It is Wednesday around 5:30am. The skies are clear and it promises to be a hot day. A wave of gaiety sweeps across the slum-townships of Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial city. A similar wave is also reportedly raging across the slums of Lilongwe, the country’s capital city, and Zomba, the old capital city as well as in the northern city of Mzuzu.
There is untold anticipation that the new day will, indisputably, make history. It is today or never. The citizenry is pregnant with hope. At last, salvation will be here. At last, they will chant Hosanna! Their day-to-day grim struggle for survival will go. They will start living and not merely surviving.
They, the pitiful slum dwellers, have languished in silence for eternity. They have come a long way on this path of agony. They have suffered the tenacious pangs of poverty for too long, making their anger now burst forth from despair and misery. It is here, in the slums, that life is a ceaseless hustle. It is here, in the slums, that five or six families share a single dingy bathroom and a putrid pit latrine. It is here, in the slums, that hopeless drunks endlessly soak their brains in the dreadful locally distilled gin with no prospects of unshackling themselves from the throes of misery. It is here that little boys swiftly graduate into rascals. And, it is here that the girl-child gives birth to a fellow child before she even hits secondary school level. Such is the tattered portrait of life in the slums of this petite African country.
They are the certified scum of the earth. The wretched of the souls. In fact, they are called all sorts of disgraceful names. They have endured their Leader, the State President, calling them headless chickens or notorious rats each time they have tried to ask him about their claim to basic human rights. They have been told countless times, by the Leader, to go to hell and kiss the sinful Lucifer. Actually, even the Leader’s wife, the First Lady, once branded them fools for taking the leadership to task on what it was doing to crack the maize and foreign exchange crises ceaselessly rocking the country.
“You, ungrateful fools! You, desolate cockroaches! Is my husband your father such that each time you are in trouble he has to come down and babysit you?” thus ranted the First Lady at a public rally the other day.
In the slums, the poor souls’ hopes gave way to gloomy thoughts over their injustices long ago. Their dreams are now devoid of the greatness of being. These meek sons and daughters of the soil continue to waddle in wretchedness while their Leader rapidly gets outrageously rich. They battle face-to-face the biting prices of basic commodities while the Leader makes merry in the corridors of State House. They pay an arm and a leg to board rickety minibuses when going to work or markets while the Leader recently bought himself a jet. They cram themselves in grimy shacks of houses while the Leader is presently erecting in his home village a state-of-the-art mansion boasting more than 20 bedrooms.
But, today, they have declared ‘enough is enough!’. Today, they have unfalteringly resolved to engage ‘people power’ and get rid of this Leader who has become a god. Today, they are prepared to bring down this hardnosed dictator dressed in the robes of a democrat. Today, the Leader’s wife will see red. Today, the headless chickens, notorious rats, desolate cockroaches and ungrateful fools will pour into the streets to present their declaration at the sacred gates of State House. And it is a blunt statement: The Leader must go!
It is now around 7:30am. The skies are clear and it has really turned out to be a boiling day. Blantyre Police Station, housed in one of the old colonial buildings, has already turned into a hum. Senior and junior officers appear extraordinarily prepared for duty today. And an atmosphere of fear reigns in the air here. The officers discern quite well that days like today bring with them unsettling packages. They know pretty alright that days like today are deadly. On days like today, some of their comrades-in-arms have ever been victims of fatal injuries. And, on days like today, some have even lost lives while on duty. Furious masses are vicious. Mad masses are like marauding lions on the rampage. Desperate looters go on the loose on days like today, taking advantage of mass demonstrations, to break into shops in a bid to sound a death-knell to their stinging poverty. They are scary days, these. They usually smell of gloom and doom.
The Station Officer-in-Charge, who holds the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police, is oddly early for duty today. There is quite a plausible reason for this strange occurrence. The much-publicised public march to State House falls within his area of command. He has to organise his charges in good time. The job has to be executed thoroughly. There are always rank promotions attached to successes accrued from such operations. And the silent rule of the game is to be on the side of the powers that be and callously crush the masses.
“Our duty today is not to facilitate a peaceful march but to thwart it. After all, we took an oath to, at all times, defend and protect the Commander-in-Chief who happens to be the very same Leader the masses want ousted,” the officer-in-charge barks at his boys and girls in uniform who have fallen in line for an impromptu address.
His is thunderous voice. His is bulky physique. He is of the type that eats money. He lives in an enviable spacious institution house in the suburbs of Blantyre’s pristine Nyambadwe Location. His charges, mainly those belonging to junior ranks, are emaciated. They are of the kind that scavenges on crumbs. They live within the filthy police camp in ramshackle houses that are as tiny as match-boxes. And they get crammed alongside their children into the match-boxes of houses like tinned sardines!
“We have code-named this ‘Operation Abort’. We must not let down the Leader. In the event that the masses do not cooperate, we must shoot to kill. Do you get me, officers?” the Assistant Commissioner of Police yells out haughtily.
“Yes, Sir!” the officers submissively chorus like a swarm of kindergarten kids.
And the officer-in-charge’s word is final. His word is command. He is the authority. A perfect insignia of tyranny. No questions, no suggestions, no queries. So, it is: “Go ye officers, and carry out the word!”
And the officers will be dispatched in batches to be positioned at various strategic points while armed to teeth, entirely ready to deal with the masses. And, thus, ‘Operation Abort’ will be transacted religiously.
It is now around 8:30am. The skies are clear and the day is getting hotter and hotter. Tension reigns in the air. A raging human sea surges into the streets of Blantyre. The bitter masses, coming mainly from the city’s vast slums of Mbayani, Safarao, Chilobwe, Nthukwa, Bangwe and Ntopwa, are heading to the city’s Kabula Freedom Park from where they will collectively march to the State House.
