no goats to roast, informed debate suffers and democracy is all the poorer, if you know what I mean.  But just in case you don’t, let me break it down for you.

A house for all seasons

You see, for all its shabbiness and tartiness, the neighbourhood fleshpot is a stolid and respectable institution.  Sometimes, it’s just like your average refugee camp, a haven for internally displaced persons.  Like husbands seeking refuge from the cold loneliness of that penal colony we’ve come to know as The Spare Bedroom and the wrath of irate wives intent on causing them grievous bodily harm.  You know, women like Mrs. H. who is quite adept with a golf club and has scored many a birdie with her husband, Guften Haachipola’s head over the years.  Other times, it is like a pit stop where nutcases come to see their shrink.

Most of the time, it serves as our own House of Parliament, complete with its own Comrade Speaker, its Sergeant-at-Arms, its front benchers,  back benchers, hecklers and Members who sleep through debates, only waking up when they hear someone wants to buy a free rounds of drinks. Or when a clown like Clive Hatontola, after one stein too many, decides to regale patrons to an opera in Tonga like his name is Luciano Pavarotti.

But let me stop talking about operatic Tongas when what you really want to know about is where the goats went.  Anyway, right now, nobody seems to know where they’ve gone, though there’s no shortage of conspiracy theories—from the ludicrous to the downright Chainamic. Some are even saying an alien space ship must have landed in The ‘Hood under cover of darkness and abducted our goats.

Anyway, in a bid to bring the situation back to normal, the Brethren have launched one of those hashtag campaigns that drives all them Twits on Twitter into a feeding frenzy.  We’re calling ours #Bring Back Our Goats.  We’re hoping that someone rich, famous and photogenic will be so kind as to help us mobilise international support for our cause.

Of hashtags & higher learning

All she needs to do is hold up a sign which reads # Bring Back Our Goats, have it filmed and posted on You Tube and pray it goes viral.   God willing, we should have a lot more luck than the campaign to # Bring Back Our Girls.

And talking about girls.  Don’t know whether to call it news or gossip, but a few days ago, I ran into Cherry, the once luscious fruit of The House of Mukundambolo, pushing a trolley full of shopping at the local mall.  And she looked every inch a woman who has come into her own on Easy Street.

Today, she is light years away from the shadow of her mother, whose reign as the undisputed queen of makwebo seems to be under threat from an interloper called ba-na Guandong.  But that’s another story worth saving for another day.

News is that her application to open a university has been approved and very soon, she will become the Chancellor of her own institution of higher learning.

Cherry, in case you’ve never had a chance to make her acquaintance, is a strikingly beautiful young woman with dewdrop eyes and more curves than an African gourd.  Unfortunately, all the years she spent in some of the best schools in the country didn’t amount to much, which convinced everyone one around that she must have been born with the IQ of a wet chicken.  Anyway, Cherry finished Grade 12 all right, but left school with a chain of 9999s that might as well have been a string of pearls.

Someone else would have been bothered, gone into a depression even.  Not Cherry. “Why do I have to learn about things I don’t need to know about?  Who cares about the Rocky Mountains, the prairies, the Great Lakes and what caused the First World War? I sure don’t!” she said in her defence.  All she needed, she told her parents when they raised issue with her police toll-free number-results was what all any woman needs to find a man and keep him is a working knowledge of human geography and applied chemistry.

And she found her man in the form of a young Turk we came to know as abena-Raymond.  They got married after a tornado (or is it a whirlwind?) romance, but somewhere down the line, Cherry’s wet-chicken IQ got in the way and was the source of many a skirmish on the home front.  You see, her husband was afraid that their children would take after their mother, which would make them thicker than two planks, an Eskimo’s blanket and the trunk of a baobab tree all put together.

So it came as a big surprise to all of us when ba-na Cherry decided to go into the business of education.  She opened a nursery school and saddled it with the unlikely name of Little Harvard Institute of Pre-School Education.  Can’t tell whether it was the name or just a stroke of good luck, but the school became an instant hit and a veritable money spinner.

Which goes to show that people with plenty of unfinished business with the Ministry of Education can educate us.   One of Life’s inexplicable ironies.  Just like even men without a gospel having their own Mount of Olives.

Forgotten who said that actually, but hey, there’s a lot to be said about what we know for sure and what we think we know.  For instance, the conflict History refers to as the 100 Years’ War between the French and the English in the 14th and 15th century actually lasted 116 years.  And Panama hats don’t come from Panama but from Ecuador.  Our friends the Russians celebrate the Great October Revolution in November.  And the black box in airplanes are not black but orange.  The Canary Islands in the Pacific are not named after a bird but after a dog and King George VI’s first name is not George but Albert.

Which is why, between you and me, I still think the years I spent at the village school on the edge of the Atlantic where even the headmaster was a barefooted troglodyte with lice and scabies were probably the most rewarding in all my life.  Back then, you didn’t learn anything you didn’t need.  You learnt very early that it was taboo to plunder the oceans and the seas on Tuesdays.  You could say, in a manner of speaking, that actually Tuesdays are the fisherman’s Sabbath.

Oh yes, back in the day, you learnt in class that arguments are not settled by words but by fists.  He who knocked the other out won the argument.

It was at the village school that I learnt the wisdom of going to bed with your thumb in your mouth.  In case you didn’t know, it’s the best way to stop yourself from talking in your sleep and saying things that could land you in trouble.

Trouble.

If there’s one thing the human mouth has a weakness for landing you in, it is trouble, which is a lesson one of our neighbourhood residents learnt the hard way.

He made the stupid mistake of telling a visitor something you don’t tell an African visitor:  make yourself at home.    Before he knew it, he was homeless and wifeless.

The takeover was gradual but systematic.  It started with small things. you know, like the remote control for the TV, the Chelsea coffee mug, the Samsung charger.  Next thing to be liberalised was his host’s favourite sofa, his laptop, then his place at the head of the dining table, his best suits and one of his cars.  The last straw was in whose warm and ample bosom cat decided to find solace, and even possibly, a bit of Bonnita.

The poor host decided that rather than nail the ingrate to the nearest cross and slice off his nuts while he was still breathing, he’d do the civilised thing and let the rule of law prevail.  In other words, let the courts see to it that justice is done in line with the letter of the Law.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the Law and the justice system from my long association with Japhet Bokosi (LLB.  LLM) the erstwhile of Django Chambers, it is the role evidence plays in the scheme of things.

And in this particular case, the evidence was overwhelming.  A roomful of witnesses who testified that the host willingly and without anyone holding a gun to this head told his guest to make himself at home.

“My Lord, I meant he should make himself comfortable, not take over my home, grab my title deeds and sleep with my wife!” the poor man wept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally wrote the piece you are about to read three years ago, my cousin Esther was still alive and I was still writing two columns a week for The Post.

Sadly, a year later, she died at the age of 52, after losing a five-month battle with cancer.  Before I could recover from the pain of her death, my 18-year run as a newspaper columnist came to an abrupt and unceremonious end.

But I am not dredging up painful memories to mope about things I cannot change.  Actually, a question a parent asked me a few days ago prompted me to reach into my archive of articles to dig up a piece I first published in my column Soul to Soul on 29 March 2013 to respond to a similar query about careers.  Edit to read: marketable careers.

You see, his daughter is still basking in the glow of achievement and euphoria after scoring eight points in her Grade 12 exams, with Distinctions in English and Maths.  With grades like those, she should have no problem getting entry into the University of Zambia, which is where she applied to.

Problem is, her heart is neither in the Humanities nor in the Social Sciences.   According to her lawyer father, she is going through the motions of university just to please him.  If she had her own way and her own money, she would go abroad to study to become a beautician and return to Zambia to open her own business once she has the training and the skills she needs to be successful.

And therein lies daddy’s dilemma.  To support her unconditionally in her choice or as a caring father, be subtly coercive till she settles on his idea of a solid, respectable and safe career?

Not an easy question to answer.  As a way of helping him find resolution, I showed him Esther’s memorial booklet, complete with pictures and milestones from her life, and told him her story.

In reproducing her story and the reactions I got to it when I first published it, I am hoping to re-ignite The Career Debate.  Who knows?  Maybe others faced with a similar predicament will identify with the experience and relate to it and draw solace from the fact that they are not alone, and that others have been there.

I called the article The Career Crunch Part 2 and it reads:

Esther’s Story

My cousin Esther’s framed degree certificate in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi hangs on her living room wall, along with her graduation photograph.  I’m not sure why it’s there, considering that in the last 18 years a different kind of mechanical contraption has been at the centre of her universe.  Her sewing machine.

Esther, who turns 51 on May, 3 is an award-winning dress designer whose dimpled smile has been popping up on billboards and TV adverts.  When she’s not making dresses for fashionable Ghanaian ladies, she’s running a dressmaking school for young hopefuls.

To be honest, we were all shocked when we heard she’d ditched her engineering job with a local corporation to become a dressmaker working from home. My first impression was that she’d been stricken by from a bad case of mid-life crisis.

However, her reasons, when she spelt them out, resonated with all of us, dredging up painful memories I’ve been trying to bury for years.  “Edem, I always wanted to make dresses from when we were children, but Crewman would have killed me I’d told him what I wanted to be. You know how it was.  You were there.”

And indeed I was.  Crewman was the nickname we called her father—my uncle–behind his back.  He was the kind of man who forced careers on his children and whoever else lived under his roof. Like me.

In his mind, anyone who didn’t have a university degree was a waste of skin.  And even then, there were only two careers you could pursue once you got there. Engineering and Medicine.

He expected me to be a medical doctor even though I was more inclined towards the liberal arts and humanities than to the sciences.  When I declared one day that I wanted to be a journalist just after the compulsory morning prayer meetings he held at home, he went ballistic and got physical with me.

War in a Babylon

Something snapped inside me and all the seething rage and pent-up emotion I’d been holding on to for years exploded into full-scale rebellion.  “If you don’t do as I say, you won’t amount to anything,” he said.  But I didn’t care because at that moment, I felt a sense of liberation that had been a long time coming.

Esther was so right.  I was there.  The fact that she never shared her dream with anyone all those years when we were growing up under her father’s roof didn’t surprise me.  But the burden she’d carried and the personal sacrifices she had made hurt me deeply.

Last Saturday, I ran into a reader at Arcades who asked me a question that brought back the memories.

“I read your last article on careers and want to ask you: what would you tell your son if he said he wanted to be a musician?”

“I would encourage him, but first he would have to convince he knows the career path he is choosing and what he needs to do to succeed at it.   Once he does that, I’d put him in touch with musicians I know who can give him sound and practical advice…”

“Would you pay for him to study Music?” he asked.

“Of course–as long as what I am paying for is value for money and he goes away with more than just a paper qualification,” was my answer.

He wasn’t convinced, but that’s his prerogative.  This week, I am dedicating this column to him to give him some insights and background into why I said what I did.

All said, there is no such thing as an ideal career.  Any driven, passionate individual can take a seemingly mundane occupation and turn it into a career.  There was a carpenter in my mother’s hometown of Teshie some nine miles from Accra, the Ghanaian capital. His name was Seth Kane Kwei. He broke with custom and convention and started making coffins in unusual shapes, stirring up quite some controversy in the small and conservative fishing town from where we hailed.

If you were a musician, he would make you a casket that looked like a microphone.  If you were a nurse, he fashioned out one that was shaped like a syringe.  When I was growing up, we’d go and look at the odd-shaped coffins in his showroom which was situated just by a main road.

About nine years ago, I watched a CBN television documentary by Victor Oladokun about the same casket maker from my hometown, only that his children were the ones running it after he passed on in 1992.  Not only that.  Many of those who were apprenticed to him when he lived moved on to open their own enterprises where they make abebuu adekai, which translated from Ga, means proverb boxes.

In the past 50 years, these boxes have become one of Ghana’s most unqiue cultural exports, finding their way to Ghanaians abroad and to others from Denmark to Russia.  Not so long ago, a coffin in the shape of a Porsche made by Kane Kwei’s nephews and former assistant, Paa Joe was sold at the London auction house Bonhams at a record 9,200 British pounds sterling.

Oladokun’s report enthralled me and made me proud that a simple carpenter from Teshie had gained international attention and cult status for making interesting things from wood.  I wonder what the founder of the business would have said if someone had asked him to recommend a marketable career when he was just starting out.

The issue of marketable careers is one Sishuwa Sishuwa had earlier tackled against the backdrop of the end of the Grade 12 exams in his column in the Post in 2012.

He’d written: “Results are not expected until early next year. Between now and then, our young vessels should seriously reflect and consider their next options. Those who will pass well and secure a place in one of our universities should be helped to clearly identify their interests but also be advised to be flexible with career choices. We all do not have to be lawyers, accountants, doctors, teachers or politicians. Yes, our country is still in great need of these professionals and young people should consider them.

“However we also need musicians, architects, engineers, carpenters and other technical experts. Our educational system is presently flawed in the technical and manual aspects, to an extent that young people shun these fields, aided by society’s attitude towards manual and technical subjects. The government should consider rectifying this grave mistake, and prudently invest more resources in colleges that offer technical and labour-intensive subjects.

“The promise of a better life through education is a promise that can, in a structural sense, only ever be kept for some, but never for the entire society. To put it bluntly, progress is not for everyone, and indeed cannot be. This is because of the division of labour in the Zambian society (and most others) that splits intellectual and manual labour into two mutually exclusive spheres, thereby forcing the majority of youth to one day perform the latter in order to enable a minority to enjoy the explorations of the former when their time eventually comes.

“In other words, professionals, intellectuals, and technical experts are all needed in Zambia, but so are low-skilled workers to toil in factories, restaurants, transportation networks and make everything run smoothly. And whether we like it or not, it is up to the youth of every generation – the previous, the present, and most crucially the future — to continue to do this work insofar as society requires such work to be done in order to function. The necessary training must thus be made readily available.

“With the collapse of the career guidance office in school, many of those who completed last Friday have left secondary school in a state of uncertainty and without a clear knowledge of what they wish to pursue next. Those who have passed through this stage and who have accumulated, over time, the weight of useful experiences worth sharing have a duty to help our young people, without charge, to make correct decisions that will help their personal development…”

This excerpt from Sishuwa’s article leads me to a letter I got from one M.K. in response to my column last week.  His letter reads:   “Like many students, I went to UNZA wanting to do medicine but wasn’t selected so I had to opt for something else. I ended up doing Ecology and found that I had so much passion for it and even got A’s for the first time at university. I am now doing my Masters in Ecology and I know I am in the right place doing the very thing I was meant to do. I have always been passionate about biology and wildlife and knew I wanted to be in science from fifth grade. If I had been advised early on about my options, it would have saved me from unnecessary heartache and stress thinking Medicine was the only route for me…”

Which is where I ended this tale three years ago.

When it comes to careers and career choices, there is something I have learnt over the years—that there is no such thing as a good career, that to think the only place you can shop around for a career is a college or a university is a myth.

For over half a century, Kenyan and Ethiopian runners have graced athletics meets in the major capitals of the world, hauling medals by the basketful in IAAF Diamond League, Olympic and World Championship competition, and paving the way for generations of elite athletes to follow in their footsteps.  I am talking about men and women who have made a career out of distance running, becoming very rich in the process—in spite of their basic educational levels.

The first name that comes to mind is one I first heard about in primary school back in the 60s.  I remember distinctly how Teacher Mensah, in a General Knowledge and Current Affairs quiz in Class Five, asked us which African runner won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympic Games.  None of us knew the answer.

With a flourish, the teacher wrote on the board: Kipchoge Keino.  The name would stay with me forever.  Years later, I’d discover that actually he’d started out as a police man who run on the side and went on to be a world champion in the 1,500 metres and in the 3,000 steeplechase to who he is today—the President of the Kenyan Olympic Committee.

I wonder what Mr Keino, who has two honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Bristol and Egerton University in Nakuru, Kenya, would say if someone asked him today if he considered running a career.  Or what word of advice he’d have for young people looking for something to build their professional lives on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a giant mango tree in the heart of The ‘Hood that has been a tourist attraction for as long as our district has been around.  Y’all must have seen it and even posed for pictures next to it like all good tourists are supposed to do.   And the tourists don’t come here year after year from far and wide just to come see a mango tree that neither bears fruits nor attracts any birds.

Actually, if you must know, they come in their droves because the tree is as iconic and as historically significant as the Sphinx in Egypt and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  Truth be told, UNESCO should have turned the bloody tree into a World Heritage Site yonks ago, but apparently, someone has been sleeping on duty.

Anyway, one day, a few zealots got together after one joint too many and decided that we don’t need historical landmarks anyone and that even KK’s old house in Chilenje must go.  Now they’ve launched a campaign to chop down the tree and make it history.

But even as we speak, a Council of Elders from The ‘Hood has taken it upon it upon itself to file  an injunction on behalf of the right-thinking members of our community restraining these fellows from acting completely useless.

I know what you are thinking.  So much ado about a fruitless, bird-less mango tree can’t be normal.  You’re right.    It isn’t, but then The ‘Hood isn’t exactly a normal place.   It’s one of the few places of earth where you will find pregnant virgins, good witches, righteous politicians, crooked lawyers, false prophets, cops who should be behind bars, teachers with plenty of unfinished business with the Ministry of Education, unholy bishops, serial drinkers, thieves with hearts of gold, men with no hair having bad hair days, women who drink their testosterone with milk and honey like it is bloody Earl Grey tea and sangomas who spend their days and nights raining down lightning bolts and launching spiritual drone attacks on hapless citizens.

Stairway to Heaven

But let me not digress.    Before the mid went walkabout, I was about to tell you about a white dude called Cecil Rhodes who made a stopover in the territory now known as The ‘Hood  as he embarked on a hare-brained scheme to build a railway from Cape to Cairo.   Don’t know what he ate on his journeys, but dude had such a terrible bout of diarrhoea that made him delirious and almost turned him into an ancestor before his time.

 For close to a month, abena-Cecil’s bowels moved nonstop, like it was running two marathons.  All the while, a nubile Soli wench took care of him, nursing him back to health like her name was Florence Nightingale.  First thing he did when the delirium and the disease cleared was to fall heels over head in love with the woman, and that, my friends, changed the course of History.  By the time she’d laid some organic loving on him and sent on a stairway to heaven, the poor man had forgotten about railways and choo-choo trains.

But before he moved on to satisfy his wanderlust, he took out a knife and carved this message on the mango tree I’ve just been telling you about: Cecil Rhodes was here. 6 August 1878.    There’ve been folks who’d disputed the fact about the life and loves of Cecil Rhodes, claiming that for all his macho pretensions, Cecil was nothing but a fruit cake and should actually have been called Cecilia for reasons I’m sure you can figure out, but proud student of History that I am, I refuse to dignify their claims about his homosexuality with a response.

Anyway, this whole furore about the man is global.  Turns out that this Cecil character wasn’t such a nice dude after all, and years after his death, there are still people out there who want to resurrect him just so that they can have the pleasure of kicking his butt in real time.  But seeing they can’t change his name to Lazarus and bring him back to life and all, they’re taking out their anger and their frustration on anything that’s got his name on it, including statues and of course, mango trees.

Last year, students at the University of Cape Town went on the warpath, demanding the removal of Rhodes’ statue from campus or else.  When campus authorities refused to bow to pressure, they baptised the statue with faeces.    Afraid that the students would turn the best university in Africa into a giant toilet over some long-dead white dude, The Authority promptly took the statue down.

Now across the waters, in Oxford University, students are baying for the blood of a man who, to all intents and purposes, should be resting in peace like dead folk are supposed to do.  Nothing doing.  As it turns out, they want him to star in a remake of the movie Blood Diamonds—as himself.   And no, there won’t be any Oscars for that role, in case you are wondering.

I don’t get it.   If Cecil was such a bad dude, why did they wait for him to die before they realised they should have torn him from limb to limb when he lived?  Why didn’t they take him out then?  Why now?  Well, if you have some answers, please drop me a line.  You’d be doing Adult Education a huge favour.

Love don’t live here anymore

Enough said.  Exactly one week from today, Love will a few hours away from going back into hibernation and won’t be showing its ugly face around here February 14 next year.  Which means we can be beastly to anyone and everyone till then, including those we are married to.  At least that’s the message that’s coming out of House No. 10, Washala Road, The ‘Hood where the couple we call The Gladiators live.

The two have been at each other’s throats all week in a bloody fight that had all the ingredient of a mixed martial arts scrap. Elbow strikes.  Knee strikes. Flying kicks.  Kimuras.  Upper cuts.  Left hooks. Submission holds.  Rear chin locks.   High heels.  Pyrex dishes.  Frying pans. Dust bins.   Everything but the kitchen sink and the bath tub.

And this time, hubby didn’t win an Oscar for being Russell Crowe.  Actually, he’s the one who got the worst of the exchanges.

Even as we speak, he’s been admitted at the neighbourhood Morningside, receiving stitches to parts of his anatomy he never even knew he had and looking like he was stung by a 101 bees.   And to think, just three days ago, the two were seen strolling hand in hand down the main road, their eyes shining like fireflies on a summer night and looking very much like honeymooners on steroids.

Anyway, this time around, the neighbourhood ECOMOG hasn’t been deployed to No. 10 Washala Road and Kofi Annan won’t be coming around to urge the warring factions (sorry, spouses) to sign a comprehensive peace accord, kiss and make up.  As neighbourhood stalwarts who’ve tried to broker one ceasefire too many, we’ve decided to leave The Gladiators to solve their own problems.  One scrap at a time.    And to think Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

For the love of Lent

And talking about corners.  The next big thing after Valentine’s on our calendar is Easter.  That’s the time of the year when sons of the soil get crucified for crimes against humanity.  Well, a few lucky ones get to rise from the dead, beating a hasty retreat from The Other Side of Town back to the land of the living.  Now that’s called Resurrection, in case you’re one of those with plenty of unfinished business with Sunday School.

