By Roy Clarke
‘It must be time for the news,’ said Sara. ‘Turn on Muvi TV.’
As the picture on our ancient Supersonic came into fuzzy focus, we were presented with two rows of men, facing each other in sullen confrontation. In the foreground stood a line of soldiers, guns at the ready, and pointing at an opposing line of thin and starving workers, dressed in rags. Behind them was an ugly black entrance to a mine, just big enough to take a small railway line down to the depths of hell. Over the top of entrance was written Colonial Mine.
‘Good God!’ I exclaimed, ‘What’s going on? Is this Afghanistan? Or the Americans bringing democracy to Iraq?’
‘Worse than that,’ said Sara grimly, ‘This looks more like labour relations at one of our mines. They’re probably conducting wage negotiations.’
‘What?’ I gasped. ‘Conducted by a three star general in full ceremonial uniform?’
‘That must be the Military Attaché of the Imperial Power,’ explained Sara.
As we spoke the Military Attaché opened his attaché case and pulled out a pile of pieces of cardboard all connected by string, took hold of two sticks and held them high, and, hey presto! suddenly there appeared a cardboard puppet.
‘The Imperial Power never speaks directly to us,’ explained Sara, ‘they always speak through one of their local puppets.’
‘What’s the puppet’s name?’ I wondered.
‘Do puppets have names?’ she chuckled. ‘He’s just one of the nameless members of the Puppet Front. He’s probably the Minister for Starvation Wages.’
‘But where does he come from?’ I persisted.
‘From the Puppet Factory,’ laughed Sara. ‘That’s where they all come from. The first thing any Imperial Power does is to set up a Puppet Factory. Then they bow to the puppets they have manufactured for themselves, and call them the Puppet Front.’
Now the Military Attache bent down and whispered something into the ear of his personal Puppet, who then spoke with borrowed ferocity to the hapless starving miners. ‘You useless donkeys,’ began the captive Puppet Fraud, ‘you show no gratitude. Your Beloved Puppet Fuhrer is working so hard to find more investors that he has had to double his own salary. Therefore there is no money to pay you more!’
‘He’s calling them donkeys,’ I protested. ‘But he’s the one who looks like a donkey!’
‘Some people can’t recognise their own inadequacies,’ explained Sara. ‘Instead they project their own inadequacies onto other people.’
At last one starving skeleton plucked up courage and shouted at the Puppet Fraud, ‘We want our housing allowance!’
As the Military Attache again whispered in Puppet’s ear, the Puppet shouted back ‘You donkeys do not need houses, you’ve always lived in kraals!’
‘We want transport money!’ shouted another.
‘This is a Christian Nation! The Lord gave donkeys four legs for their own transport!’
‘We want protective clothing!’
‘God gave you donkeys a thick skin for protection!’
‘We want the minimum wage! We were employed as miners, not donkeys!’
‘The Imperial Experts are the miners,’ sneered Puppet Fool, ‘you were hired as donkeys. Try reading your employment contract.’
‘The Imperial Experts have no skills,’ shouted the angry miners, as the Military Attache continued to busily chew the ear of the Puppet, and the soldiers levelled the barrels of their rifles at the ungrateful mob of miners.
Now the Puppet assumed a very serious and offended expression. ‘Do not insult the brotherly love between our two countries. Our friends have come here to help you. They have certificates in carpentry, drilling, digging, welding and escaping from prison. Others have diplomas in whipping and shooting.’
‘Just give us the money!’
‘However,’ continued Puppet Farce, ‘my Imperial brother and I have discussed your plight and we are prepared to be generous. We have agreed between the two of us, and on your behalf, that if you go back to work immediately we are prepared to forget your previous bad behaviour of refusing to work for nothing. Of course we shall have to fire the ringleaders.’
‘Just give us enough to feed our children!’
‘Only education can help your children. In this regard, I am please to inform you had my Imperial brother has also intimated to me that the Empire is planning to build a university in Lusaka where your sons and grandsons can learn drilling and digging. Then your sons and grandsons will become Mining Experts, and the Imperial Experts can go back to home, and this mine will be yours forever. Your own land will finally be yours!’
‘This mine is dangerous,’ shouted one brave skeleton. ‘At least pay us danger money!’
‘This mine is very safe,’ retorted Puppet Frantic. ‘I’m told by the mine manager that there have never been more than ten deaths in any one week!’
But as he spoke there was a rumbling sound from below. Then the ground began to sink under Puppet Fright and his platoon of shivering soldiers. With no further warning, and very suddenly, they all disappeared into a large hole in the ground, leaving behind a cloud of rising dust. The miners looked over the edge of this instant precipice, and crossed themselves earnestly, thanking the Lord for their own deliverance from this dreadful collumity.
‘It’s not just us,’ said one miner sadly, ‘the entire country is on the edge of disaster.’
‘I suppose,’ said another, ‘that we’ll all go to jail for this.’
Now the TV screen was suddenly filled with the seriously sleepy face of Comatoze Mwanza. ‘I hope you enjoyed our Muvi Historical Documentary on the Miners’ Riots of 1947. Standby for the news, which follows shortly.’
‘I hope you didn’t think that the documentary was part of tonight’s news!’ laughed Sara.
‘Of course not,’ I replied. ‘I realised immediately it was ancient history.’
‘History,’ said Sara, ‘has a habit or repeating itself.’
‘History,’ said Sara, ‘has a habit or repeating itself.’