Soon after a robbery at my previous residence where we had stayed for more than 14 years, we shifted to one of the mine flats in the Top Shop area. These flats did not have any servant's quarters. I considered it as a good excuse for getting rid of Richard, my servant whom I suspected of having collusion with the robbers.
We employed a maid-servant who was sharing accommodation with another girl in a one-bedroom house in a nearby area known as the Mokambo compound. There were many such houses in that area, owned by the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines for accommodating the servants of those mine employees who were staying in the flats. Many low-paid mine workers also stayed in the compound. It took almost six months for my wife to train the maid adequately for our purposes and she thought the maid was doing quite well.
Then one day she came and told my wife that she was leaving because of lack of accommodation. The girl with whom she stayed was getting married and asked her to vacate. She had no place to stay and therefore would have to go back to her village. However, she would stay back if “Bwana” (means ‘master’) could get one of those houses in the Mokambo compound for her.
I made some preliminary enquiries to a senior official in the mines and he told me that as I was a non-miner my servant could not be accommodated in the Mokambo compound which was reserved for the servants of ZCCM employees.
But being a very stubborn person, I decided to put in an application at the Estate office. The guy who was in charge of processing the application was very friendly. I filled up the application form and left it with him. He told me that he would give me a call within a couple of days.
But the call never came. After waiting for a week, I made another trip to the Estate office. The same person was in the office. He asked me "Why didn't you tell me that you are not a miner?"
"Well, that is what I have indicated in my application" I told him. "But since I am occupying a mine flat that has no servant's quarters, where am I supposed to accommodate my servant?"
"Look here, my friend, ‘that’ is your problem”, he told me. “You are just wasting your time. Your application has been turned down by the Estate manager".
There was no point in arguing. I left crestfallen.
The maid was supposed to leave her employment with us the next day. But in the morning, I received a call from the Estate office asking me to see Mr. Musonda in charge of housing. I met the same guy whom I had seen twice during the past few days. As soon as he saw me, he greeted me with a broad smile and offered me a seat. Then he took a neatly typed sheet of paper, put it inside an envelope and handed it to me. It was a letter from the Estate office, allocating in my name one of the houses in the Mokambo compound, for the use of my servant. He added that the keys should be collected from the Quarter master’s office.
I was greatly surprised at the turn of events but did not express it. Instead I thanked him for his kindness and bade him good day. As I was coming out of his office, he asked me "Mr. John, may I ask you something? What is your connection with Mr. Phiri?"
I did not know what he was talking about. So I asked him, "which
"Mr. Michael Phiri, our boss in the General Office! Who else?" he said.
I asked him why he wanted to know. He replied that Mr. Michael Phiri was on a visit to the Estate office the other day and he found me leaving Mr. Musonda’s office and driving off. He wanted to know what I was doing there, and when he heard the story he told the manager, "You just give him what he wants". That was why he asked.
"Oh, we just know each other" I said as I did not know what else to say.
However, a few months later, I came to know from someone that Michael Phiri was one of my former students at Mufulira High School.