By Roy Clarker
Sara and I were having a quiet drink on the veranda when round the corner stepped a smartly dressed young man. ‘Mabvuto!’ I exclaimed, as I shook his hand, and Sara rose to hug her long-lost cousin.‘Where have you been? Haven’t seen you for ages! What happened to you?’
‘I’ve been in prison,’ he admitted.
‘Good gracious!’ exclaimed Sara. ‘What did you do?’
‘I did five years for stealing a tube of toothpaste from Spar.’
‘Did you really steal it?’ Sara asked severely.
‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘I was going for yet another job interview, and I thought that if only I could clean my teeth properly I would stand a better chance.’
I thought back to the long sad story of Mabvuto’s education. After we had helped him through secondary school and Yunza, he just couldn’t find a job. And now it had come to this.
‘Have a beer,’ I said, ‘and tell us all about it.’
‘I was sent to Most Marvellous Democracy Jail,’ he exclaimed.
‘Hah!’ Sara scoffed. ‘I thought jails were run like nasty little dictatorships, not democracies.’
‘The idea of the MMD jail,’ explained Mabvuto, ‘was that we should be educated towards more democratic behaviour. So we were allowed to elect the governor and jailers from amongst ourselves, and they ran the administration.’
‘So if it was really democracy,’ Sara wondered, ‘why didn’t you all vote for your freedom?’
‘Even in a democracy,’ explained Mabvuto, ‘you have to keep to the constitution. Freedom comes with responsibility. Voting was the only freedom we were allowed.’
‘Is that what we mean by democracy?’ I wondered.
‘You may ask,’ he laughed. ‘But it did mean that because our governor and jailers were elected by us, they had to serve our interests. Otherwise we would vote them out. They had to put food on the table, medicine in the clinic, books in the library and money in our pockets.’
‘And did it work out like that?’
‘By the time I arrived,’ said Mabuto. ‘the MMD had been in power for twenty years. The governor was siphoning off our food money and the prisoners were starving. We were making maize bags but not being paid anything, and there were no medicines or books.’
‘Twenty years! Why did the prisoners keep re-electing them?’
‘The jailers were the only ones who knew how to count, and they counted the vote.’
‘So what did you do?’
‘We started our own party, the Prison Fraternity. As the only one who had been to Yunza, I secretly taught other prisoners how to count. So at the next election we were ready for them!’
‘And did the PF win?’
‘Of course. Once we could check the counting then we won by a landslide!’
‘And what did the PF promise the prisoners?’
‘We were promised that within ninety days we would all have more money in our pockets and more food in our bellies. And our new governor also announced that he was allergic to corruption. How we all cheered!’
‘And what about you, Mabvuto? Did the new governor appoint you to be one of the jailers?’
‘Unfortunately not,’ replied Mabvuto sadly. ‘I was disqualified because my father was not born jail, and because I was not normally resident in jail. Because of this I was regarded as a foreigner.’
‘And did the new administration keep its election promises?
‘None of them, except that there was some action on corruption. All the previous jailers were locked up and charged with stealing.’
‘But how was that done? Surely you don’t have courts in jail?’
‘No, of course not,’ laughed Mabvuto. ‘So instead the governor set up his own tribunals, commissions of inquiry and kangaroo courts. The whole prison became one big witchhunt, with everybody accusing everybody else of having been involved in the previous plunder.’
‘But eventually the witchhunt ended when they ran out of suspects?’ suggested Sara.
‘Strangely, no,’ laughed Mabvuto. ‘After they had finished identifying all the earlier MMD thieves they started on themselves, pointing fingers at each other!’
‘Ha!’ I laughed. ‘Like a pig eating her own piglets!’
‘Exactly!’ laughed. ‘You see, in prison the spoils are quite small. So one gang of jailers are always trying to gang up on another jailer so they can throw him in the cells and steal his spoils.’
‘But why wasn’t the governor doing anything about this chaos? I thought you said he was allergic to corruption?’
‘The continuing corruption aggravated his allergy so terribly that he had to spend most of his time in the Prison Fraternity clinic,’ explained Mabvuto.
‘So he didn’t know what was going on?’ I suggested.
‘Worse than that. After they saw how sick his allergy had made him, they began the struggle for the succession. Each of our jailors wanted to be the next governor, so each was busy accusing the others of theft, hoping to be the only surviving candidate after all the others were fired and locked in the cells.’
‘So how did it all end?’
‘I don’t know,’ he laughed. ‘I was released some months ago, before it all ended.’
‘So what are you going to do now?’
‘Let me show you something,’ he said as he stood up and walked round to the front of the house and pointed proudly to a brand new red Mercedes S600. ‘I am now a prison graduate,’ he declared. ‘I have finally found out how the world works. So I have gone into politics.’
Original posting is found here