It’s a time when Christians of every shade and hue put their blues behind them to celebrate life and victory over death.  But before the victory party begins and we get the braai fires burning, we all have deal with some major abstinence.  No sex. No frolicking.  No snogging.  No debauchery.  No birds. No bees. No booze.  No TV. No PVR.  No EPL. No El Clasico.  No goat soup.  No balls ya mbuzi.  No Facebook.  No yahoo! No Twitter. No Instragram.  No Vibr.  And certainly no swine (sorry, pork). Apparently, this period of  abstinence and extreme deprivation is called Lent.

Great time, Lent.  Gives a Brother the perfect opportunity to put a giant padlock on the deep freezer, chain the fridge, booby trap the bag of mealie meal, the sack of rice and the packet of sugar, to stick some limpet mines on the stove and to deploy snipers around the kitchen like they’re in Jallalabad.  Or is it Homs?

Naturally, Lent doesn’t go down well with the Grain Borers who occupy space in The House of Djokotoe and seem hell-bent on eating me into liquidation and utter ruin.  But they can’t say a damn word because they know the consequences will be dire, no fatal.  And they can forget about Resurrection.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If TB Joshua is to be believed, Malaysian Airlines Flight No. MH370 should have been found by 22 March 2014—fourteen days after it vanished off the face of the earth.

His exact words were: “This coming week, we are not going to talk about this again and the families will know their fate.  Everything will end any moment from now.” Joshua made this prophetic declaration on Sunday, 15 March 2014 during a church service at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) broadcast live on Emmanuel TV.  There would be no survivors, he said.

Regarding the whereabouts of the wreckage of the Boeing 777, Joshua said: “They should look between Indonesia and the Indian Ocean because the particles of the plane are scattered and gone everywhere.”  He crowned his revelations with a conspiracy theory about what happened to the plane: “There are some strange people inside the plane, strange people who are not supposed to be there.  The plane lost signal, the plane diverted and he lost his bearings.  The pilot confronted a situation he could not handle.”

What you have just read are statements painstakingly transcribed from Joshua’s own service held in his own church and broadcast to the world on his own television network which has an estimated viewership of over 100 million people.  Those interested in verifying the transcription will find on YouTube where Emmanuel TV reportedly has almost 300,000 subscribers.  on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCQ3Dhit9D8.

The Mourning After

Anyway, two years on, the world isn’t any closer to knowing what happened to MH370 and the 239 people from 16 countries aboard that plane.  And the man who made international headlines with his prophetic declarations about the plane has opted to remain mum as the second anniversary of the mysterious disappearance approaches.    But March 8 is one milestone TB Joshua will not forget in a hurry—for a totally different reason.  It was on that date in 2006 that he launched Emmanuel TV.

So much for portents and coincidences.

Which brings me to the inspiration behind this piece—about the fallibility of prophets and what happens when their prophecies do not come true.  Another thing: should prophecies come with margins of error?

These thoughts crossed my mind last week when I received the e-version of the 134th edition of The Church dated January 31 to February 7.  The cover story of the weekly newspaper caught my attention in a hurry.  It read:  2016 Election Prophesies Flow In.  Below the headline was the kicker:  Nigerian,  Malawian and Zambian Prophets Announce Outcome of August Polls.

Two of the three prophets quoted in the report name outright winners of the August 2016 poll I will not repeat—on ethical grounds.  One of them is the Nigerian overseer of Champions Royal Assembly, Prophet Joshua Iginla.  Released last month, it is even called Prophecy No.27!  The other is the South African-based Malawian prophet with a weakness for Zambian elections—Shepherd Bushiri.   Apparently, Bushiri’s claim to fame as a prophetic pundit, according to the newspaper report, is having correctly predicted the outcome of the 2015 presidential bye-election.

Roulette in the Temple of Doom

The third prophet in this unholy trinity is a Zambian, John General. He is the head of Miracle Impact Ministries International in Matero.  He says though he knows he will be Zambia’s next president, he will only reveal the winner of the August 11 polls one month before the election!

There must be a name for the game these people play, I said to myself as I read the report.  If there isn’t, let me give it one.  Prophetic Roulette.   Roulette, to the uninitiated, is a casino game where you bet against a wheel of fortune.  Players place bets on either a single number or a range of numbers, the colours red or black or whether the number is odd or even.  Like in all forms of gambling, luck plays a big part in winning and losing.

I think the same applies to Prophetic Roulette which, if you ask me, is just another game of chance. If you don’t believe me, turn the clock back to the period leading up the 2015 presidential bye-election following the death of President Michael Sata.

At the height of it all, a Malawian prophet called Austin Liabunya prophesied that the UPND candidate would win the election and become president.  He also said something tragically fatal would befall President Edgar Lungu.

Neither happened.  On 25 January 2015, the man he said would lose the election was sworn in as Zambia’s sixth president.  So what did the Malawian prophet and head of Winning Life Ministries have to say in his defence?

Well, in a 1,487-word long statement he issued, Liabunya tried to spin his way out of his own falsehoods.  In the interests of brevity, I will only reproduce the parts of his statement relevant to my thesis.

He wrote:  “…Thank you for your understanding on the outcome (of the Zambian election), it has shown your maturity in the Word of God. Now let me respond to what some media houses have established in Africa particularly about the prophecy outcome though it is not important for me to go in that level of trying to justify myself but for the sake of non-believing world  that we deal with every day.

“… Prophecy, from the original Hebrew translation, means to tell about the future. Prophecy is not revealing the past or the present but rather the ability to foretell based on what you have seen from the heart of God, what you have been told or shown by God.  You may ask God for it or He can just show you or tell you for the purpose of warning the people before time or for the sake of interceding because first of all, prophets are intercessors; people standing on the gap.

“Normally God does this through visions and dreams and not discerning. “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6 (King James Version).  This is because discernment does not give a prophet the ability to prophesy but to give what we call the WORD OF KNOWLEDGE.
“Now when God speaks through His prophet, normally the prophecy comes with conditions that are to be met that determine the fulfillment of it (see Deuteronomy 28:1-15)…
And then Liabunya goes on to dig a pit for himself using his own mouth, talking about a phenomenon he knows does not exist—the conditional prophecy.  You know, B will come to pass, but only if A happens…

But this is how he pitched The Conditional Prophecy in his rambling statement :  “Prophecies come with conditions to draw us in doing the Word of God because in the process of doing the condition you do the Word of God and that’s what God wants.  Many times when people receive a prophecy, they are just excited about it without observing the conditions attached and at the end, they get frustrated as to why their prophecy didn’t come to pass. But the question is; did you do the conditions/instructions pertaining to that given prophecy or not?  This has made many to stop believing prophets after receiving many prophecies most of them not fulfilled. Many have been disappointed and even judging the prophets saying they are not of God or false prophets.

“But this is not the case. Don’t be disappointed, don’t stop going to your church because your pastor gave you a prophecy that didn’t come to pass…Even if you just receive your prophecy without condition(s), consult your man of God and ask him if there is anything God wants you to do for the fulfillment of your prophecy. Be smart, be a wise child of God…”

All this sophistry just to run away from the fact that what he said with great certainty would happen didn’t happen!  Question is: who needed to fulfill the conditions of Liabunya’s dubious prophecy?  The winner of the election?  The loser?  Or the people of Zambia in whose hands election victory and failure lay?

Austin Liabunya has not been available to answer this question anymore that TB Joshua has stepped up to the plate to explain what went wrong with his prophecy regarding MH370.  And therein lies the biggest credibility problem today’s cadre of attention-seeking prophets face.  Their inability to man up and face up to their own frauds.

All said, there has to be a world of different between a prophet who claims divine inspiration and a soccer pundit who predicts the outcome of a game between Barcelona and Real Madrid based on the balance of probabilities.  A pundit can be wrong, and very often, they are, but we don’t hold their errors of judgement against them because punditry isn’t an exact science.  Prophets, on the other hand, claim they draw their authority from the infallibility of God.

The fact that there appears to be no difference between a soccer pundit and a latter-day prophet should be a source of worry for Christians. The prophets of old, for what I know from my own Christian education and from my reading of the Bible were not a trivial breed.   Their prophecies were profound.  Agreed, times have changed considerably from the days of Elijah, Isiah, Ezekiel and Habbakuk, but one would have thought that the timbre and profundity of prophecy should not change.

Am I asking too much when I say there should be a profundity to the timbre of prophecy?   Apparently, I am–according to a few people I have had this discussion with leading up to this piece.  They say that as a mere mortal, I cannot determine what prophecies should be about and how profound they should be.

Do I agree with them?  No, I don’t.  My reason for disagreement: Michel de Nostradame.

He was a 16th century French seer who is better known by the Latinised version of his name: Nostradamus.  Throughout his life, he refused to be called a prophet, insisting he wasn’t one.  For instance, in a letter to King Henry II in 1558, he wrote:  “Some of the prophets predicted great and marvellous things to come, though for me, I in no way attribute myself such a title here.” In an open letter to the Privy Councillor in Birague on 15 June 1566, he said: “Not that I am foolish enough to claim to be a prophet”.

Yet for all his modesty, the body of major, long term predictions Nostradamus published under the title The Prophecies in the mid-16th century continues to be a bestseller.  To this day, he is still an object of study.  What’s more, books and documentary films about the man are still being made, which goes to show that there was something about transgenerational about his appeal.

Lost in Translation

As a history buff, I have been more intrigued by what he said would come to pass and how they did to the extent to that they did than who he really was.  Of course, much of what I have read of what he wrote is in English, including The Prophecies of Nostradamus by an English scholar called Erika Cheetham so it possible some things have been lost in translation.

But I think the reason why his legacy is so enduring is because of the  accuracy with which he predicted epoch-making events centuries before they happened.  For instance, he predicted the French Revolution over 200 years before it happened in a quatrain that reads:  “From the enslaved people,  songs, chants and demands, the princes and lords are held captive in prisons.  In the future by such headless idiots, these will be taken as divine utterances.  Before the war comes, the great wall will fall.  The King will be executed, his death coming too soon will be lamented.  The guards will swim in blood.  Near the River Seine, the soil will be bloodied.”

And it came to pass, in that King Louis XVI was executed in January 1793 together with his wife, Marie Antoinette, beheaded by guillotine. And the city of Paris, through which the River Seine flows, saw the blood of aristocrats running in the streets, if historical records are to be believed.

Nostradamus also predicted that a fire would destroy the city of London in 1666 over a century before it actually happened in this quatrain: “The blood of the just will be demanded of London, burnt by the fire in the year ’66.  The blood of the just will commit a fault at London, burnt through lighting of twenty threes the six.  The ancient lady will fall from where high place; several of the same sect will be killed.”

And indeed, for three whole days in September 1666, a great fire swept through London destroyed about 70,000 homes and 87 churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and hundreds of official buildings, totally razing the medieval part of the city inside the old Roman city wall.

As you’d imagine, the source of Nostradamus’ prophetic inspiration has, over the years, been the subject  of controversy.  Some said it came from dabbling in the occult.  He himself said he relied on judicial astrology, whatever that means and got into trouble with the Church from time to time.   Ironically, when he died in 1566, he was buried in a small Franciscan church, as if to suggest that whoever he was and whatever he was, Nostradamus had the sanction of the Church.

But my long reference to Michel de Nostradamus has nothing to do with his faith or lack of it.  I cite him because of what he is remembered for 450 years after his death—his credibility, a credibility based on the accuracy of his prophecies and predictions.  Who knows?  Maybe that had something to do with the title of a 1982 film that was made about him starring Orson Welles as Nostradamus.  The film—The Man Who Saw Tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you but Tuesday will find me in a front row seat at the neighbourhood magistrate’s court when a young man by the name of Ace appears before The Law charged with theft.

Well, if he’d nicked a smart phone or a laptop from somebody’s car or even a bottle of single malt something from some mall, the case wouldn’t attract the buzz and the brouhaha it has. And I wouldn’t be wasting my time hanging about a smelly court like it was Madison Square Garden.

But this is no ordinary theft case.  You see, Ace will be making history for stealing the closest thing to the Ark of the Covenant, something no-one has ever stolen before. The Key to Success.

Once upon a thief

Anyway, those in the know say what’s happened is a bad omen—just as bad and omen as killing the goose that lays golden eggs and turning it into a braii.  They’re saying unless The Key is found and found fast, we should brace ourselves for a long plague of failure. Apparently, plagues come in seven-year cycles.   You know, seven years of drought and pestilence following hot on the heels of seven years of abundance and good fortune.

Seven years!  Now that is long enough for our resident bunny, Bambo Nkhoma and his wife to make another baby and watch the little blighter grow old enough to start Grade One!  Too long a time to be stuck with ill fortune.  It means nothing you plant will grow, so forget about any harvest, let alone bumper harvests.  Every exam you sit, you will fail. Every dream you have will turn into a nightmare. Every proposal you pitch will be rejected. Everything you touch will turn to sand, not gold.  Doesn’t matter if your name is Midas or Adidas.

In short, be worried, very worried.   Under normal circumstances, the cops should have beaten a confession out of the thief, sorry, suspected thief, and saved us all a lot of trouble and heartache.  But no matter how hard they kick his butt, no matter how much hurt they lay on him, the chap isn’t saying a word.

I suspect things are going to get a whole lot worse.  And that’s because of who, we hear, is going to in the young thief’s corner defending him.  Japhet Bokosi, LLB, LLM, MPhil, the erstwhile head of Django Chambers and our own neighbourhood legal eagle.

LLB—Lawyers Love Bucks

I know what you’re thinking.  Everybody, even thieves, deserves legal representation when they get their day in court so why should this dude be any different?  Well, that’s because you don’t know Japhet.  He’s the most successful defence lawyer this side of the Equator, even though, as Fate would have it, he had to be named after a backside.  He made his name taking hopeless cases no other lawyer wanted and winning them spectacularly.

To the best of my knowledge, Japhet Butt (sorry, Bokosi) has never lost a case.  And that is what we are afraid of.  That he will go into court, his bag of tricks and a piece of palibe kantu under his tongue, and he will do what we don’t want—get the bugger off the hook and dash our hopes of ever finding the gold-and diamond-crusted Key to Success before some Jay-Z wannabe hangs the bloody thing round their bloody neck like it’s bling.

But let me leave it there and turn my attention to other pressing matters.   Like that day in February when Love comes out from the shadows and howls like a werewolf on full moon.  You guessed it.  Valentine’s Day.

Well, whatever you do, don’t send anyone any flowers this Valentine’s Day.  And no, that’s not because Magafuli said so.

Contrary to what you might have heard from those bad influences you hang with, flowers don’t speak the language of love.  Flowers don’t have mouths so they can’t speak even if they wanted to, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Yeah, roses don’t have gabs, but they have plenty of thorns, and thorns draw blood.  And if blood has anything in common with love, I’m yet to discover it.

Personally, I’d be most grateful if someone sent me a giant cabbage on Valentine’s Day or any other day of the week.  At least, I could get The Wife, known to me these days as The Rocks in My Vodka, to make me a mean cole slaw.   If you can’t manage that, even an organic sheaf of pumpkin leaves would do just fine.  Now that would go down well with the high-grade, export-quality Chalimbana groundnuts  Bambo Nkhoma  brought me from his shamba in Chipata in a pale attempt to turn me into a superpower in the afternoon of my life.

Well, thanks a load for the performance-enhancing drugs, father of Diesel, M-Net and Pep Nkhoma, but I know someone who needs them more than I do.  I won’t mention any names, but I’m told he is the most powerful man on earth.  Last time I heard, dude was in desperate need of sons to carry his name into the next millennium .  Just like your own paramount chief, Bambo.

But hey, I digress.  As I was saying, you don’t want to splash money on flowers that will eventually discolour, wilt, die and end up in the dustbin of History.   How would you feel knowing that the symbol of your love is rotting on some garbage heap somewhere, along with road kill, yesterday’s nshima and heaven-knows-what-else?

To be honest, I don’t see the connection between love and flowers.  Never have.  Adam, our disobedient forefather, didn’t waste his time or his energy sending flowers to Eve—even though he had a whole garden full of them to himself.  Yet look at how much Brother accomplished in the name of love!

There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from Adam’s example.  If cat was alive today, I’m sure Adam would have told you that the best thing to give to someone you love on Valentine’s Day is a forbidden fruit.  Organic, I might add.

When it comes to lessons in love, the neighbourhood fleshpot and den of sin is one hell of a school.  A few years ago, we were at the counter throwing back the steins with wild abandon when a Brother whose name I won’t mention shared a most enlightening Valentine lesson with us.

Unlike y’all, he doesn’t send his woman flowers, chocolates or cuddly Teddy Bears.  Nor does he do what I do and treat The Wife to a romantic candle-lit dinner at this exclusive restaurant on the banks of the Blue Water Dam where the specialty of the house, Soup ya Mbuzi, costs only K5 per plate, and for an extra buck, chef throws in the billy goat’s nuts.

Every Valentine’s Day, Brother goes to see his sangoma to renew the spell he cast on his wife exactly one week after he married her all those years ago.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” I said, when he told us.  “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s either the beer talking or you got a bad case of Foot in Mouth disease.

But as he began to explain himself, the logic of his crazy idea began to make sense.

“Guys,” he said, “renewing my spell on her is the best way to keep my wife subservient and obedient for another 12 months. For a whole year, she does exactly as she is told.  Most importantly, she doesn’t pester me for money for Brazilian hair or Indian eyelashes or French teeth, or whatever they picked up on Zee World—or is it Telemundo?  Nor does she ask to see my pay slip or my bank statement which as you know, should be none of her business.  She won’t bother me about my whereabouts or banish me to The Spare Bedroom or, in the case of Mrs. H, play a round of golf with his head for disappearing for 48 hours once every blue moon.  I may come home at two a.m. in the morning with lipstick all over my shirt, but she will still wake up, cook me a ka-little pap and some trotters just the way I like them.  Now that’s what I call love,” he said, matter-of-factly, blowing froth off a stein.

I looked at the Brother with a mixture of awe and amazement and wondered why no-one had thought of awarding him a Nobel Prize for sheer genius.

February may be the month of love but it is also the month of anniversaries and red-letter days.  Even geriatric types like me get to find something to celebrate. Like birthdays, that’s assuming the dates on my birth certificate are correct.

Life is a pothole

When you get to be my age, birthdays assume a special significance.  Every day that passes means something, even though the bones may rattle and creak like the door in a haunted house.  Every sunset, every scattered shower, every isolated thunderstorm, every flood, every drought, every mealie meal shortage, every water shortage, every load shed, every road block, every cholera outbreak, becomes a thing of beauty.

Even tedious and irritating phenomena like potholes become things you look forward to.  After all, it’s just a matter of time before a Brother gets to make the premature trip to The Other Side of Town to a place where, legend has it, there are no potholes and where the streets are paved with gold and precious stones.

However, seeing that no-one who has made the trip has come back to tell us how dazzlingly spectacular things are, it’s better to swallow these tales with a bag of salt and enjoy the real potholes that Life digs up in our highway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am staring at a yellowing newspaper cutting and thinking back to the circumstances that inspired it.  It’s a cutting of an article I published in The Sunday Post of 7 March 2004.

I wrote it to prove to a crop of trainees I had at the paper at the time that it was possible to take a soft, fluffy and seemingly insignificant subject and turn it into an interesting and informative piece of journalism.

I’d expected them to be sceptical, and indeed they were—which wasn’t altogether surprising.   You see, there is this myth that has done the rounds in African newsrooms for as long as I can remember that politics is the bedrock of journalism. Everything else is just a footnote in the wider scheme of things.

But I liked their scepticism because it gave me the opportunity to put my Kwacha where my mouth was.  So I pulled what seemed like a lifeless subject from under their noses and gave it the kiss of life.

The result: a 2,750-word article entitled Jazzing Up God’s Music .

The astonishment I read on their faces when they saw it in the paper was priceless.  But for me, the article was nothing more than a vehicle to prove a fundamental point about journalism—that there are stories everywhere begging to be told.

The story you are about to read begged to be told then.  Question is:  is it still as relevant and as topical as it was when I wrote it almost 12 years ago?  Well, you be the judge of that, especially on a day like this when millions of Christians in Zambia and all over the world go to church to worship God and to praise Him.

Jazzing up God’s music

When the psalmist called on the faithful to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord”, little did he know he would be starting a musical revolution that would reverberate throughout the world.

Today Christian music or what passes for contemporary church music has adapted to the rhythms of the times—rhythms one is more likely to hear in the nightclubs and bistros of the world than in churches where the faithful congregate and worship God in spirit and in truth.  Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, soul, Country & Western, reggae, rap, kwaito, heavy metal, rock and roll, hi-life, samba, mbaqanga, rhumba, kalindula, zouk…

Is this a gimmick to re-brand and market Christianity to a generation more accustomed to the showbiz glitz of MTV music videos than the sombre, solemn strains of old-school hymns like “Rock of Ages” and “Abide With Me”?

Yes and no, says Joy Chasha, a former announcer on Radio Christian Voice. Chasha, who cites Helen Baylor, Kirk Franklin, Commissioned, BeBe and CeCe Winan and Andrae Crouch among her favourite artistes, says secular-sounding gospel music is an adaptation of church music to the times and a sign that there is a greater awareness in how God’s children want to praise and worship him.

Which could explain why the contemporary gospel groups on the local Christian scene such as the ZAOGA Band and Tribe Called Christian have almost nothing in common with conservative choirs like the Heritage Singers which are rooted in an orthodox choral musical tradition.  These are groups whose points of musical reference derive from the African-American gospel music tradition whose greatest exponents are the soul brothers and divas who achieved considerable chart success in the world of popular music back in the day.  Sam Cooke.  Otis Redding. Percy Sledge.  Al Green, Patti Labelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Whitney Houston…

Practically all these popular singers cut their teeth singing gospel in church.  Aretha Franklin, widely described as the undisputed Queen of Soul for one, started her recording career in 1946 when, as a four-year-old, she started singing gospel in her father’s church.  She would later find commercial success as a soul singer but Ms. Franklin never forgot her musical roots.

Chasha acknowledges that these African-American musical influences on local contemporary church music is a by-product of the lifestyle and culture her generation has been exposed to.  That notwithstanding, she says; “All music is music.  All the Devil has done is use God’s creation to spite God.  The Bible records that Satan was the chief musician in heaven before he fell…Because Satan was in heaven, he knows what God likes, so he distorts what is essentially good music to spite God and to lead people away from Him.”

