By Son Mumbi
Could the life of a person who lived “kuma yard” in the mines during the ZCCM era be seen as middle class? The reason I am interested in this question is because I think it had distinctive elements of peasantry. Let me explain. I lived in the 1980’s with my parents in a large, detached three bedroom villa. Our garden had expansive lawns, where hibiscus and frangipani flowers flourished and was bounded by a well trimmed hedge of bouganvillea. My father a well spoken engineer played golf at the weekends and spent quite a few evenings at the mine club where he indulged in one too many mosi. My siblings and I went to a well funded mine school, where we were taught to convert our African names to Anglicised ones by manner of pronunciation. We read children’s classic story books, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, ‘The Oregan Trail ‘etc.
My mother…mmm this is where I get a bit confused. You see, my mother did not need to work, but she engaged in activities reminiscent of a peasant life. For example, every weekend during the rainy season I headed with my mother kuma bala (my father only occasionally joined us). There I helped her clear the field, plant and weed for a harvest of maize, groundnuts and pumpkins. At other times, my mother traveled to Luapula to buy dry fish. I wrapped this fish in newspapers for my mother to sell to people in the neighborhood. I cannot say that my mother is the only one who exhibited signs of peasantry, I did too.
Despite using the wide range of sports facilities that ZCCM provided for my entertainment, I felt drawn to the bush that surrounded the mine town. There, with a small band of friends, I would collect wild fruits Ichenja and Ifungo. Sometimes I would attempt to trap birds using tree gum or in more murderous moods try to kill them using home made catapults “amaregeni”.
My elder sister, who was then listening to Annie Lenox on radio and sported straightened spiky hair was at some point during that era secluded in her room with smoke scented old women who chastened her boldness and beat drums. I eavesdropped as these women taught her about medicinal roots to be found in the bush.
Today, I am struggling to make a living on the Copperbelt, I tried my hand at being a copper dealer but failed to make the cut. In today’s spirit of entrepreneurship, I am now growing sunflowers for vegetable oil in the same bush I played in as a child. My economic activities as a subsistence farmer today would in no doubt make me a peasant, but I struggle to think of myself as only that.