Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Stitched Up

Having served on the bench for many years, my dad obviously sent many people to prison for one crime or another. It was ironic therefore that one day he too would find himself in prison along side some of the people that he sent down.  Needless to say there were many rubbing their hands with glee when they saw the cell door slam shut behind him.

John J. was just such a prisoner, who some years earlier had been sentenced to15 years hard labour by my father. It didn't take John long to try to get his own back and was soon telling the prison authorities all manner of lies to get dad into trouble. When this strategy did not have the desired effect, John realised that if he was to succeed, he would need a 'friend' within the prison service who had a similar agenda.

As one would expect, my father was not making too many friends within the prison services, because he was continuously suing them for one thing or another. If it was not to do with their treatment related to his ongoing treason trial, it was to do with conditions in the prison and breaches of the penal code. One person who felt particularly aggrieved was LK, the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the prison. He felt humiliated and emasculated having just lost a court action brought against him by my father. The OIC told my father in no uncertain terms that he would do everything in his power to engineer a situation that would result in President Kaunda signing his death warrant.

The friendship between LK and John J was one borne out of a common desire to destroy a common enemy, Edward Jack Shamwana (EJS). As the proverb goes, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'.

The Allies hatched a plan that involved falsifying documents that were purported to have been authored and signed by EJS. In return for forging the documents the OIC promised John J. an early release from prison. John recruited another inmate George and between them they fabricated notes between my father and one of his co-accused inmates. These notes outlined a plan for their escape from the prison. The story in the notes was that my dad had stolen prison warder uniforms, and had made arrangements with  people outside the prison to assemble a brigade of soldiers. These soldiers were waiting in the mountains around Kafue and were ready to effect their rescue at any time.

Of course this caused great excitement amongst the prison and security services. Believing that an escape attempt was imminent, the 'coup' plotters were duly rounded up by the warders, stripped naked and shoved into a tiny cell together. The contents of the prison latrines were then emptied into the cell, with my dad and his co-accused left to stand knee deep in shit and piss for the next two days. My father did describe to me the horror of what those two days were like, but I won't be going into those details here, suffice to say that he believed that it was that experience that finally broke the spirit of one of his good friends.
Unfortunately for the OIC and his accomplices, when the documents were taken for closer scrutiny by the Security Services it was clear that it was not my fathers handwriting or his signature on the notes. So, without any other evidence to support their claims, the matter was dropped by the authorities. John and George were furious, especially as they believed that they had kept to their part of the bargain in forging the notes and now they were being told that there would be no early release, because their plan had failed. Angry and frustrated by the prison authorities, John and George wrote out a full statement of the events, in the misguided belief that they could take the prison authorities to court for breach of contract.

Needless to say the statements made by John and George did not get them anywhere, other than it resulting in them losing their remission. Although this experience was not nearly as bad as the torture EJS had to endure when he was first arrested (see future posts), this was a tough lesson to learn. However, it did reveal much to EJS about who was who in the prison. This was information that would prove vital for survival during the next seven years of his incarceration.

As the Chinese General Sun-tzu famously said, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

In Pursuit of Mediocrity

 I have lost count of how many times I have heard people lamenting as to why it is that we have come to accept that all things Zambian are of poor quality, or of very mediocre quality at best. The 'Proudly Zambian' campaign has really struggled to take root, as consumers still remain unconvinced that local products are of sufficiently high quality. I am sure we can all give examples of Zambian manufacturers who produce 'Export Quality' goods for shipping abroad and 'Inferior Quality' goods for local consumption. After all Zambians don't demand quality so why give it to them. Not satisfied with this state of affairs, when someone does actually produce or do something exceptional, rather than praise them and hold them up as good role models, they are castigated and branded as elitists and are swiftly brought down to size.

I had always wondered where this attitude came from until I was reminded by my dad what things were like growing up in Zambia in the days of the first Republic. UNIP policies had effectively hardwired mediocrity into the fabric of society.

You have to remember that one of the principle tenets of UNIPs objectives, was the eradication of the 'exploitation of Man by Man'. Thus the corner stone of governments policies were geared towards killing what Kaunda saw as 'the animal in man', which was responsible for the exploitative instincts in Humans. Self improvement, individualism and excellence were all elitist and had no place in his egalitarian vision. Elitism was a swear word that Kaunda did not want uttered, it was a negative quality that hampered human development and one which must be done away with at all costs. Initially, I am sure, UNIP's vision must have been justice and equality for all. Unfortunately the lack of any clear vision and rigorous planning, meant they were not able to translate policy into reality.

