Back to the future

This last week has been eventful, to say the least. With the Patriotic Front winning the elections and Michael Sata taking over as President, the whole country has taken a deep breath and is waiting to see what is in store for Zambia in the next chapter of it's young life. There has been worldwide praise for the manner in which  President Rupia Banda has handed over power, and quite rightly so, but for those on the ground, the situation could easily have been very different.

For the longest time I used to tell myself how lucky we were (The Shamwana family), that we lived in Zambia and not some other African country, because if we had lived elsewhere, my father would have been summarily executed without trial, for his part in an attempted Coup in 1980. People would always remind me of this and tell me how grateful I should be to KK. Somehow as much as I understood this argument, it was still unconvincing, because fresh in my mind at the time, were the images of my fathers torture and the appalling conditions under which he was being incarcerated. Often we would go to Chimbokaila Prison to take him food only to be told that he is no longer there and no one was allowed to tell us where he had been moved to. My mum would then spend days trying to find out where he was. I remember her coming home many a time saying .. "Clive pack a bag we are driving to ......., apparently that's where they have taken your father.." So off we would go on yet another cross country trip in the hope of finding dad in good health. One trip took us to Lundazi, where in actual fact he was much happier because the prison was remote, there was less political pressure, but above all, it was less overcrowded. Then there was sitting down for hours and hours with my mum and brothers drafting and redrafting a letter to KK begging for my fathers life, after he had been sentenced to death. Not something I would wish on any sixteen year old boy. So yes, I am thankful for my fathers life, but surely we cannot accept such low expectations for our lives and must demand higher standards of human behaviour from our leaders than that. If we do accept such low standards we should not be surprised if we are consigned to the bottom of the pile forever.

While I think it is important that we pat ourselves on the back for seemingly getting through this transitional period unscathed, we need to take the time to really reflect on what is really going on behind the scenes, in the corridors and backrooms of power in our country. We must not accept mediocrity from our politicians and we must ask searching questions and demand real answers. We need to understand what has happened in the past to ensure that it doesn't happen again in the future.

So I suppose the reason I am writing this blog is to tell a part of my story, and how my life has been affected by past events in Zambia. It is far too difficult to find literature on Zambian history that isn't  told from the perspective of our colonial fathers, or the ruling party of the day. I will not try and put it in any kind of chronological order but will just tell the stories as they come to me, just as it was when I would sit for hours on end chatting about all manner of things with my father. Often I would ask about the 'Coup' and his time in prison. As painful as it was to hear some of the stories, they gave me a unique perspective of this country we live in, and of potentially what the powers that be are capable of doing. There is nothing quite like having your father thrown into prison to see who your friends really are. To this day I meet people who were my fathers 'so called' friends, who at best disappeared when he needed them most and who at worst were at the front of the queue plunging the dagger into his back. The tragic thing is that to this day they look me in the eye, shake my hand and tell me how much they supported my father. My dad had no ill feeling toward them, so why should I, but now I know the people who will not be watching my back.

My dad kept a diary while he was in prison, which was no mean feat as I am sure you can imagine. He would write on anything he could his hands on and then he would have to smuggle them out of the prison. So I have a whole collection of mismatched papers, journals, note pads etc. that make very interesting reading. My fathers writings cover all manner of topics, ranging from his personal feelings, to the daily goings on in the prison, to his thoughts on currents affairs and the politics of the day. I will quote from his diaries, to illustrate some of the challenges that he encountered during that period in prison. Hopefully they will also show just how far we still have to go as a country. Interesting times ahead for Zambia.


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