An eloquent argument for New Wave gospel.  However, Mundia Akakelwa, another believer whose roots are deep in the United Church of Zambia, feels contemporary Christian music is a sign of disrespect towards God.  He explains why.  “God is not a trivial God. How can you have rap music in church and think that it is pleasing in God’s eyes?  Rap music is music from the streets and the ghettoes of America and whether you change the words or not, the origin of the music is the same, just like reggae music, which is composed under the influence of dagga.  This is unacceptable in a church situation.”

Akakelwa said the so-called Christian musical revolution is the work of extremist elements from Pentecostal churches who want to use popular music to attract followers.

“Bait” is the word another conservative Christian used to describe it.  A Jehovah’s Witness who didn’t want to be named, he said Pentecostals were using music to lure young and impressionable people to their churches. “A lot of people go to church to enjoy themselves, not to worship God or to learn Scripture.  And if you listen to the songs these people sing, it usually consists of one verse which they keep repeating over and over again.  What can you learn from that?  If you compared attendance at any of these Pentecostal churches with other congregations like SDA, you find there are more people going where they know they will be entertained.  It is these same people who say our meetings are boring because we don’t waste time singing when we can use that time learning the Bible and exchanging Bible-based views.  I am not saying music has got no place in worship, but we can’t spend three-quarters of our time singing songs for people to dance instead of giving people a message. The hymns contained in our songbook are all derived from the Bible, unlike the music you find in Pentecostal churches,” he said.

For him and many like him, secularising church music is an abomination that could have grave spiritual repercussions.  Music in the service of God, according to the more conservative worshipper, must be sublime, grand in a spiritual kind of way and befitting the dignity of the House of God.

And the closest to the sublime, experts say, is a form of church music that has resisted the temptation of the secular and remained true to its roots—the Gregorian chant.  This is the official liturgical chant used in the Roman Catholic Church. It takes its name from Pope Gregory I who compiled chants for the Roman Catholic liturgy in the late sixth century.  As a musical form, the Gregorian chant remains quite popular, relying on a language which, though dead to the world, is alive and well in the Catholic Church—Latin.

Ndombolo in the House of God

To find out more about it, I knocked on some doors in the Catholic Church in Zambia and found an amiable Jesuit priest called Father Lastone R. Lupupa who was willing to enlighten me.  He explained:  “Christian music as we know it evolved from the secular, but that is not a bad thing in itself.    If you go to Congo, for example, you will see the symbiotic relationship between society and the church and how the two are affecting each other.  Ndombolo has been modified to suit the church and people are dancing to it.  There is nothing wrong with it if it is not obscene or calculated to provoke other things—as long as people are praising God.  Dancing goes with music. You can’t be singing and remain like a pole.  Even the Gregorian chant used in the Catholic Church came from a secular Latin culture.  You can say the same thing about the indigenous music being used in the church today, especially the Bemba music, particularly amalumbo.  That too came from a secular tradition.  The original songs were actually used to praise the chief.  And the way the chief was glorified is what they have brought to the church.  With the coming of missionaries came what we Catholics call enculturation, that is, preaching the gospel using the signs and symbols of indigenous people.  So if the good news has to speak to the hearts of the people, we have to speak to their mindset.  Music becomes a way of conveying the message of God and this only works when it is the people’s own music.  It took some time for the missionaries to realise that it was necessary to bring drums and the dancing into the church—things that were once upon a time forbidden because they were considered heathen.  Our fathers and mothers sang the Gregorian chant in church, but they didn’t understand it.  Nor did it provoke their being,” Father Lupupa said.

My mind wandered off to an interview I’d had earlier with a local musician who, in 2003, had won the Azami Award for Best Gospel Recording:  Jojo Mwangaza.  He made no apologies for his distinctly gospel rhumba sound in spite of the barbs of criticism that had been thrown at him on account of it.

“My music is totally African.  My greatest musical influence is rhumba music from Congo DR. That is where I was born.  Rhumba is just the name of a beat that exists and I can tell you that it doesn’t matter what beat you use.  The difference is the message and the inspiration.  I feel I have been anointed by God to do what I do.  My biggest aspiration has been to bring revival into Christian music in Africa by changing the way gospel music sounds,” he said.

It is precisely that kind of revival that makes Bishop Joshua H.K. Banda of Northmead Assemblies of God Church uncomfortable.  He said it was imperative to draw the line somewhere when it comes to contemporary Christian music.

“I have a problem with heavy rock Christian music, with Christian reggae because of the kind of lifestyle they promote.  The dress code, the tight jeans revealing all the contours of the body, painted hair, and the manner of dancing…What you have is a performance, not a ministry.  These things have a way of conveying the wrong message because people see more than they hear.  My main worry is with unguarded music which has the best of sound and rhythm but is low on message.  There should be more to the music than the rhythmic appeal.  The music must have a Biblical base.  It must be doctrinally sound.  Even in our own assembly, our young people know that originality is something that is Spirit generated.  The Holy Spirit is not a copy cat,” Bishop Banda said.

I wonder what he’d say if he had a chat with Mark Mohr, the dreadlocked leader of the Christian reggae band, Christafari, I thought to myself as he spoke.  For close to two decades, the band had been stoking the fires of controversy.  Its very name gets tongues wagging, even though  band members have  categorically stated that Christafari is NOT a mixture of Rastafarianism and Christianity, though admittedly, it does sound like it.

They say the band’s name has roots in three languages.  Greek, Latin and Amharic—the ageless language of Ethiopia.  In modern Greek, Christafari is supposed to mean “soldiers of Christ”. In ancient Greek, “Christoforoi” refers to a group of people who represent Christ whereas “Tafari “ is the  Amharic word for “Creator, Almighty—one who needs to be worshipped”.

So much for etymology.  As part of my research for the article, I sent Christafari’s Mark Mohr, also an ordained pastor, email for his take on contemporary Christian music.   And this is what he wrote: “As a musician/songwriter, I listen to secular music to study the production, dialect and songwriting aspects.  I also listen to Christian music.  I see no contradiction in that at all.  Ultimately, as Christians, we need to be careful what we influence ourselves with.  We need to use God’s wisdom when it comes to music and entertainment.  I encourage people to read the Word, pray, seek counsel and make the best decisions for themselves.  There are some Bible verses that have helped me keep focus on what I do, why I do it and how I do it.  One of them is Colossians 2:8: ‘See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ…”

The more I researched and wrote, the more complicated the answers to the questions I’d started with became.  And the questions?  Who decides what kind of music is abominable to God and what is acceptable to Him?  And who has the final word on how to keep it real?

Obviously, God Himself.   And from what I was able to establish, God likes vibrant, up tempo music. For instance, II Samuel 6:5 notes how David and all the House of Israel “played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps and timbrels, and on cornets and on cymbals…”

So taken was David by the vibrancy of the music that he is reported to have leapt and danced in a manner that was not befitting of his status as a king.

Which was how I chose to end the story of God’s music and the arguments around it—on the basis of Biblical authority.

 

 

 

On the face of it, the subject may have seemed a soft and fluffy one.  But the numbers made it significant, relevant and topical.  You see, about 87 per cent of the Zambian population is Christian, according to the last census.  Which means any topic that affects or interests people whose numbers far exceed the combined population of Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana cannot be overlooked or ignored.

Of this number, an estimated three million are Catholic.  That’s about a quarter of the total number of people in Zambia.   When the leaders of the Catholic Church, namely, the bishops, issue pastoral letters, governments take heed and heads of state listen.  Which means religion, or more specifically Christianity is not the soft, fluffy subject it appears to be, especially if you consider that Christians, whatever their persuasion, are also voters who listen to their church leaders.

Another thing.

The fact that there is no unanimity among the different denominations that make up the Christian population means that the issue is a controversial one.  And the last time I checked, Controversy, is one of the values of news journalists live and work by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wife will be celebrating her birthday next Saturday.  And as is customary around here, the husband of The Birthday Girl should throw some kind of shindig, complete with marquee, outside catering, live band, dancing queens and  invitation cards printed in China.

Another thing: it’s a mark of status to send the cards inscribed with the abbreviation: RSVP.  That’s a coded message to invited guests that they should bring along some lunch boxes because there’ll be more than enough to eat.

In case you just got off the bus, RSVP means Rice and Stew Very Plenty.  But hey, this is not about rice or for that matter about stew.  It’s about the impending birthday of a lass I once knew as The Sugar in my Tea.  Then she graduated and became the Scotch on my Rocks.  Today, she insists I address her as The First Lady.    But so you know that after all these years, I still don’t know how old she really is?  And that’s no exaggeration.

All I know is that she has been 35 years old since 1988.  And with no birth certificate and registration card to rely on, all I can do is pretend to take her word for it.

January is a busy month for the Djokotoe family.  It is also the month that my only begotten daughter, Esi, or ba-na Sheba, as she prefers to be called now, got hitched to a rat-eater from the East called Cuthbert. Against my better judgement, I might add.

Thirteen years have passed since the two younglings tied the knot, but the sheer thought that a proud descendant of warrior-fishermen who have been plundering the Atlantic since the dawn of Time married a rodent-eating Easterner still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I remember how it all started like it was yesterday.  It was a hot Saturday in October.  I’d just had lunch and was about to make the pilgrimage to the neighbourhood fleshpot and den of sin when The Wife reminded me that we were expecting some very important visitors.  Three Wise men from The East, were her exact words. 

Blessed are the wise…

So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the door and saw one the three men was dressed like Bikiloni, the other like Diffikoti.  The third was a cross between the two bozos.  And they didn’t come bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh like wise men from the East are supposed to.

Instead, they brought with them two small white bowls tied in a cheap Chinese handkerchief and placed it at my feet.

The thought of kicking the little bundle out through my front door and onto the street occurred to me, but the cold glint in The Wife’s eyes told me that I would not live to see another day if I did.

After we exchanged a few pleasantries, and The Wife went into Hospitality Mode had served them some drinks, the Bikiloni-look-alike cleared his throat and began to speak.

“Father of The House of Djokotoe,” he said, “greetings from the East.  We may be coming from far, but we have got eyes that can see across mountains and valleys.  That is how come we know you’ve got a chicken strutting around in your yard and shaking its tail feathers in the wind.  As a family, we are impressed with what we have seen and would like to see that chicken lay lots of eggs for us too.  With your permission, of course.”

I frowned.  “A chicken in The House of Djokotoe?  You must be mistaken, sir. Dogs we have plenty of, but chickens?  Not a chance. Can’t stand the smell of chicken crap, that’s why we buy our buy or birds from the supermarket. Same goes for eggs.  If you want eggs so bad, I could send for a unit from the neighbourhood Shoprite.  I’m sure you must have seen a bright orange chingulungulu inscribed with the nugget of wisdom, No Frienship on Business on your way here…”

The old man looked at me, perplexed and exchanged glances with the other Wise men.

At that point, The Wife got up and indicated that I follow her.

“Excuse me, Brothers.  We’ll be right back after this commercial break,” I said.

