By Chilando D. Horrance
“The Crab Does Not Bite, It Is Its Handshake That Hurts” African proverb
When I was growing up in some little rural town in Central province, I kept asking myself why rich people thought nothing of poor people. I remember trotting to school from Lunchu [ some distance not to be trodden by the weak hearted] in Kapiri Mposhi everyday and dreaming that one day I will live in a big house like the ones I saw in Lusaka and Ndola. Like many other children from poor backgrounds, I dreamed of the day my mother would be relieved from the toil of her hands to being the queen of my empire, an empire that would be the pride and solace of the poor. What gave me these thoughts at such a young and tender age? I EXPERIENCED THE pain of being poor and marginalized, of not being counted, of being ignored by those who were privileged to have had more than they needed. These thoughts occupy other young people whose lives are a constant reminder of their dejection by a society that God created with a perfect purpose!
I remember going to look for a school place at Kabwe secondary school because my [parents could not afford to send me to boarding school]. Despite my good results, the headmaster chased me from his office like a rabid dog. Alas a large potty belied man who looked like he could barely carry his huge frame on his tiny legs, uncoiled himself from under the steering wheel of a Toyota Cresida, the type Ministers were driving at the time. A dull looking little boy presumably his son, lumbered after him. Out of envy or was it curiosity, I walked back slowly to the administration block like a dog that has smelled meat. The headmaster’s attitude immediately changed. He was jovial and respectful to this man though he definitely was younger by far, than the gray haired man I was chased from the office with. The two new comers were immediately admitted into the headmaster’s office. I sneaked to the window to see what really was happening. Maybe I could learn a trick or two on how to get the headmaster to talk to me. It turned out that the fat man was a politician and had come to find a school place for his son who had failed grade seven! The rest is anyone’s guess. The school place was offered with enthusiasm. I could feel blood screaming in my head. I was so furious I could have jumped into that room at that moment had a cold gentle hand not touched my shoulder. It was the old man and in a tender voice he said to me;
“It is not worth it child. We blamed the white man for keeping all the good things to himself, but at least he left for us something. Our own people have instead taken everything to themselves!”
These wise words stayed with me all the days of my youth: The extent of human greed and what human beings could do to fellow human beings. If you have slept out in the cold on an empty stomach wondering whether you would see the break of day, you will understand what I am talking about.
When I was doing my undergrad I came into contact with comrades whose ideals in life approached my own. Some of these colleagues like me ended up championing human rights and reminding the world about the inviolable dignity of mankind. We became part of a larger civil society of activists, democracy defenders, human rights advocates and feminists. It was a world that represented what we had believed in all along. However, years down the road, I began getting disillusioned. The greatest brains, the fiercest advocates turned out to be pretenders whose main interest was self preservation!! Many changed positions when it suited them! Why am I saying this? Civil society today, especially after the September 2011 elections have all joined the cut throat competition for government jobs. They have all abandoned their roles and have now become conformists. They have remained mute even when things clearly go wrong. Some of them have accepted jobs that they previously carpeted others over.
When the National Constitution Conference [NCC] was set up some civil society organisations made it a project to fight against it. They condemned the allowances that were being paid to the delegates. Alas today they are sitting on a body that was equally not well constituted [ at least in procedure] and are being paid five times what NCC delegates were getting [ZMK500,000 for NCC delegates compared to US$500 a day for the members of the Technical Committee]! What hypocrisy? Sometimes I have thought to myself that integrity exists only where there are no opportunities. When a carrot is dangled all that is thrown out the nearest window!
Some of our comrades or should I say former comrades in the struggle have been lucky enough to get into the high echelons of power. Like our other friends who found themselves in similar positions under previous regimes, they have cut ties with their old comrades under the most preposterous of pretexts. What is with power and privilege which makes people turn into zombies without conscience? Life is surely an intrigue of sorts. It is shameful really for civil society to burry their heads in the sand and ignore the very people they previously purported to have been representing. What has happened to those people? Have the poor disappeared suddenly? Are they telling me with the change of government the fight for human rights is over? Or are they telling me that their selfishness has finally gotten the better of their conscience and now they don’t care what happens to the Zambian masses who struggle for survival day in day out? While I appreciate the efforts the new government is making to respond to the needs of the people, I still feel that it needs the presence of a strong civil society in order for it to perform effectively. This is the standard requirement for a flourishing democracy; the presence of alternative centres power to provide horizontal accountability. A government by its nature is a closed circuit which is prone to intended and unintended excesses. Without civil society participation to galvanize local participation and to provide that important link between the people and their governors, there often is a danger of drifting away from the fundamental principles of good democratic governance. Therefore, for civil society in Zambia to just turn their faces away from their responsibilities is indeed hypocrisy of the worst kind.
The wise people of old once said “The Crab Does Not Bite, It Is Its Handshake That Hurts!” Posterity will surely judge you just like it judged those before you!