Take their education policy for example. UNIP quite rightly took the position that education should be the starting point in their fight against ignorance. In this fight, they embarked on an ambitious plan to build at least one secondary school in each district and to make primary education available to all Zambians. This was fantastic in theory, but how was it going to be achieved in practice? The first principle they followed was the offering of free education to everyone, even for those who could afford it. The second principle was that all education had to be given by Government in Government schools. The fact that UNIP had no idea of what the costs of such a system would be, as well as having little understanding of what the impact would be of taking over all the private schools in the country, the policies would ultimately destroy our education system. 

A bunch of newly built schools, the policy of Zambianisation and the taking over of all private schools, was inevitably going to mean the need for a huge number of new teachers to satisfy the demand. The Problem was that existing teacher training colleges could not churn out enough teachers to staff all the schools. Government was then forced to use pupil teachers in all parts of the country. The loss of experienced missionary teachers who were once willing to teach in missionary schools, at lower than Government salaries, now had to be replaced by poorly trained lay teachers on higher salaries. Worse still, the money that should have been spent on building new schools and teacher training colleges or paying for teaching materials, was diverted to the totally unnecessary and unproductive exercise of acquiring mission schools up and down the country.

Instead of Government working with the Missionary Societies who had been running the missionary schools successfully for seventy years, they, in their infinate wisdom, were determined to take over well run schools, so that they could clip their colonial wings. It seems that it was more important to eradicate any vestige of our colonial history, than educate the people for the obvious challenges that lay ahead for a young Zambia.

Kaunda will no doubt say that it was the desire to give every child the same kind of education, in the same kind of school, so that no one could claim to have had better, or worse, opportunities than the next person. The desire for some kind of national egalitarianism however, did not account for the fact that we are all individuals, with individual talents that cannot be lumped together and that need to be nurtured differently. In a misguided attempt to attain some common level of achievement, by necessity Kaunda had to set the common level so low, so as to be able to accommodate the least academically gifted in the country.

Ah, I hear you say, but UNIP must have had a plan to harness all the obvious talent that Zambia had on offer. After all they could take advantage of such venerable establishments as Munali Boys and Chipembi Girls. Getting into Munali Boys and being a 'Munalian', was something of pride and was synonymous with high academic achievement. The same was true for girls getting into Chipembi Secondary School. Like Undi Secondary school, set up by the colonial administration, Munali and Chipembi were fast becoming the envy of many of our African neighbours.  The Old boys and girls of these schools had carried the flag on many world fora and had acquitted themselves with distinction wherever they went. It was their achievements that would encourage other Zambians to reach greater heights and give promise of greater things to come for Zambia. But Far from being beacons and examples of what the future of our education system could be, KK, still intoxicated with the idea of egalitarianism, decided such schools as Munali and Chipembi were elitist and were undermining the fabric of society. They too had to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. The Board of Governors was duly abolished, the science laboratories soon ceased to operate, the once lively library shrank, the swimming pool went green, the lovely school grounds were reduced to goat tracks. Multiply this picture nationwide, to include schools far less luckily endowed than Munali and you get the national picture. Despite the Governments grand plan, relatively few new schools were actually built, the quality of teaching in most of the existing schools declined and as a result the quality of education countrywide suffered.

The same thing happened to our health services, where the principle of free medical attention was the goal. KK's government duly abolished all private medical aid societies with all their assets taken over by Government, without paying any compensation to its former members. What we know today as Maina Soko Hospital in Woodlands, was built and paid for by the members of a private medical aid society. This well equipped hospital was seized by Government and turned into a Military hospital for the exclusive use of soldiers and political leaders. UNIP was creating a new class of elite, a dependent class of elites that didn't even pay their way. Indeed it was the taxpayer who was paying the political leaders medical bills in better hospitals than were available to the general public. In fact it was even commonplace for leaders to go overseas for treatment at taxpayers expense, when your average Zambian saw loved ones suffering in ill equipped and poorly staffed hospitals. Any discussion that aimed at allowing those who could afford to pay for their treatment was laughed out of hand and was derided as displaying symptoms of corrupting capitalism. It was clear that egalitarianism only extended so far, because what was good for the goose was not offered to the gander

It seems that what UNIP was really saying, was that if he couldn't treat anyone for free, because there were no drugs in the hospitals, or if he couldn't educate every child for free, due to lack of school places or teachers, then no one was going to treat or educate the Zambian people, even if they were willing to pay for it. We should all go down together with the sinking ship.  However, just like on the Titanic, Kaunda's ship also had life rafts, but also like the Titanic the SS Kaunda didn't have enough life rafts to go around. So unless you were on the Captains manifest, you had to fend for yourself in the ocean of life.