When we were out of earshot, The Wife hissed at me.

“Are you out of your mind?  What’s all this nonsense about eggs and supermarkets?”

“Well, they started it.  Said they wanted some chicken and some eggs.  I thought I was being helpful by telling them where they could get some. Only thing I didn’t suggest was that you fry them one of your special omelettes.  You know, the kind you do with green pepper and cheese…”

Of chickens &eggs

“No, you idiot, you weren’t being helpful at all!  If anything, you were acting completely useless!  Those men came here on behalf of young Cuthbert to ask for Esi’s hand in marriage!  They’re not interested in poultry in the least. “So why didn’t they come straight to the point and save us all the trouble?”

“Because, my dumb husband, things don’t work that way.  In Africa, we don’t come to the point.  It’s not in our nature to come to the point. We speak in proverbs and parables.  That’s what distinguishes us from bazungu.”

“ Now, my dear wifey.  You better listen closely because I am only going to say this once.  My daughter is not a chicken.  Never was, never will be.  She doesn’t lay eggs either. And I will not have anyone, Wise man or no Wise man, refer to her disrespectfully in my house! That clown better put a sock in it before I place a few choice claps oops upside his head!”

The long and short of it all is the breakdown in communication was eventually resolved and the Three Wise men from the East agreed to come back when we’d had time to digest the full import of their mission.  The Wife was so angry with me that she didn’t speak to me for a whole week.

But the breakdown in communication is partly the fault of the Queen’s language.  It’s such a screwed-up tongue that you’d it was contrived by someone with a Ph. D.  You know, as in Permanent Head Damage.

If you don’t believe the Queen’s language is as confused as the people who speak it, consider the logic behind these classics.  Imagine, after spending half a lifetime studying Law, our learned friends end up conducting their business in bedrooms.  Out of embarrassment, they call these bedrooms Chambers.

And then of course, you have professional boxers living among horses—in stables! A crying shame, if you consider that some of them earn hefty sums for punching other people’s lights out.  I’m surprised boxers like Catherine Phiri and Galagata Zulu haven’t yet made headlines in that scandal sheet called the Mandevu Herald for fighting with their stable-mates over hay!

It gets worse.

Chickens with no feathers are dressed.  So what would you say about fully-clothed  birds?  If four-letter words are obscenities, where does that place L-O-V-E?  No, I don’t get it.

Some of the Brethren are saying the reason I can’t make sense of the Queen’s language is because I went to a village school where even the headmaster had plenty of unfinished business with the Ministry of Education, like a number of politicians I know.  But hey, I’m not that dumb.  And besides, it’s not just English I’ve got beef with.  It’s all these languages white folk speak.

Take French and Spanish which classify nouns as male or female.  Spaniards have some words that wear trousers and others that wear skirts.  “House” or “la casa” for instance, is a female.   Don’t ask me why. I come from a fishing village on the edge of the Atlantic, not from bloody Madrid.

For some reason, “el lapiz”, the Spanish word for “pencil” is male.  Don’t ask me why.

 

 

 

 

A recent Facebook post by Lawrence Thompson rekindled a painful memory, opened an old wound and got me thinking back to an opportunity that Ego killed in cold blood on a chilly July night in 1989.

Thompson is best known as the man who made Kabanana, the first successful Zambian soap opera which became quite a hit in Zimbabwe and Namibia and run on ZNBC TV from 2000 to 2003.

But for a quirky twist of Fate, Kabanana would never have happened.  And that’s because of an incident that occurred 26 years ago that almost drove him to abandon his interest in film forever.  In a post on his Facebook timeline on January 16, he recollected the incident:

“ ‘Who the !!??% /# do you think you are?  You are just a television cameraman and you think you can make a film? Do you have any idea what it takes?”  These words were uttered by a man I admired and respected right there in front of a roomful of industry professionals I had invited to the unveiling of my intention to make what would have been my first film.  I stood there—humiliated and ashamed.

“The idea for the film came from a powerful short story Edem Djokotoe had written.  It was based on a concept he’d created long before the movie ‘Mississippi Masala’which featured Denzel Washington hit the big screen in 1991.  Right there, my dream was shattered and I thought of giving up.  But God is good.  Long story short.  Years later, I get to produce a soapie I can safely say kick started the contemporary Zambian film industry people are talking about today.  To the young film makers making things happen today, no matter what anybody says, don’t give up!  I greatly admire the efforts of Owas Mwape, Mingeli, Maynard and Becky and many others.  I know that they must face a lot of criticism, but guess what, they ARE producing films and slowly getting recognition as THE film makers of Zambia.  The bottom line is this: it is not over until God says it is over…”

Indeed, I said to myself when I read Thompson’s Facebook post.  You see, I hadn’t just written the short story he wanted to make his first film on.  I was a witness to the egotistic outburst that shattered Lawrence Thompson’s dream, and to a large extent, my mine.

But I guess for this story to make sense, I better start at the beginning—to a day in January 1989 when I first made Thompson’s acquaintance.

He enrolled at Evelyn Hone College to study Journalism as a part-time student.  He was already a trained cameraman who’d made the transition from still photography to 16mm film camera and was earning a living working for himself.

We struck it off almost immediately perhaps because he was an older, mature student who wasn’t in College to pass time or make up the numbers.  One day I asked him why he’d enrolled when he had a quite lucrative gig filming news out of Zambia for Visnews,  a London-based international news agency which Reuters now owns.   “I want to learn how to report and write news, not just film it,” he said.

A Love Forbidden

About four months later, Thompson accosted me  one evening after I’d finished teaching his class and asked if he could discuss something with me.

“I listened to a short story you wrote on radio a few nights ago and it really blew me away,” he said.

“Well, thank you,” I said.  From the look on his face, I gathered he had more than compliments on his mind.  You see, I’d been a regular contributor to a popular 15-minute weekly programme on ZNBC Radio 2 called Short Story Reading for  almost five years and had gotten into the rhythm of writing at least one every month.  The programme was created by the Zambia National Association of Writers to provide a platform to budding writers to showcase their story telling and in the process, stimulate the growth of local fiction.   Short Story Reading was presented by Darius Lungu, a literary enthusiast who worked for Barclays Bank.

Anyway, the particular short story Lawrence Thompson was talking about was a love story, one inspired by a scenario many Zambians would find most improbable—a relationship between Katongo, a poor young Zambian man and Raka, an Indian girl from a wealthy family.  He lived in a cockroach-infested bedsit in Kabwata, she in a mansion in Madras.    The difference in race made their love affair all the more forbidden and fraught with complication.

“I think this story would make a good movie.  Have you ever considered turning your short story into a feature film?” he asked.

To be honest, I hadn’t and wasn’t even willing to try.

But Thompson was earnest and persuasive and in the end, he talked me out of my reluctance.   The more I thought about it, the easier and more possible it became. Slowly, I started to think character development, dialogue, setting, plot, denouement…

Before I knew it, the characters were coming alive in my head.  I could see their faces, hear their voices, read their thoughts, anticipate their reactions, feel their pain, share their disappointments and laugh at their joys…   I became the silent witness to their lovemaking.  I was present when her three older brothers kicked down the door of Katongo’s flat to protect her honour, armed his cricket bats, intent on grievous bodily harm…

Two weeks and many sleepless nights later, the screenplay “A Love Forbidden” was ready.

We savoured the moment over drinks at Thompson’s office one evening, high on expectation and intoxicated with the potency of our own optimism.  But we were realistic enough to realise that we had neither the money, the organisational nor the logistical capacity to turn the script into a film.   We pondered other real challenges, like how we could break into the closed Indian society to get Indians who’d play the roles I’d created for them in a controversial film about inter-racial love.

The best we could do, we agreed, was to look for partners who could help take the project to the next level.  So Thompson called on a number of people he knew with the skill sets and resources we didn’t have.   The first meeting which also turned out to be the last, was held at Lusaka Play House.

Enter the Dragon

On the night, Thompson pitched his film project and I gave a short outline of the storyline, without disclosing too much.

The project generated considerable interest from those who’d gathered.  All except one.  A local film expert who, straight away told everyone in attendance, how he’d learnt his craft from one of the best film schools in the world.  He wanted to turn the meeting to discuss a film project into a monologue on film making, with him as the star of the show.

When Thompson politely reminded him what the object of the meeting was, he blew a gasket, throwing the worst tantrum I’ve seen from a grown man and spitting obscenity and venomous abuse like a puff adder.   He berated Thompson for being a rank amateur who wasn’t in his league and me, for even thinking I could write a screenplay.

By this time, I’d heard enough.  I stood up and walked into the night, taking my script and my support for the film project with me.  That night, something died inside me.  I decided there and then I wasn’t cut out for collaboration.  As a writer, all I needed was the company of my own imagination and the single-mindedness to do what I have always done: write.

Something else died that night. Opportunity.    Thompson explains how in the reference he makes to the movie called “Mississippi Masala”.   The film was released in the France in 1991 and in the UK and US one year later.  It was a romantic drama about inter-racial love involving an Indian woman and an African-American man set in rural Mississippi in the American South based on a screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala.

My romance, set in Lusaka, was written in February 1989 and first read on ZNBC Radio 2 in March 1989.  The similarities between the two storylines are uncanny.   In mine, the love affair between Raka and Katongo is discovered by her three burly, cricket-playing brothers.  In Taraporevala’s screenplay, the Indian’s girl’s family caught up with the couple during a clandestine weekend.

Their two families cannot come to terms with the relationship and the couple flees to find happiness elsewhere.  In mine, when Raka is caught, her family banishes her to India to stay with a grandmother—with strict instructions she is never to return to Zambia.

Raka gets a job and saves up for two years with the express intention of returning to Zambia to find the first man she ever loved.   One day, she disappears from her grandmother’s home and throws her family into a panic.  They all suspect she has left for Lusaka, but they have no clue where she could be.  They mount a fruitless search.

Meanwhile she arrives in Lusaka and goes to Kabwata to find Katongo no longer lives at the flat where they trysted.  He has no idea she is in Lusaka, though he never got over how she vanished when she did.

One day as he drives down Cairo Road, looking for a place to park, he sees a woman who looks like Raka trying to cross a road. Before he could park and find her, she disappears.   He is convinced that the woman he saw was Raka and he too begins to search for her amidst the urban sprawl of Lusaka.

Eventually, they meet, albeit unexpectedly, and one thing leads to another. The film ends dramatically—with a wedding Raka’s parents try to stop.  But they arrive at the church a moment too late—after the two lovers have exchanged their vows.

This, in short, is the story of the film that never got made.

Thing is, the release of “Mississippi Masala” changed everything.  How would we convince backers and viewers alike that I did not steal the story line from Sooni’s screenplay? How would I prove it?  Who would believe that the similarities in our two tales are purely coincidental?   The touchiness around intellectual property and the legal minefields around it discouraged us from reviving the dream and turning it into a reality.

Karma Chameleon

But 11 years later, Fate and circumstance would conspire to give the whole saga an ironic twist.

The year was 2001.   I was in my sixth year of writing a satirical column for The Post called “Mind Over Matter”.  The oddball characters in the make-believe neighbourhood I created for my storylines called “The ‘Hood” piqued the public’s imagination and generated a whole lot of buzz.  Many people I met had their own favourites.  Some liked ba na Cherry, the tough-as-nails cross-border trader who jealously guards her position as the undisputed queen of makwebo.    Others liked her long-suffering, hen-pecked husband, Archibald Franklin Mukundambolo and were tickled by his name. Their oldest daughter, Cherry, was a hit with others, no because she was beautiful and curvy but because her Grade 12 results read like a police toll-free number.

The character who generated the most controversy and earned me visitations from elders of a prominent congregation was the flamboyant pastor of The Church of the Living Bread and Wine.  You couldn’t miss him.  He looked like  a Congolese sideshow in his colourful waistcoats, Kanda Bongoman hats, Wenge Musica trousers, Bally shoes and bling.  There was also: Japhet Bokosi, the erstwhile head of Django Chambers, is the resident legal eagle, taking on hopeless cases other lawyers wouldn’t touch and winning them dramatically.   Mr. Nkoloso and the Wailers are a family of professional mourners who earn their living providing sound effects at funerals.   Guften Haachipola, who disappears from the radar screen once every blue moon and turns up days later with the lamest of excuses which exact violent retribution from his wife.  His cousin, Clive Hantotola, who comes visiting ever so often from his base in Mwanachingwala has so many wives and children whose names he doesn’t know, but carries passport sized pictures of his beloved cows in his wallet…

Interestingly, the zanier the characters, the more readers loved them.  Some wrote to me asking me to publish the weekly episodes in an omnibus or turn the column into a TV series.  Others were so convinced the characters existed.  Either that or were based on real people—people they knew.  But I kept my secrets to myself and allowed them to speculate…

At the height of all this, one day, I received a visitor who came to make me an offer he was sure I couldn’t refuse.  It was The Film Expert, who 11 years earlier, had thrown the mother of all tantrums and derided Lawrence Thompson and me for harbouring the illusion about making a film.

Now here he was, sitting opposite me in my office asking me if I’d be interested in working with him to dramatise my column and turn it into a Zambian soap opera like Coronation Street, the longest running soapie in television history, having made its debut in 1960!   “The setting is right there.  The characters are all there.  The scenarios are brilliant and humorous.  This thing could be a big hit,” he said.

I sat, stony faced and listened, not sure whether he really knew who I was or remembered what I remembered.  At that moment, I remembered something  Feste says in the William Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night: “And thus, the whirligig of Time brings in his revenges.”

What could I say?  What was there to say?  I was so dying to play back the hurtful things he had said when he believed Thompson and I had no business even thinking about film.  But I held my peace and politely declined his offer, much to his disappointment.

I gave him no reason, but in my heart, I knew that the neighbourhood and the characters I created will remain as they are—words on a page.  Only way I can safeguard their integrity and maintain in control of my creation.

I may have never made a movie and probably never will,  but if there is one thing I know, it is that film makers are always looking for good stories to turn into films.

My all-time favourite movie, The Godfather, was based on a Mario Puzo novel.  A Time To Kill wouldn’t have been possible if John Grisham hadn’t conceived the courtroom drama that gave the film life.  Even the tired franchise we have come to know as James Bond wouldn’t be where it is today without the creative genius of the novelist Ian Fleming.   You’d have thought anybody who claims to have studied film in a reputable institute would at least know that there is something creative minds bring to the party, and that there is no film made anywhere in the world that isn’t a collaborative effort among people with different talents and skill sets.

But while ego was stifling opportunity and killing dreams here in Zambia, in Nigeria, collaborative effort was transforming local film into a powerful industry.   Today, Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is called, rakes in an average of US$590 million per year and is, according to UNESCO, the second largest employer in the country after agriculture and contributes over 1.6 per cent to the national economy.  Apart from churning out at least 50 new films every week, it employs more people than the Nigerian government does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah S. Siakaniankondo, is attempting to do what no man has been able to do, and that is, find a lasting solution to the most devastating pests known to man—the Larger Grain Borer. And that, my friends, is going to be no easy task.

You see, the problem has been worsened by the fact that over the years, we have been faced with a virulent new strain of Borer which is resistant to practically any kind of pesticide that is thrown at it.   Scientists are saying that climate change is also playing a big part in the mutation of these pests, making them harder to wipe out than the anopheles mosquito.   Agreed, unlike the mosquito, the Larger Grain Borer doesn’t spread disease and death, but the effects, I can assure you, can just be as devastating and debilitating.

Ask Brother Jeremiah, whose waistline has dropped two sizes and whose back pockets are almost meeting at his Equator since he was invaded by an army of Grain Borers.  Just in case you’re new to these parts and don’t know the residents of The ‘Hood too well, let me put you in the loop.

JS, as we call him, is one of our oldest neighbourhood stalwarts.  Jolly good fellow to have around when he has money in his pocket.  Never a dull moment when he comes loaded to a fleshpot and wants to dance and drink—or is it the other way round?  The good man has been divorced for a while now and his offspring chose to move out with their mother in search of a life where beans, kapenta, hand-me-downs and second-hand clothes wouldn’t be prominent features.

Well, they tried reconciliation a few times but for some reason, it didn’t work, and grudgingly, husband and wife came to the conclusion that maybe they were not meant for each other after all.

Brother JS took his divorce pretty hard and for almost a year practically lived in a bottle, but slowly, he started to turn his life around.  Of course, an unattached middle-aged man with a job and a car living alone in his own house three gates away from the neighbourhood fleshpot and den of sin is a natural attraction, if you are a Tasinta escapee looking for a fixed abode.  So yes, they came, they saw but they left because Brother wasn’t looking for permanence, if you know what I mean.

House Party

Anyway, one day, his young brother and a cousin moved in from the village ostensibly to look for work in the big city.  A month later, his aunt arrived with her husband who was unfortunate enough to be afflicted with cancer of the scrotum and needed specialist medical treatment that couldn’t be found in the village.

Before we knew it, his sister’s three sons and daughter moved in on grounds that they wanted to help take care of their father.  And that, good people, was the start of problems.  His niece got pregnant and one of his nephews broke the leg of somebody’s cow, as our Brothers from Barotseland would say.  As you would expect, the injury to the cow caused the owners of the kraal to dump her and her calf on Jeremiah’s doorstep.

At last count, the total number of mouths in The House of Siakaniankondo was 15, and that’s excluding those who come to Visit the Patient just around lunch or supper time.

A 2-litre container of Mazoe would finish in a day.  Whenever Jeremiah asked, he’d be told, you see, climate change has made the weather too hot, thereby increasing the incidence of thirst.

If relish disappeared from the fridge and he asked about its whereabouts, he’d be told, well, there are rats in the kitchen.  So the Brother decided to booby trap the fridge, but apparently, the rats in his house were clever ones and had gotten cleverer just by watching Tom and Jerry.

Fed up to the core with the disappearance of food from the kitchen, Brother Jeremiah decided to shift anything that couldn’t be eaten to his bedroom till in the end, it looked more like a township mini mart than a sleeping chamber.

Dude went on tour and returned a week later to find the tray of eggs he’d hidden in his room had hatched, turning the chamber into a chicken run.

Problem is, whenever he ejects his relatives from his home, new ones come to take their place.  So, good people, if you know how to help him solve his problem, drop me a line and I will gladly pass on your suggestions to my good friend, Jeremiah Solomon Siakaniankondo.

And talking about suggestions…

I’ve an idea for what could most definitely turn out to be an award-winning TV medical drama series. You know, something like ER or Grey’s Anatomy.  But instead of Grey’s Anatomy, this one will be called Gupta’s Anatomy, after our one and only friendly neighbourhood medico.  “Super Doc” Gupta, B.Sc. (Madras), M.D. (Calcutta), Ph. D. (Lahore), doctor-in-chief at our local  Morningside Clinic.

What I have in mind is a cross between heart-warming medical drama and reality TV because the star of the show will be “Super Doc” himself.  I don’t know about you, but I have a weakness for medical dramas.  There’s nothing like a medical emergency to remind you how fragile life is.

But at the end of the day though, you know though that whatever happens, the blood and guts on the screen are not real, that no-one really gets to make the premature trip to The Other Side of Town and that when it comes to the intricacies and complexities of Medical Science, the doctors on the screen are as ignorant as I am and don’t know the difference between a carburretor and a catheter.  Probably can’t even tell the difference between castration and circumcision either.  But hey, what the hell, you know that, even if they had to cut off the wrong part of your anatomy, it won’t be the real part, so you have nothing to worry about really.

Which is more than I can say about some of the near mishaps that have taken place at the neighbourhood Morningside Clinic where  “Super Doc” Gupta reigns supreme.  Over drinks at the fleshpot recently, The Medical One shared with us some of his tribulations.  Not too long ago, Dr. Gupta referred one of his patients to the vet.

Doctor’s Orders

Apparently, a Brother turned up at the clinic complaining of the most bizarre symptoms you’ve ever heard.  “Doctor, I have a problem and I believe you’re the only one who can help me.  I’ve been to UTH, I’ve paid money to see Chinese doctors.  I’ve gone everywhere but no-one seems to know how to deal with my case,” Super Doc recounted.

“So what exactly did you do?” I asked him.

“Well, I did the usual tests but they all came out negative but the fellow still insisted he was unwell.  For a while, I thought of sending him to a reputable sangoma just around the corner but I changed my mind because that could have upset him.  In the end, I asked him to tell me what he thought was wrong with him.”

As it turns out, the dude sleeps like a dog, snores like a pig, works like a donkey, charging from office to office like a mad Tonga bull 12 months in a year.  When he gets home, he eats like a horse and plays the monkey for the amusement of his children.  And when he goes to bed and the lights go out, he and The Missus hit it off like rabbits.

So what did you tell him?

“For a start, I told him he was in the wrong place consulting the wrong kind of doctor.  Of course, that baffled him, but finally, he understood that he was better off at a vet, given the nature of his condition,” said ‘Super Doc’ Gupta.

I almost fell off my seat with laughter.  To be honest, I hadn’t heard anything so crazy in such a long time.  But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that The Medical One was right.  If you work like an ass, eat like a horse and charge about like a bull and frolic like a bunny, then who else should you see but the animal doctor?

 

 

I’d be lying if I said I read the local papers and watched TV news religiously.  Beyond the cursory scan, I rarely bother with them.  That’s because there is no reason why I should.

Now that is a grave offence to admit to—if you are a journalist.  But look at things this way, my way.  What’s the point of the news if it doesn’t even begin to give you a sense of what is going on, telling you what you want to know and need to know ?

Of course, some of those who’ve heard me say this think I am either slipping into dotage or suffering from a bad case of male menopause.  Others think I am being a tad too fastidious about what isnews and what is not, insisting on a level of purism that doesn’t exist.