It is here, at the freedom park, that seeds of the struggle against colonialism were sown almost a century ago until, finally, that much-touted Messiah returned to liberate the nation from the stubborn jaws of the colonial master. It is here, at the freedom park, that the sparks of fire against one-party despotism were lit some decades ago, forcing the Messiah-turned-Lucifer to pack up his heinous regime and leave the State House. And it is also here, that the masses staged their burning rage against one self-proclaimed Political Engineer’s hankering to stay in office longer. It appears the history of the nation is a series of struggles.
“If not you and me, then who?
If not tomorrow, then when?
Nothing for us without us.
The attire is red.
Let’s meet in the street.
And if there will be only two people,
Then let it be you and me…”
Thus read the compelling mobile phone text message making rounds yesternight, calling upon the kindred of the land to this noble event being staged today. And the masses, clad in red attire while valiantly waving red scarves, have responded overwhelmingly to the sanctified call. And it is a crowd seething with fury. It is an assemblage bursting with fully fermented anger. It is a gathering of disillusioned souls. Disgruntled souls.
The park has metamorphosed into a melting pot. The park has turned into another Tahrir Square of Cairo in Egypt. Another Benghazi in Libya. A Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. There is massive din here, courtesy of the never-ending furious chants from the masses.
“Down with repression! Up with all liberties under the sun!” thus the gathering here spiritedly chants.
“Away with this economic malaise! Up with genuine economic engineering!” thus the congregation here erupts.
“United we are rock! Divided we are sand!” thus the assembly here preaches.
And all this flavoured with blaring vuvuzelas, earsplitting whistling and stabbing ululations.
The streets surrounding the park, which were once redolent of purity, now lie higgledy-piggledy. Stones, tyres, rags and twigs are spread all over. The streets, once scented with serenity, have been set afire. Tyres and the country’s ruling party cloth have fallen victim to the fire lit up right in the streets.
Someone flashes out two huge underwears. One is for a man and the other for a woman. He shouts on top of his voice, claiming that the underwears have been smuggled out of State House. Then he throws them into the raging flames. The crowd explodes into cheers and jeers.
“We have burnt their underwears! They will now move around without underwears!” the masses launch a litany of taunts.
A bunch of some fanatical youths breaks into an instantaneously composed song:
Ukamwa mowa, usayendese dziko, ukamwa mowa x2
(Don’t rule the nation while drunk)
Oyendesa dziko, samwa mowa x2
(A ruler of a nation does not drink beer)
The masses spontaneously join the singing. It appears everything is quite infectious here. And the singing flows smoothly. And the bold message in the song is: Don’t drink and rule.
As a matter of fact, the incumbent Leader is a known drunk. Actually, some naughty fellows sternly claim that the Leader still has bills from the past to settle at the famous Chigwiri Night Club in the capital city, Lilongwe, which, so they solemnly testify, he frequently patronised before he became tenant at State House. Uncouth fellows, these!
It is now around 11:30am. The skies are very clear and the sun is blistering. The hour has come. The time is nigh. All is set for the much-awaited march to State House to commence. At the meantime, nothing could stop the firm crowd. The people, chanting disgruntled chants while carrying twigs and placards, unswervingly pour into the road to State House.
The placards tell it all:
“HE STINKS! HE MUST GO!” thus shrieks one.
“HE IS THE NEPOTISTIC DEVIL STICKING ONTO OUR BACKS!” thus yells another.
“WE ARE TIRED OF EATING STONES!” screams another one.
“HIV/AIDS HAS BECOME RAMPANT DURING HIS SICK RULE!” accuses another.
“WHY DID HE CHASE AWAY INTERNATIONAL DONORS” squeals that other one.
“HE IS THE DEVIL INCARNATE!” declares this one.
The masses march on. They march on. The people are determined. It is today or never. The suffering must come to an end. Christ of Nazareth already suffered on their behalf. This is a journey from Egypt to Canaan. It is a trek from the land of famine to the land of milk and honey.
The masses march on. They march on. The people are resolute. The people are unwavering. It is now or never. This brutal raping of the nation’s soul must come to a stop. They are now singing the land’s venerated National Anthem. It is a fervent prayer for the nation.
The masses march on. They march on. The people are firm. The people are unyielding. It is today and now. They tirelessly sing the National Anthem. They sing this sacrosanct song incessantly. It is a supplication to the Almighty Lord to grant them bountiful courage to never turn back. Forward ever. Backward never.
But, all of a sudden, lethal teargas canisters get unleashed. The masses have been taken unawares. It is an ambush, this one. Another consignment of gas cans rains down. The masses become infuriated. And, in ferocious reprisal, angry stones fling into the air. Horror has taken possession of the livid people’s souls. The police get scared. The masses are now mad. They let loose a volley of stones at the police. And, in cold-blooded retaliation, the police set free a torrent of teargas cans.
It is now total war. The combat is now in full swing. The road to State House is now a complete battlefield in Sudan’s Darfur. It is now another North Kivu in DR Congo. More fatal cans, more furious stones. Cans, stones, cans, stones. Skirmishes, scuffles, running battles.
Finally, a gunshot tears into the air. One drops down – dead. More gun explosions, more martyrs. More blasts, more blood. Blasts, blood, blasts, blood. Screams of anguish pierce the atmosphere. Echoes of agony are heard in the mountains of Ndirande, Soche and Michiru which stand guard over the commercial city. The masses have been rendered helpless and hopeless. The masses scatter. The masses flee.
Then silence … silence … cemetery silence.