My father was very clear with his views on the subject and wrote the following in his journals:
  "...UNIP feels it must exert a price from all those whose education has been paid for by Government. UNIP demands excessive loyalty to it and unquestioning obedience to its dictates. once again we are back, like a musical rondo to the theme that only those who are party men will get the highest paid jobs, in preference to the independent minded, even though they may not be the best qualified for the job. From there it is easy to see that it is not what you know but who you know. A built-in mediocrity has developed and entrenched itself. It is normal human nature that mediocrity will appoint mediocrity for fear of being displaced. The mediocrity soon becomes the establishment...."

Ultimately the eradication of the 'exploitation of man by man' came to mean the dismantling of everything that was good about our education and health systems. This was replaced by poor quality and mediocrity, all fully endorsed and enshrined in Government policy and dictates. The leveling of the playing field was actually the dumbing down of everyone to the lowest common denominator. Legislation dismantling our education and health services, meant that mediocrity was well and truly institutionalised.

So while Kaunda may have found the gene for mediocrity and had it surgically implanting it into our psyche, we can no longer continue to use this as an excuse. Times have moved on and we must take individual responsibility for what happens next. However it is vital that we learn the lessons of the past, so as to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. If we are to keep the Genie out of the bottle, we are going to have to continue to hold our current leaders up to ever greater levels of scrutiny.

There are encouraging signs that Zambians are finally beginning to recover from the 'fug', or hangover, after decades of  intoxication from the 'Party and its Government'. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Fear From the Madding Crowd


From a very early age I remember being told by mum, never to repeat anything I heard at home to anyone outside the family, because careless talk got you into trouble. Everyone was at pains to avoid giving any kind of political opinion openly, but when you forgot yourself and started to say something 'controversial' in public, a good friend would say "Ssh, Bwembya is behind you, he's a Government informant". It was commonplace for dad to come home in the evening and over dinner recount a story of how he was called to this Police station or that Prison, to represent a client who had been ' picked up ' because the opinions he expressed were contrary to those of the party.  Whispering in dark corners and big ears straining to overhear conversations, became a part of daily life. 'Shush, Shush, Shush' was such a part of everyday speech, that the State Intelligence Services and informants in general became known as 'ShuShuShu'. The joke became that if you wanted to get a message to KK, you didn't bother writing a letter to State House, you just spent a couple hours at Lusaka golf club and said your peace. There were enough 'friends' and straining ears around eager to report any interesting conversations to State House, hoping to curry favour with KK.

The Mulungushi Reforms and the Matero Declaration was a watershed, after which the State controlled 80%  of Zambia's economy. This meant that ones ability to obtain jobs and promotions depended less and less on merit and more and more on ones blind commitment to the party. With every passing day, the oppressive control by Government began permeating every aspect of the daily lives of Zambians. It soon became necessary to produce your party membership card, your National registration card or your voters card before being allowed access to markets, to board buses or to jump onto trains. My dad remembers that in the colonial days they were required to carry their Chitupa's (Identification Books), and that they took great pleasure in burning them whenever they could. They burned at the stake of the colonial pyre. How quickly those days were forgotten as, 'The Party and its Government' took total control of Zambia, demanding obedience from its citizens. Zambians were left in no doubt that their freedoms and their livelihoods depended on their loyalty to the party. This was just part of KK's insatiable demand to make everyone become uncompromisingly committed to His objectives. It is no wonder then that as many as one in five Zambians were either directly employed by State Intelligence or they were informers for State Intelligence.

Governments are always looking for someone to blame for their failures and for KK, the One-Party State and State or emergency provided the perfect vehicle with which to bring those that were considered enemies of the state to book.  The sky rocketing food prices and resulting riots had to be blamed on someone. Corrruption and bribery was on the increase, and something tangible had to be done to appease the people, who were becoming ever more disenchanted with their lot. Clearly the millers, among others, were all greedy entrepreneurs that had to be investigated.  The fact that the Government had removed food subsidies was irrelevant, they took the view that private enterprise should be 'good Comrades' and should absorb the additional cost of production themselves, all for the good of the Nation! 

