‘Ooh, I do love the Freak Show News,’ I declared. ‘They bring us such horrible stories.’
‘My God!’gasped Sara, as the TV picture showed the main street of a small threadbare town in the middle of nowhere. ‘That place can’t have changed since colonial times!’
‘It’s changed a lot,’ I laughed. ‘Fifty years ago it had bright shiny steel roofs, but now they’ve all gone rusty.’
As we were talking the camera was focusing on a rising cloud of dust in the distance. Suddenly, out of this dust appeared a speeding convoy of Landcruisers with sirens wailing and green flags flying, finally coming to a screeching halt in the middle of the empty street.
On the top of a gold-plated Landcruiser was the Royal Pabwata of King Ukwa, and sitting in the boat was the King himself, resplendent in his official ceremonial gold silk Chinese suit.
The King rose slowly and regally to address the crowd. There wasn’t one. Quickly his coterie of sycophants and goons leapt out of their vehicles and began waving brown envelopes and green chitenges, and a few people began to cautiously venture out from behind their closed doors.
In the meantime, the King’s chauffeur connected the battery of the Golden Royal Lancruiser to a microphone, which he then handed to the King.
‘This must be the first time they’ve seen electricity,’ said Sara.
‘It’ll soon be gone again,’ I sighed.
King Ukwa was now standing in his Royal Pabwato scowling angrily at a motley crowd of about fifty people, mostly old people and small children, all very thin and wearing rags.
‘I have brought you your candidate!’ he shouted. Then, turning to one of his goons in black suit and dark glasses, he shouted ‘What have you done with my candidate?’
As he spoke, two goons rushed forward dragging a small thin fellow with vacant uncoordinated rolling eyes and a loose mouth which dripped saliva. ‘What’s your name?’ shouted the King.
‘Musumbi, O King,’ whined the little fellow.
‘Mushula!’ shouted the King. ‘Kneel before your constituents.’
‘This is your new member of parliament,’ the King shouted at the sullen gathering. ‘Vote for him and you’ll all be rich! Vote for the other party and you’ll die in poverty! Any questions?’
‘Yes,’ shouted an old woman. ‘We’re all dying of thirst! There’s no water in the river!’
‘You don’t have to tell me that there’s no water in the river,’ shouted the King angrily. ‘Can’t you see that I had to bring my Royal Pabwato all the way by road because there is no water in the river? I have been inconvenienced far more than you!’
‘Why is there no water in the river?’ persisted the old woman.
‘Because you voted for the wrong party last time!’ shouted the King angrily.
‘That’s why you’ve got no development here! That’s why I’m giving you a second chance by bringing you this Mushula!’
‘Musumbi,’ said the goon.
‘His name is Pabwato,’ shouted the King, ‘that’s what matters.’
‘He looks a bit simple,’ said a voice from the back.
‘That’s why he’s representing you,’ shouted the king angrily. ‘You’re all a bit simple, that’s why you keep voting for the wrong party! That’s why you voted for the Movement for Mental Deficiency instead of Pabwato Fiasco!’
‘But why is there no water in the river?’ repeated the old woman.
‘You all know very well why you’ve got no water!’ replied the King angrily.
‘You’ve got no water because you live downstream from Chuminga, which had the sense to vote for me in the last election. So I have brought them development.
I have built a dam for the Ching Chang rice plantation which will export rice to China. I have built a dam for the Fing Fang Fong Fish Farm and another dam for the Die Soon Crocodile Farm.’
‘Is there no water left over?’
‘Yes, plenty,’ smirked the King. ‘The excess water has been diverted to the leach plant at Kansanshi Mine, to make copper so that one day I shall be able to bring you electricity.’
‘When?’ said the old woman suspiciously.
‘After you have voted for Mushula,’ said the King.
‘Musumbi,’ groaned the goon.
‘Let me explain the situation in simple terms,’ growled the King. ‘Supposing you had only one cup of water left in your house, would you give that water to your own child or to a stranger?’
‘We all need water!’ shouted the old woman.
‘Development is about choices,’ sneered the King. ‘And the choice is yours. Vote Pabwato and I shall bring you water!’
‘Wrong way round!’ retorted the old woman. ‘Bring us water and we shall vote Pabwato!’ But as she was shouting six goons jumped on her and used their batons to beat her to the ground, and the remainder of the motley crowd ran away screaming.
‘My God!’ I said to Sara. ‘What’s happening?’
‘She’s committed a serious offence under the Public Order Act,’ Sara explained.
‘She’s protesting without a permit.’
Friday evening TV News, and at last the announcement of the results: ‘In the Mufumbwe by-election the MMD candidate, Mr Stalwart Mulunshi, has won by a stunning margin of 8,549 votes, with the Pabwato candidate, Mr Simple Musumbi, scoring a perfect zero.’
‘That means,’ I said, ‘that he didn’t even vote for himself.’
‘Perhaps he was so intellectually challenged,’ laughed Sara, ‘that he forgot to register to vote.’