Thursday, October 29, 2009


When the Zambian lady teachers of my school heard that the prime minister would be making an official visit in the district and addressing a public rally at the civic centre in the town, they approached the headmaster for permission to attend the meeting. The headmaster gave permission without knowing that the ladies had a secret agenda. They wanted to demonstrate against certain discriminations that existed in the newly-introduced housing allowance rule. The political situation in Zambia was in turmoil and the Special Branch (secret police) was on the look-out for dissidents. Had the headmaster known the intention of the ladies, he would have advised them not to stick their neck out.

As I was pulling out my Nissan station wagon from my slot in the parking lot with the intention of going to the post office in the town, a number of Zambian ladies came running out of the staff room, shouting for a "lift". Four of them squeezed themselves in to the rear seat and one got into the front passenger seat. Only then I noticed the placards in their hands with the words "STOP DISCRIMINATION, GIVE HOUSING ALLOWANCE TO ALL" written in big black bold letters. As soon as they got into the vehicle, they started talking aloud excitedly among themselves in cibemba (pronounced 'chibaemba' which is the local language) and I could not follow what they were talking about.

Soon we came to the main junction where we had to cross the Kitwe-Mokambo main road and go straight to the town centre. There was a police officer on duty. Even though I stopped at the cross roads, he indicated to proceed. The town hall was within sight and the place was overflowing with people. As we came closer, in spite of the chattering in the car, I heard the singing of the Zambian national anthem through the loudspeakers and pulled over to the side of the road. I told the ladies not to get out until the singing was over and they complied with.

I was just about to pull out of the curb after the departure of my passengers when a police man appeared in front of my car apparently from nowhere. He approached me and told he was going to arrest me for not honouring the national anthem. I tried to explain to him that I stopped the car as soon as I heard the national anthem and my passengers did not get out until the singing was over, but he insisted that I should go with him to the police station immediately. I was wondering whether he saw the placards in the hands of the ladies but he did not make any mention of that. However he was quite adamant that I should accompany him.

I was worried a bit. It was true that I had not committed any offence, but the police station was the last place I wanted to go. I have heard of people being treated like dirt once you were in "custody" and harassed unnecessarily by some sadistic elements in the police force. I, who always tried to be on the right side of the law, was now being confronted by this miserable fellow in uniform for no reason at all. But there was no choice and I had to go with him. The police station was not very far, but I did not want to leave my car on the main road. So I asked the police man to accompany me while I drive to the parking lot at the station. As he was getting into the car a senior police officer approached us. He probably was taking a walk from the police station to the prime minister's meeting place. He came to us and asked what the matter was. The police man smartly saluted the officer and told him what my offence was. The officer asked me for an explanation and I told him exactly what happened except the matter of the placards which had no bearing on the story. After listening to me he talked briefly to the police man in cibemba and then turned to me and said “It is alright sir, you may proceed". I thanked the officer, heaved a great sigh of relief and let in the clutch so that I may put as much distance as possible between me and the prime minister's meeting place.