Maybe they are right.  Maybe there is something seriously wrong with me. Maybe there is something wrong with the editorial ideology I have lived and worked by for the last 34 years.  Maybe I live in a parallel universe where the sun rises from the north.  Maybe I am delusional.  Maybe I’m hallucinating.  Maybe I’ve been in this business too long for my own good and should be fading into the sunset like an old gunslinger.  Maybe I’ve stopped seeing the forest for the trees.  Maybe, I fell into deep sleep and woke up to find times had changed and the world had moved on, leaving me to clutch at ghosts, like Rip van Winkle, the character in Washington Irving’s short story.  Maybe, like the young Times of Zambia reporter who boycotted a three-day training workshop his employers hired me to conduct for editorial staff in Ndola and Lusaka in May last year,  said the kind of journalism I go on about doesn’t exist.    So, in essence, the newspaper company had wasted money paying me to help them chase shadows—for the second time in two years.  But that’s a story I will save for another day.

Anyway, I reckon that  if I am going to stand accused, I might as well plead my case.  This blog is my attempt at a defence.

And I will begin my defence, not as a journalist but as an anonymous but discerning member of a public who depends on the media to keep him  informed about the state of affairs in every single sphere of human endeavour.  Agriculture.  Health.  Shelter.  Defence and security.  .  Finance. Business and commerce.  Mining and industry.  Education.  Labour.  Science.  Technology.  Entertainment.  Crime.  Justice.  Sports…

I also want to know about the essentials that support human life and have far-reaching implications on the survival of the species.  Things like water, food, energy, land etc.  Resources whose scarcity would have severe consequences on life as we know it.

In short, when I pick up the daily newspapers, listen to radio bulletins or watch TV news, I expect a good mix of news and information about all of the above most of the time.  And I don’t think that is expecting too much from media houses which  claim it is their duty as well as their responsibility to keep us informed about what is important, not to them, but to us.

News brewed in an African pot

Let’s face it, there are areas of concern that are universally held to be important otherwise why else would governments all over the world establish ministries to oversee them? Why would they have ministries to look after health, agriculture, natural resources, education, commerce, trade, industry, science, technology, foreign affairs, sports, culture etc.  if they were of no consequence? Why then would governments have in place an elaborate system to fund interventions in these sectors from the national treasury from one budget year to the next?  Why should they?

Which brings me to an interesting point—the fact that, for all the local media’s focus on politics as the most important story there is out there, there is no Ministry of Politics.  Not here, not anywhere in the world.  Which could further suggest that perhaps, as areas of concern go, it is not as important as we think it is.

So you can imagine my frustration when all I am subjected to seven days a week, is a bland, monotonous and insipid diet of polemics, hateful, vitriolic rantings by political combatants, ill-informed opinions from political sources I call The Usual Suspects.  I call them that because theirs are the only voices you hear in the news.

If the Usual Suspects aren’t speaking, you have some leader officially opening a workshop, dispensing advice at a VIP wedding or grandstanding for the cameras, knowing their histrionics will make the evening news.

Grandstanding as a staple of Zambian television news?  Indeed.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at this classic example and tell me what you think.  A government minister turns up in Kabwe, with a camera crew in tow, to inspect stretches of road a local contractor is rehabilitating.

The road inspection and the tongue lashing the minister gives the contractor for shoddy work is edited into a two-minute report that finds its way onto the evening news. The news report, if you could call it that, has no context and no background.  There are no other voices except the minister’s.  That’s because he has to be seen to be the star of his own show, with him playing the role of hardworking leader committed to safeguarding the integrity of public works.

But even from the comfort of my living room, I can see through the choreography.  Isn’t there supposed to be a robust procedure  and a system for selecting road contractors under the Public Roads Act No. 12 of 2002—one that is backed by due diligence of all applicants and their technical capacity to undertake the contract?

Now if such a system exists, how is it possible for incompetent contractors to slip through the cracks and land multi-million Kwacha road works through the Road Development Agency (RDA)?  Last time I checked, RDA had a strategic mission, and that is to “provide a world-class road network that supports socio-economic growth through…innovative funding models for road infrastructure and strategic alliances with proficient service providers and stakeholders…”     So what is the news report not saying that it should?

But that is not all.  There are juicier details about road project RDA/CE/004/013  which falls under the Ministry of Works and Supply and bankrolled through the National Roads Fund Agency that does not make the evening news.   The fact that the contractor responsible for executing RDA’s strategic mission while carrying out routine maintenance of trunk, main and district roads in Central Province is Chalumbe Stationery and Food Suppliers Limited, P.O. Box 80806, Kabwe!

How did such a travesty come to pass?  Who sanctioned it?  How much public money has gone towards this project?    How many other such projects are being undertaken by questionable contractors across the awesome expanse of country called Zambia?  Who are the people behind these firms?  What is their level of expertise?  What is their track record?

Answers to these questions do not lie in the provincial capital or on the road which the minister inspected but in the metropole—where decisions to award capital projects are made.  And whoever is chasing up that story would need to understand how the system works, how road tenders are awarded and make it his or her business to find who gets what when and under which circumstances.  All said, any story about roads that is as devoid of news and informational value and editorial merit such as the one I have referred to is not worth my interest.

The reason why the news is this stilted and one dimensional is because of now coverage is organised.  Reporters are assigned to cover ministers, not the geophysical jurisdiction of a particular space.  But truth be told, you cannot cover agriculture by limiting your scope and the extent of your engagement to the office of Agriculture Minister, Given Lubinda at Mulungushi House!

Tell me, has there ever been, in the history of Zambian agriculture, an outbreak of African swine fever or foot and mouth disease at the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture ? When was the last time you heard of a battalion of army worms and Large Grain Borers marching on Mulungushi House? Can you report the extent of overfishing in Lake Mweru and Luapula River from the minister’s office?

My point is this: the biggest stakeholders in the business of agriculture are farmers—men and women who invest their time, their labour, the capital, their risk into production.   How can any meaningful coverage of agriculture ignore them?   How can coverage of the sector overlook the other important players in it?  Scientists, researchers, financiers, analysts, hydrologists, insurers, transporters, marketers, agro-economists, the full extent of technocratic expertise?

The truth of the matter is today, media organisations have allowed journalism to be more administrative than investigative, interrogatory and informative.  And that is because they rely almost entirely on reporting media events.   These are activities that are contrived for the sole purpose of getting positive media coverage.   Doesn’t matter whether these events have no link to reality as we know it. The organisations which stage these events know that they can control what journalists see and report and ultimately, influence what the public gets to know.

Media events may have their uses, but as a journalist, I distrust them and the motives behind them.  But sadly, our over-reliance on them has killed the resourcefulness and professional curiosity journalists need to have to find out things on our own and without blinkers.

I have been in this business long enough to know from actual experience that the best stories come from independent, pro-active, resourceful journalism, not from from the administrative process or through the public relations/corporate affairs information machine.

I can cite 101 examples to illustrate this, but I will stick with one.  It was an extended example I would use at a media conference cum training workshop on reporting human rights.    My presentation came after an official from the Human Rights Commission had spoken passionately about how government was doing a commendable job to decongest prisons and to improve the quality of life of prisoners, bringing it up to UN standards.

Prison Break!

I smiled inwardly because I knew what was coming next.   The case of Mwembeshi Prison, the first facility government has built since independence.  The project started with the Kaunda regime in 1978 but was only completed on the Patriotic Front’s watch in 2013 at a cost of K65 billion.  The political capital that was milked out of this particular development is well documented.

The Times of Zambia, the Zambia Daily Mail and ZNBC all reported Guy Scott, then Vice President saying he was most unhappy that it took 40 years and four Republican presidents for the Mwembeshi Prison project to be completed.  The stories appeared on 6 and 7 April 2012.

And as you’d expect, when it was finally finished, government organised a tour of the new prison for journalists and for its efforts, got extensive coverage in the public media.

But nothing beat the furore that was created when 600 prisoners were finally transferred from Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe to Mwembeshi in March 2013.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary of Home Affairs, Kaizer Zulu flagged off the event in the glare of publicity and used the opportunity  to hurl some brickbats at Muvi TV for what he called “irresponsible journalism”.  He then directed the police to investigate “alarming reports by the TV station about security at Mukebeko prison and the welfare of inmates it had broadcast earlier.

Muvi TV had reported a story the public media had ignored, that at least eight inmates having been beaten to death by prison officers at Mukobeko following the escape of three prisoners on death row.   The Prisons Service and the Ministry of Home Affairs vehemently denied the story.

Amidst all this, Home Affairs Minister at the time, Edgar Lungu directed the Commissioner of Prisons to compile a list of inmates languishing behind bars without trial or judgement so that in consultation with the judiciary and other stakeholders, their cases could be expedited.  He admitted that the prison service had been neglected for too long and something needed to be done to improve the treatment of inmates.

Question is: neglected by whom?  I don’t know of any company, groups of companies, NGOs or individuals which run correctional facilities in the country.  Running prisons and taking care of prisoners is and always will be the responsibility of government.  So if government is reneging on its responsibilities, who should hold it accountable and how?

Another thing:  what is the extent of the neglect?  That was the trajectory my discussion took.  And since the Human Rights Commission had started with prisons, I felt it would only fair to stick with it, even if it meant I had to change tack on the spur of the moment.

So I asked delegates how many had been incarcerated before.  Head shakes all around.   Then I asked how many had any idea what prisoners were fed—as guests of the State?  A few hands went up.  Mostly badly cooked nshima, boiled kapenta and beans seven days a week, some of the volunteered.

Do you know this for sure or are you relying on hearsay?  I asked.  They admitted that actually, what they knew about prison diet was based on what they had heard.  From the quizzical look on their faces, I could tell they had no idea where I was going with this line of questioning, which was all right because it served my purpose well.

Suppose I told you that inmates in Zambian prisons are entitled to 113 grammes of meat or 170 grammes of fresh fish, 455 grammes of maize meal or 340 grammes of unpolished rice per day, what would you say?  Or that things like fresh fruit, carrots, even cheese should feature prominently in their diet?

And just as I thought, they all laughed, perhaps because they thought I was trying my hand at stand-up comedy—at their expense, of course.

But I didn’t laugh with them because I wasn’t joking.  You see, the Prisons Act, which is Chapter 97 of the Laws of Zambia is categorical  to the last gramme about what kind of food and in what quantities inmates in the local penitentiary system should get.   Details of this can be found in Rule 17 of the First Schedule, which deals specifically with prison rations.  Agreed, the law is derived from an old colonial statute, but the truth is, it is a valid piece of legislation.

The delegates were shocked when I beamed the relevant section of the Prisons Act on a screen to prove that what I had been talking about wasn’t a sick joke.  Right before their eyes was a law government has breached for 50 years!

I paused and took a deep breath, knowing I had saved the best for last.   Anyone can end up in prison anytime.  Ministers.  Former First Ladies.  CEOs. Pastors. Even you. Even me.  Now, assuming I did hard time in prison, was released and sued the State for causing me grievous gastronomic damage for mis-feeding me for, say five years, contrary to the letter of Chapter 97 of the Laws of Zambia, would I win?    How much money in compensation would I walk away with?  And what would the State, represented by the Attorney-General, say in defence?  That it forgot to amend a colonial statute?  What kind of landmark judgement do you think the High Court would make in my case?

There was very little else for me to say after that.  I had made my point and proved to them that this dodo is not yet extinct.  Most importantly, I had illustrated how empowering journalism can be and how it can serve the public interest—if we put our minds to it.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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