If Zambia has a heart, it beats for the rich; not for me. I was born with no silver spoon in my mouth therefore I have to fend for myself. I have been toiling since I was little because my papa earns peanuts.
He is not schooled. He can’t read; therefore he can’t write. He is a house servant; cook; messenger; trench digger; street sweeper; office orderly; garbage collector; farm laborer; factory worker; fisherman; charcoal burner; peddler. We live in the shanty.
I was born with nothing; so were we all. No, I mean literally—no blanket to wrap me in; no napkins; no baby hoodie to keep my head warm, but rags. There are no pictures of me as a baby because my papa could not afford a camera. But I saw the same baby rags passed on to my younger brother. I was told they were donated to me on the day I was born.
That’s me in the picture. I’m called patches because I have only a single pair of shorts. My mother mends them in rainbow colors and when she can’t afford a needle and cotton, I walk with my bums exposed. I had no shoes and my feet are scaly, I use a stone to smoothen them.
When I was seven, my mother took me to school for the first time. I sat on the floor; we all sat on the floor and sang “a,b,c,d,e,f,g – h,i,j,k,l,m,… and learned how to write my name. I completed Grade 7 and failed. I repeated and again failed. I was on the street.
I became depressed and smoked dagga; drank kachasu; chibuku; sniffed petrol and was always stoned. I stole and landed in jail; I joined my father as a digger; became mini bus conductor; a driver; carpenter; mechanic. Now I am a street vendor. When I don’t make any money I sleep hungry. I weep and say Zambia has no heart for me.
How about you? Well, as for me, my papa has some education. He reads the Bible in our language in church and can write his name. He is a clerk; civil servant; miner; foreman; bus inspector, police officer, forest ranger; cashier; carpenter; bricklayer; factory worker and at times captain—supervisor. I live in the compound.
I actually passed Grade 7 and went to secondary school but failed to go to college. I tried to look for a job, but failed. I joined the vendor on the street. When I didn’t make any money I slept hungry. I wept and said Zambia has no heart for me.
That’s me in the picture; I was angry. When Chiluba told me it was not my fault but KK’s, I agreed with him. I quit UNIP and joined MMD. Chiluba, Sata, Nsanda, Wina, Mwaanga, Chitala, Akashambatwa, Mwila, Nawakwi…they convinced me that life would be far much better without KK.
When the price of mealie-meal went up, Sata said this is the time, let’s go boys and show him. We evaded Cairo Road and looted the shops. We fought the police. Some of my friends lost their lives on that day. The guy in the picture below is my friend. I am behind the smoke and fire. Can you see me?
We chanted: “Kuya bebele!” And I felt better. I attended MMD rallies; we attended en mass and lifted our “hour” fingers and knew KK was as good as gone. Yes, he was gone. They say anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
Chiluba was our new leader. The future was as bright as the stars, even brighter when he gave us access to State House. Do you know Chiluba opened a Vendors Desk just for us and appointed Josiah Chishala as our deputy minister? Can you imagine that? Our street business became known as “Office of the President.”
Name one country on this planet in which a president turns peddlers into VIPs. We took over the streets. I told my young brother to leave school and join me on the street. He did and so did countless of friends.
God had answered my prayers. There were rumors of small loans. Chiluba was going to put money in my pocket. I imagined myself owning a shop, driving a car, and building a house.
But for ten years I waited on the same street. One day I had a nightmare that Chiluba was no longer president.
“Tell me I’m still dreaming,” I said when I woke up.
“No, you are not,” my friend said. “The Vendors Desk is gone.”
“He was just kidding.”
“You mean our sacrifice was for nothing.”
“Yes my friend. It was for zero.”
We asked president Mwanawasa about our “office.” He told us to go hell in a polite way. We left MMD and joined Sata’s Patriotic Front. We liked what we were hearing from Sata even though we knew he was once Chiluba’s friend. He came to our street and told us he was the only one who could make our lives better.
He said Mwanawasa couldn’t. He was a cabbage. We believed and liked him a lot. We were hopeful that one day we would win. We became even more hopeful when he promised to put money in our pockets in 90 days if he became president.
We became ecstatic. That’s me in the picture chanting “Donchi Kubeba.” I put my life on the line. I was prepared to die for him.
Ten years of running battles with the police came to an end on September 23, 2011. We won. I wept when I saw Sata being sworn in outside the High Court. I was crying because in 90 days my life would completely change. My dream of a shop, a house, and car would become true.
I will never forget that day. We evaded bars and restaurants and drunk like hell. We spent all our money because we were sure we would be rich in 90 days.
When October passed, my friends began to complain.
“Give Sata a chance,” I told them. “He’s a man of his words. He’s working on it. In 60 days you’ll see how life will change.”
November, December, January, passed. My pockets were still empty. I asked my friends if they had received anything from him. They all said no. My night sweats were back.
I was getting worried that perhaps I had been fooled again—that Sata had lied to me. When February passed my fears became true. It was a blatant lie. I was the same vendor I had always been. In my private moment I wept and said Zambia has no heart for me.
Weep no more. Zambia has a big heart that beats for YOU. Zambia knows that you’ve sacrificed your life because you love her and she loves you back. You are the flag-bearer and for that Zambia has given you the power to move mountains. You removed Kaunda and Rupiah and put Chiluba and Sata in office. You can do it again.
Year after year politicians like Sata treat you like dirt; sheep; slaves; servants; brooms; mops. They call you “grassroots” because you are at the bottom, buried in the ground where no one cares about you. They think you are dull and poor and therefore desperate. You are easy to please, use, and recycle.
You suck it up to the fat cats and do all the dangerous and dirty work. They eat the fruits of your toil. They don’t care whether you live or die. You are just a kaponya, so they say. A kaponya fights and dies with no ceremony.
Sata and all those like him who engage in the politics of false promises do not understand the pain they cause you and your family. They are selfish. They do not know that all you need from them is a better life, that’s all. You are a street vendor because you do not want to suffer. You do not want to steal or beg. You want to feed your children.
Tell Sata “enough is enough. I’ll not be lied to.” Next time he wants support from you don’t shout the most useless and meaningless slogan “Donchi Kubeba,” shout “show me the money!” Yes, tell him that. Tell him you deserve affordable life—food, health care, water, and sanitation. Tell him that “my daughter in the picture needs a good meal and a good education.”
Your children should go to school from Grade 1 to Grade 12 without being failed by the government. The Ministry of Education should open community colleges in the areas where you live. You and your children should receive free tuition for courses such as computers, technical drawing, mechanics, languages, business and lifestyle. That way your children will be educated, and self-reliant. They will look after you in old age.
Don’t be a poor, hungry PF cadre, shouting slogans on an empty tummy. Be a proud Zambian father, mother, brother, sister, who can wipe tears from this beautiful face. Put an end to lies and selfishness! Zambia’s heart beats not for the few, but for all.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012