In his diaries, my dad recounts a press conference on the 20th February 1988, during which President Kaunda made serious charges of corruption against senior figures, including parastatal chiefs, whom he accused of among other things of aiding and abetting the black marketeers. In what was seen as a serious crackdown on rampant corruption, President Kaunda dismissed  four parastatal chiefs ' In the national interest ', he suspended eleven others, and a further twenty were under investigation. In addition, the Special Investigations Team on Economy and Trade, SITET, was charged with the task of seizing all businesses accused of dealings in the black market. On the first day alone, following these pronouncements, sixty-six businesses were seized and their owners declared Enemies of the State. The President gave instructions that the businesses and all their assets must be seized, that the individuals themselves should have their property confiscated, and that they should be summarily detained if they were Zambians and deported if they were aliens. Police and paramilitary were detailed to guard these business premises while a search was done for cash and hoarded goods. This was all against the background of an earlier scandal at the Central Bank, in which the Deputy Governor among others were accused of various irregularities. They were dismissed and investigations ordered, but ultimately the public was none the wiser and no satisfactory solution resulted. Yes corruption was rife and controls had to be put in place to manage this. SITET had a role to play and indeed had many successes, but in the end it simply became yet another political tool to use against those seen as anti-Government.

What did we really expect? Did we really think that there could be any creativity, freedom of thought and positive exchange of ideas in an atmosphere is distrust, fear and overbearing State control. Party loyalty and not merit were the deciding factors when appointments were being handed out by KK. The solution of appointing preferred government figures, who had no skills to do the jobs they were being asked to do, could only have one result, failure. The appointees were all too aware that Kaunda would replace them without notice, if he decided that their loyalty was waning. So what did many of these parastatal chiefs do in this atmosphere of fear and recrimination? Of course, they made hay whilst the sun was still shining. Inevitably the parastatals ran inefficiently at best, and the substantial business empires that were confiscated from private hands collapsed, and the resulting loss of jobs and revenue was a National disaster.

Press Conferences have become events to be feared by those already in high flying government positions and events to look forward to by those hopeful of an appointment into the higher echelons of power. It is amusing to think that one of the first purchases made by top government officials and parastatal chiefs when they took office, was that of a radio, to be kept in the office in readiness for the dreaded press conference. Dad used to say that even in the prisons, detainees, political prisoners and those on death row were huddled around a radio when there was a press conference, hoping for a pardon or for their sentences to be commuted. It seems times have not changed that much in this regard. Press Conferences today are as much soap operas as they were in KK's day, and as compelling listening as many of the popular TV soap operas and probably draw more listeners and viewers. I wonder what effect this has on business productivity during these pronouncements, after all life seems to come to a halt as all ears and eyes are glued to TV sets and radios  up and down the country. 

Are we witnessing the dawn of a new era, or is it just Deja vu?

Ssh.......Don't Kubeba.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hung By His Own Petard

 Eggs and Bacon for breakfast every day.

When we look at the strides that we have made in our political freedoms in the last decade, it is easy to forget and equally hard to believe, how bad things were in 1980, when my father, Edward Jack Shamwana, along with, Goodwin Yoram Mumba, Valentine Shula Musakanya, Deogratius Syimba and others were arrested and charged with planning a Coup d'etat against the Kaunda lead Government of the day.

After all at Independence, Zambia had inherited a strong economy, with foreign exchange reserves in excess of US$500 million. During this honeymoon period we had a multiparty political system and President Kaunda was making all manner of promises to the Zambian people, one of which was to provide every Zambian with an 'Egg and Bacon Breakfast', everyday! Another promise that he made was that he would never make Zambia a One Party State. Ten short years later the economy was in tatters, the country was billions of Dollars in debt, workers strikes were commonplace and far from having eggs and bacon every morning for breakfast the majority of Zambians were lucky if they enjoyed meat once a month. To top it all off, Zambia was no longer a democracy, but was now a One-Party State, a dictatorship. At Independence our Coat of Arms proudly declared 'One Zambia, One Nation', but before long kids were running around the school playgrounds laughingly chanting 'One Zambia, One Nation.....No Eggs, No Bacon!!' Everyone was asking themselves in disbelief, 'How had we fallen so far so quickly?'

I suppose the short answer is that 'Power is Sweet' and once tasted, it is not easily or willingly relinquished. One begins to believe that they alone have the answers to all a countries problems, despite evidence to the contrary.

