My office was on the second floor of NAMBOARD in the huge Kwacha House on the Northern end of Cairo Road in Lusaka. I walked into the chikwepe, lift or elevator because it was opening as I walked through the front entrance. As soon as I walked in the 2 men already in the chikwepe seemed to continue an on-going conversation they must have started earlier before I entered the elevator.
“….Nambodi is very difficult” the man in a brown jacket and red tie said. “All these Bembas and Ngonis and Easterners are dominating.”
“…..Yes, the Tongas and Lozi have no chance of getting any of the top positions…” the other man responded. “I don’t know what one can do to be promoted…..”
The elevator stopped and I had to get off. The door closed again as the two continued to go up. I was stunned as I walked slowly along the long corridor toward my office while I digested with alarm what I had just heard. I could not walk immediately to the office where there was a pool of about 11office work mates in the Training Office of the Personnel Division. Instead I walked into the toilet to collect my thoughts. My life and events were moving very fast since I met the chipeshamano or chiphadzuwa; the luscious Linda Jitanda the Kaonde woman from Northwestern Province. Tribalism at NAMBOARD? Now I had to deal with so many things at the same time. After graduating from UNZA three months before, is this what real life was about?
The tribalism being rampart at NAMBOARD statement was not really a bomb shell to me. I was expecting it. Although I was momentarily stunned to hear tribalism being talked about openly, I had heard about it so much from older relatives, my parents, in the news, from President Kaunda political speeches, UNIP party officials often vowed to get rid of tribalism in virtually all public speeches, national and party policies. I had even written about tribalism in Zambia and newly independent countries in Africa in my Introduction to Political Science papers during my undergraduate degree at University of Zambia from 1972 to 1976.
As I was finishing my business in the toilet washing my hands, I decided there and then that I was determined to fight, fight, and fight to try to be with my beauty Linda Jitanda. I was not going to leave any stone unturned. I was going to start with my boss at the office. Then talk to Mr. Mbewe the Office Orderly. Next I was going to Kingstons Bookstore to do something special. Then I would try to talk to relatives and ask friends for advice.
As soon as I opened the door and walked into the large office, there was a loud uproar from every one of the eleven people.
“Ye-e-e-e-e-s Ba Tembo!!!! Mwabwerako !!!!” (You have come back!!)
“How was Mongu??”
“How was Western Province??” Hamoonga asked.
“I did not want to come back!!!” I replied. They all laughed as I shook everyone’s hand.
“Ba Tembo,” Mrs. Lungu interjected and I knew it was coming. “Did you bring Zambezi dry bream for everybody in the office?”
“No, because………” before I could finish everyone was protesting, feigning complaining and whining.
“No, Ba Tembo you should have carried 11 dry Zambezi bream fish in your bag for us,” said Mrs Lungu emphatically.
“No,” I protested. “Zambia Airways would not have allowed me to bring 11 fish in the plane. The plane is small. My bag would have been so heavy the plane would not have taken off from Mongu small airstrip.”
“But Ba Tembo, you are funny,” Hamoonga said. “Ati the plane would not have been able to fly.”
“Bane (friends)” I said loudly. “Next time when I go to Mongu again I will arrange for the Zambezi bream dry fish to be sent by road to all employees in the Training Office at NAMBOARD here in Lusaka.”
“But Ba Tembo,” Mrs. Lungu held up the front page of Times of Zambia. “Don’t be as selfish as this man Joshua Nkomo. Imwe shuwa you couldn’t buy us fish! Look at this headline “Nkomo Rejects Peace Offers”. He keeps rejecting peace offers from Ian Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Mugabe. Even our President Kaunda has offered him a peace plan, he keeps rejecting. Look at his big stomach! Why can’t he accept peace so that all these ZeZulus in Marrapodi compound can go home to Zimbabwe. Bativuta!(They are troubling us.) Bayende chabe! (They should all go home).” Mrs. Zulu said as she motioned waving dismissively and flicking her palm away.
Everyone had a different opinion. The conversation was about liberation in Zimbabwe.
After everyone had commented on my trip to Western province and Zimbabwean liberation politics, the office settled down to work with everyone sitting at their desk. I immediately sat down at my desk looking at the Pending, In and Out trays which were already piled high and over flowing since I was out of the office for more than a week.
After quickly sifting through the piles of papers to sort out the most urgent work cases to attend to, I was to meet my boss Mrs. Robinson; a Zambian white woman in her mid-fifties. She was in the corner office cubicle. I was going to give her a brief oral report pending my more elaborate written comprehensive report with more figures and details about NAMBOARD in Western Province. This was something that I would not have done three weeks before; ask my boss some hard frank questions about my future at NAMBOARD. My life was now different. After falling deeply in love with Linda Jitanda, I was now going to follow the Tumbuka saying that my mother always used when as a child if I said I was too shy or afraid to ask my father or my teacher for something. My mother always said always ask: Kambeba kasoni kakfwila ku khululu.(A shy mouse died in the hole).
By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology