The famous and legendary Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Home Service radio announcer and DJ at the time, Mateyo Phiri, who used to call himself “Matty Nko”, once told a story on the air. President Kaunda was flying from Lusaka to the Eastern Province. As the plane was flying over Nyimba, Petauke, and Katete, the President clutching his signature white handkerchief in his left hand, peered through the window only to see what looked like Easterners bent over in their fields next to their villages plowing and tending to their crops such as maize, beans, peas, and peanuts using hoes. The President was very sure and glad that the UNIP party and government agricultural development policy campaign known as LIMA program was a swinging success and would boost agricultural food production in Eastern Province. President Kaunda was surprised and disappointed when he landed to discover that the many people bent over in their fields he had seen were digging for mbeba or mice.
We Easterners like to dig and eat mbewa such that once there were two mbeba or mice hiding in a hole. The mice hunters were digging to catch and kill the mice. As the hunters were digging and closing in, one mouse did not try to run out of the m’buli hole to escape. It said it was too shy. Eventually the hunters who were furiously digging caught up with it and the mouse was killed. But the other mouse was not shy. Even though the hole was surrounded by many hunters, it decided to run out and take its chances. It bounded out of the hole, zig zagged between the hunters’ legs causing thick dust. In the chaos and confusion, two hunters noisily whacked into each accidentally while trying to club the mouse as it narrowly escaped away into the thick bushes. The moral of the story led to the saying among the Tumbuka: Kambeba kasoni kakafwila ku khululu (A shy mouse died in a hole).
This is the new aggressive motto I had adopted about my life as I was going to see my boss Mrs. Robinson; the white Zambian woman Supervisor of the Training Office at NAMBOARD.
Mrs. Robinson was a holdover from the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) white settlers before independence in 1964. What President Kaunda, the top leadership, and the Zambian people discovered to their alarm at independence in 1964 is that the British colonialists had left them with almost nothing with which to develop the newly independent country. Zambia had only 100 Zambians with university degrees, about 1500 Zambians with Form V or Grade 12 school certificates, and only 6000 with junior or two years secondary education in a country of 3.5 million people. The country needed the urgent development of massive infrastructure in virtually all phases of the economy.
The leaders did not panic. They decided to go to work. There was a critical shortage of manpower which was a serious crisis for the newly independent country. The British colonial administration did not leave a reliable police force, schools, a university, an army or an air force, doctors, scientists, nurses, managers, locomotive engineers, teachers, office clerks, pilots, civil, and mining engineers. You name a skill, Zambia did not have any or enough qualified Zambians to work in those jobs. Many whites who had lived in and many born in Northern Rhodesia decided to flee because they did not trust or have confidence that after independence we Zambians could run our country. Many of those whites wanted to continue their racist life styles in neighboring Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and racist South Africa at the time. Some white Zambians staid because they felt this was their country and wanted to live here. Zambia needed educated, trained, and qualified indigenous Zambians in all areas.
I was one of the thousands of young Zambian UNZA and other new technical college graduates all over Zambia who were expected to carry forward the Zambianization program at NAMBOARD, the Mines, and many other government departments and parastatal companies. This was a program in which the government wanted to train Zambians who would occupy positions in jobs that were previously occupied by expatriates or whites since independence.
I walked into Mrs. Robinson office. She was as Zambian as any Zambian could be. She asked me about Western Province and the NAMBOARD depots. She said she had spent nights at Lyembai Hotel with some of her British white family friends to see the Kuomboka ceremony. We shortly completed our brief conversations about NAMBOARD in Western Province.
“Mrs. Robinson,” I nervously twisted my pen in my hand and crossed my legs. “Would there be a chance of me being transferred to work in the Northwestern Province?”
“Good heavens, why Mwizenge?” Mrs. Robinson looked very perplexed.
“Well Mrs. Robinson, when I was there in the rural province, I suddenly realized those rural people need help to run those NAMBOARD depots.”
“The government Zambianization program is in full swing. You are a young UNZA graduate with a psychology and sociology degree that we can use,” Mrs. Robisnson said as she flipped through some papers on her desk.
“Do you remember how many applicants came for the interviews for your Training Office position?”
“I think it was 23 men,” I replied.
“Many of them were older than you and had 8 to 13 years experience. One man was a Junior manager in Luanshya. But we chose you because you are young and had great recommendations from your previous employers at the National Food and Nutrition Commission,” Mrs. Robinson smiled as she placed her hand on the big pile of files of applicants. “We can’t lose you to rural Mwinilunga to the Northwestern Province. NAMBOARD needs you here at Kwacha House.”
I had not come prepared with a rebuttal to her views. I sat there quietly wishing I could tell her the real reason that I was madly in love with Linda Jitanda; the Kaonde woman from Chintele village. That more than anything else I wanted badly to see her again. Our conversation ended with my congratulating myself that atleast I had not been shy and that was only the first step. I had planted a seed in my boss’s ear that might germinate and grow.
Next, I went downstairs on the ground floor to see Mr. Mbewe our Office Orderly. He occupied a small windowless room. On the right was a long table with a sink, a big kettle, a bag of tea leaves, sugar and about 20 tea cups. On the left was another table. Above table on the wall were 4 large wooden mail sorting boxes with large black and white labels: Personnel Division, Grain Division, Seed Division, and Marketing Division. Mr. Mbewe who looked in his late thirties was busy wiping dry tea cups with a white cloth when I entered his tiny office without knocking as the door had been wide open.
“Mr. Mbewe!” I said.
“Yes, Ba Tembo,” Mr. Mbewe replied still wiping his tea cups and saucers. “Mufunako ma stamps?” (Do you want stamps?)
“No, nati nimuuzeni. (I want to tell you) If you see a letter addressed to just “Tembo” in a woman’s hand writing, with no proper address or NAMBOARD Division, with a Mongu date stamp or Mwinilunga date stamp on the envelope, may be with no stamp. That letter might be mine.”
“Mwacita bwino kuniuza,”(It’s a good thing you told me) Mr. Mbewe said.
“I get so many letters like that. Are you expecting a letter from your home village in Lundazi?”
“No, No, Ba Mbewe,” I said excitedly. “This is a woman I met in Mongu but she is Kaonde from Northwestern Province. I am madly in love with her. I can’t sleep at night.”
“Ahhh!!!!” Mr. Mbewe froze drying the cup and slowly placed it down as his eyes brightened with a knowing smile. “So you will marry her?”
“Not yet. I will tell you more later. I am in a hurry. I have to rush to Kingstons”.
By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology