By Field Ruwe
I could go to prison just for the title; for dampening the spirit of commemoration, and yet I would gladly go. This is a title that befits the occasion. Google the world and see what I am talking about. We are at the very bottom of the totem pole stuck neck-deep in the primordial mud. We are too languid to use our intellect and figure out how to clamber out of the “dark continent.” The world is saying indolence is our virtue. It has turned us into bloodsuckers. The world is right.
“Yes it is,” quipped a cynic Dole.
I bumped into John Dole at the American independence celebrations at the Esplanade by the Charles River in Boston. I spotted him out of the crowd because of the T-shirt he wore. It bore the map of Zambia with words “Northern Rhodesia Worldwide” running across. He was a six-footer Caucasian with an indelible African sun tan, more like Ian Douglas Smith.
“This looks familiar,” I said, as I approached him.
“Yeah, this is Zambia as I would like to remember it,” he said. “Are you from there?”
“Yes,” I gladly replied.
“I don’t think much of Zambians, I can tell you that,” he said rather discourteously. “That’s why I proudly wear this T-shirt. It is the difference between black and white, you and me.”
“Have you been to Zambia lately?” I calmly asked.
“I just came back,” he replied. “It was a heartbreaking pilgrimage. For years I had wanted to return to my birth place, Chingola. I grew up in Twin Rivers next to Kabundi East. Do you know where that is?”
“Of course,” I replied. “I lived there.”
He continued: “I worked as a Safety Engineer in the mines. Together with other basungus, with the help of blacks, of course, we dug the Nchanga open pit in the 1950s. We toiled day and night like ants and created the second largest open cast mine in the world. We also built what became known as the cleanest town in the country. I mean it was clean, even the black compounds were well kempt with lawns and hedges well maintained and manicured.”
I knew where he was heading, I could tell from the sudden tense hush. When he lowered his voice I readied myself for the assault.
“It makes me upset to talk about Zambia,” he said. “I lived in Zambia up to 1970. When I felt unwanted I went to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and eventually ended up here. For years I yearned to return to my childhood, to Nchanga Mine Hospital where I was born. Friends who had been there warned me, but in January this year I went anyway. When I got there I openly wept, right in the middle of the town center. The town in which I was born was a heap of rubble. You guys have destroyed all our work—buildings, roads, everything white is deplorable—Chingola Primary School, the Vestra Cinema, Tennis Club, Nchanga Swimming Pool, Racquets Club, the cricket fields, rugby, everything. You’ve added nothing new of significance.”
As he spoke, my mind gazed out beyond Boston, across the Atlantic, to my country. I saw not only Chingola, but Chililabombwe, Kitwe, Mufulira, Ndola, Kabwe, Lusaka, Livingstone…I saw them, dilapidated structures; I saw broken windows, stained bathtubs and toilets—I saw broken souls; hungry, diseased—I saw people used to poverty because “that’s what God meant it to be”—I saw graves; I saw my beloved Zambia. With teary eyes I looked at Dole and allowed him to hit me with the words—to whip me; to flog me as hard as he could.
“Nchanga mine is a catastrophe,” he said in a raised voice. “You’ve turned it into a pyramid and allowed treasure thieves to loot and ransack you. What’s going on there is daylight mine-robbing. What is wrong with you people? What planet are you from? Are you all so damn you can’t see ticks are sucking your lifeblood?” He paused and for a second held his breath. “What the heck, it’s a waste of time talking to you. I mean all of you Zambians. Anyway, I had planned to spend a week in Chingola, but I decided to leave that very day. I tell you, another day I would have been arrested for assault because I was as mad as hell.”
He continued: “There was one Zambian who really pissed me off. He gave me the usual bull about white civilization taking hundreds of years. I told him to shut his dirty mouth and keep dozing under the mango tree. You all must do that, keep eating those rotten mangos on the ground and get the diarrhea you deserve.”
He shook his head. “My God you guys are lazy. If we, white people had remained in Chingola, we would have pumped some of the profits from copper into modern infrastructure and build some skyscrapers. Roads would be excellent and Chingola would be adorable. That’s the difference between black and white. Give both of us the Sahara, I’ll turn it into a paradise and you’ll die like a rat.”
He looked me in the eye. “Let me tell you something, as I boarded the plane back home the following day, I felt proud to be white. When I got here, I had this T-shirt made, and I wear it without shame.”
Suddenly fireworks rang in my ears. The sky lit up to the brilliant marriage of thunder and music by the Boston Pops Orchestra. John watched with gratification. He wanted me to see him celebrate the achievements of his race. I, on the other hand was battered; deflated. What I had thought would be a night of fun, turned out to be a disaster. I was trying very hard to bear humiliation without losing heart, but couldn’t, the celebration was overwhelming. The colors in the sky—aquas, lemons, chartreuse, orange, pink were captivating. They left me with failure as my undertaker. When the last cracker went off there was an afterglow of satisfaction in John’s eyes and those of many.
“That’s how you celebrate independence,” he said, beaming. “The people here are not only remembering their founding fathers, but are proud of their sacrifices and achievements. They are proud they have not let their ancestors down.”
I had about enough. I extended my hand to say bye because it was futile to be in Dole’s company—too painful. I did not have any defense mechanism. There was nothing to cling on to—not a state-of-the art hospital; not a research or technical university; not a car, bus, tractor, plough, television set, computer; not even a razor; none of my inventiveness.
“It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said.
As I walked away, I was thinking John Dole was lucky I was not King Cobra. He would have spat in his face: “You bulali (bloody) fool, you empty my pockets then you start saying fyo, fyo, fyo. How do you expect me to build with no money, eh? You imperialist, get out. Leave us alone to remember how we defeated you white people on October 24, 1964.”
Yes, it is on October 24 that freedom was attained, and laziness came naturally. No martyrs of sacrifice showed up; no daredevils or geniuses that could illuminate our country like Thomas Edison, and reveal its endless talent. Like poison ivy laziness warped our minds and condemned us to third-rate life. Yes, we sat under the Mango tree and let aliens pick our best fruit.
For all I care we might as well call October 24 the “National Lazy Day,” a day we take a rest from being lazy. What I am saying is that we do not deserve the Golden Jubilee; we have not earned it. Without achievement the world sees our Golden Jubilee as hailing laziness. On October 24, 2014, we shall be celebrating fifty years of free of responsibility and void of creativity. In other words, we shall be reveling irresponsibility and laziness.
Admittedly, freedom was hard work, but it is our accomplishments over time that we should be celebrating. The efforts of Kaunda, Nkumbula, Kapwepwe, and other freedom fighters should climax with contemporary achievements. That is what independence is all about. It is not only self-governance, but also self-sufficiency, and self-reliance.
To all energetic, gifted, intelligent, learned youthful Zambians reading this article, please hear me. Zambia with its abundant natural resources; with all its minerals, flowing rivers, fertile soil, and tourism potential has just been declared the poorest nation on earth with 86% of the population in poverty. If this does not hurt then there is something wrong with you.
Wherever you are, whatever you have achieved, whatever your ideology, pause for a moment and think about how you can salvage our country from shame. Start by taking this beautiful country away from old politicians. For fifty years they have suffered from chronic and contagious laziness and have been riding on other people’s backs like parasites. They are not in it for you, but for themselves. Many are thieves. Please take this country away from them and lead us on a Third World-to-first path.
I know I am flogging a dead horse, but it is worth trying. A few more strokes might just trigger a pulse at this very critical moment in our existence. Remember, it is in the next fifty years that you shall become extinct if you don’t get up and do something about it. Remove the wax in your ears and listen to your heart. Tap into your innate intelligence, the ingenuity that we all possess, and create an over-arching strategy that will save your relatives from dying of hunger and disease.
Reach out to your friends and peers in the country and form one body and one heart. Create a mosaic of talents and dare mighty things so you can taste and celebrate triumph every October 24. By doing so, you will be giving the color of your skin some glitter and respect.
You should have seen the sparkle in the eyes of the Americans as they the sung “God Bless America,” as a symbolic conclusion to their independence celebrations. They deserve it. It is in creative toiling that they have found the joy of achievement. Why not us? What have we done wrong? Why can’t we endure and enjoy hard work? God why? I can’t write any further, I just can’t…I can’t…
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, author, and a doctoral candidate. Learn more about him on his website www.aruwebooks.com. On it you shall access his autobiography, articles, and books. Contact him, blog, or join in the debate. ©Ruwe2012.