Some that have criticised Edward Jack Shamwana and the other coup plotters, have said, why did they not just go and talk to President Kaunda and express their concerns. After all he was continually preaching love and forgiveness, and he would surely welcome criticism and embrace change with open arms. Some of those espousing this view later found to their cost that as soon as ones personal views or interests came into conflict with the party line, then there would only be one winner.. the Party.

Lets look at the facts;

The last Governor of Northern Rhodesia, Sir Evelyn Hone declared a limited State of Emergency to quel some religious disturbances in the north of Zambia, known as the 'Lumpa Uprising'. For one reason after the other, Kaunda extended the state of emergency to cover the whole country, when he became President .   In 1967 after acrimonious party elections, numerous people not entirely sympathetic to the President were elected to the Central Committee, and fearing he was losing control of the party, Kaunda 'Verbally' resigned as President. The reason given was that the party had been divided along tribal lines and that he would not lead a party based on those principles. In actual fact this was just a ploy to call the dissenters bluff and rest back power of the party. Keep in mind, UNIP was preparing to contest the first elections since independence and could ill afford any party discord. Kaunda's verbal, and not written resignation, was a calculated move and only done after getting legal advice from the Attorney General (AG) James Skinner. The AG had advised Kaunda, that a verbal resignation was a 'nullity', in other words, something which may be treated as nothing, as if it did not exist or never happened. This had the desired effect and Kaunda was gratefully reinstated as President. With an indefinite State of Emergency in place, which nobody could review, Kaunda was able to imprison political opponents at will. This was an invaluable tool in re-establishing his control over UNIP and tightening his grip on the country.

Having averted this power struggle in UNIP, Kaunda then saw his Government lose many seats to the opposition parties in the General elections of 1968.   Kaunda announced the Nationalisation of many businesses (Mulungushi Economic Reforms) in an attempt to get the economy under control. However this failed to have the desired effect, and Kaunda needed something bigger to do the trick. KK came up with the Matero declaration, which saw the nationalisation of the mines. The low world copper prices and the failure of the parastatals to operate efficiently conspired against Kaunda's government and the poor economic situation deepened. The growing dissatisfaction with this state of affairs saw the rise of  opposition parties. There was the ANC led by Nkumbula, then there was UP led by Mundia, and in 1970, Simon Kapwepwe having resigned as Vice President, formed the UPP. Simon Kapwepwe was severely beaten up, and after some UPP members retaliated, KK moved quickly to ban the UPP and imprisoned its leaders. This only served to drive members of the banned parties to support the ANC. UNIP was in disarray, and there was no doubt that UNIP was destined to lose the 1973 elections.

Holding on to Power.

Kaunda could see the writing on the wall and for some time had been making far reaching political changes to ensure he kept a hold on power. Previously any major changes to the constitution had to be referred to a national referendum, but in 1969 Kaunda ended all referenda. It was the abolition of the referendum law which enabled President Kaunda to declare on the 13th December 1972 that Zambia had become a One-Party State. Even when the Chona Commission ( appointed to determine the type of One-Party state), recommended that the Presidency should be limited to two five year terms and that there should be a constitutional review every 10 years, to determine whether Zambians still wanted a One-Party State, President Kaunda rejected both suggestions out of hand. Clearly these stipulations would stand in the way of his march to dictatorship.

On one trip to Nigeria in 1978 President Kaunda was at pains to say that he was not afraid of competition or challenge. He said he did not mind if Simon Kapwepwe or Harry Nkumbula challenged him for the Party Presidency. When however Kapwepwe and Nkumbula announced their intention to contest the  presidency, the UNIP constitution was literally changed overnight. Kapwepwe could not satisfy the new requirement of being a party member for five years (he had only rejoined UNIP three years before) and  Nkumbula was outmaneuvered by introducing a new rule that said each candidate needed the signatures of 200 delegates from each province to back his candidacy. Chiluwe, a third candidate, was beaten up to within an inch of his life, which meant that he was in no state to submit his nomination.

When President Chiluba changed the constitution making former President  Kaunda ineligible to stand as a Presidential candidate in the 2001 elections, there was quite rightly widespread condemnation both locally and Internationally. Changing the constitution willy-nilly, to suit the agendas of a few, is a very dangerous precedent that we have unfortunately become accustomed  to in Zambia. However, the irony of the whole situation was not lost on those that remember the modus operendi of the Kaunda regime.

Ultimately Kaunda was 'Hung by his own petard', he was the victim of his own schemes. A lesson that all our leaders should learn.

Friday, 30 September 2011