I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

The truth_Newton Mutethia Mwenda

islanda10_Africa Teller 2000.

My name is Matete – Samuel Matete. I am a Zutu by tribe and an

African by the nature of my skin colour and by virtue of being born in

this glorious continent. I am a citizen of Zale – a country torn by civil

strife. That is the only dark side of my motherland. Later on in my

story, I will let you know why we fight against each other. For some

of you, it is going to be a sad story but I hope you will learn a lesson

or two on why you should live in brotherhood.

I am the first born in my mother’s hut, which has four other children

(two boys and two girls). My father is the chief of our location. He

has three other wives and twelve other children. Due to the fact that

my mother is the first wife, she is highly respected by her co-wives.

In fact, she is the head of the women’s market society in the location.

That means she represents our location during inter-market days with

the other four locations in our district. I love her so much. If it was

not for her, I could have given up on education. But because of her

very demanding and pressing nature, I was able to study up to the

university level.

I now have a master’s degree in agricultural and livestock

development. Right now I help in developing our nearly scorched

earth so as to make it suitable for farming. After nearly eight years of

hope and despair in irrigation we have managed to produce five kinds

of crops two of which are cash crops. Animals are also thriving. With

a little of skill and surely some luck we boast of three wells which are

well guarded both day and night. Last year there was a fight (over the

water) with one of our neighbouring locations where we lost two

young men. I know you are asking why we should fight over water

but it is only because you do not live here. Can you imagine that last

year, the government was given $5 million by the IMF in order to

institute water and sanitation programmes and up to now nothing has

been done towards that effect. People are dying of diarrhoea and the

government is doing nothing to help alleviate this problem. All it is

concerned with is buying more weapons and increasing its military

strength. Talk of not setting your priorities right.

For close to ten years people living in the southern part of Zale have

been drought stricken. Do not get me wrong, but I thank God that my

people and I live in the western part of Zale. At least here there is

sporadic rain. We do not rely so much on our government. Here the

people are sober enough to understand that in Africa, and especially

in Zale the government would rather fight imaginary warfare than

provide for the basic needs of its citizens. It is not that the people on

the western part have given up on the government. On the contrary

we have voiced our opinions (sometimes just short of war) against

the government and you know what, they labelled us dissidents. It

could have been good if they just called us dissidents and they left it

at that. But that was not the case. Two weeks after giving us that

name it was time for military show-off in our region. One day we

could freely move from one area to the other, the next day you could

not even attend church. Three of our local leaders who were so vocal

were killed. How did we know that they were killed and for that

matter by the government? Well for you doubting Thomases, let me

point out that in our custom people do not naturally die of bullet

wounds. Maybe in other areas they do but not in our part of the

world. If the government wanted to contain us, they surely managed

to do so albeit in a very crude manner. The military left us after two

weeks of untold misery. Scars of their presence are present up to this

very moment. Even as I narrate to you this story, I am fearful for my

very core of existence. I know one of you is a government

representative and I might become history after reading this story but

this is a chance I have to take to let the world know of Zale’s crisis.

Dear reader, I bet you do not even know that the press is government

owned. You see, the four national dailies are owned (in theory) by the

citizens. How is this possible? Surely you have heard of public

companies. All the dailies are public companies. The government has

moles in every department and with the necessary threats, what is

published is what the government would like the world to know. I

know some of you are asking how come I have all this information. I

will let you know something. One of my brothers is a managing

director of one of the dailies. He is tired of the people and the world

being lied to and he let me into this state secret. At first I could not

believe it until after he had showed me documented proof. Now I

have no reason to doubt all that he tells me. By the way the story

about the military presence in our region was changed to read


REGION”. In the light of this information, how do you expect state

matters to be managed in Zale? Obviously there is no element of

transparency and accountability.

The education system is in tatters. It is not that it is non-existent but

you would be surprised to learn that education resources are not

equitably distributed in Zale. The Southern region has no single

school. This is mainly due to the fact that guerrilla activities are

prevalent in this region. As such, the government has stricken off this

region from their development plans. Personally I think that this is

not a wise move and I really believe many of you will side with me. It

is even funny to think that we who are part of the development plans

have nothing to boast of as far as infrastructure is concerned. In our

district, we have no piped water. Funny? Personally, I do not think so.

In our Zutu customs there is a saying that goes “The owner of a bed is

the one who knows its weak spots”. For me this is very true. I mean I

have been born in Zale and lived here for the last twenty-eight years

and I think I have now been able to see through the lies of the

government and understand the fears of my people. I have lived with

these fears for all this long but now I am not willing to let my

children (if I will survive to have any) have this kind of inheritance

from me -a legacy of fear and of just going through the phases of life.

I know some of you are already branding me a fool. I believe you

would want me to just get contented with what I have and with the

life I have. But to me, that would be wrong. In our folktales, there is

this story of the fat lizard (incidentally we identify more often with

animals than with men in our folktales) that was so content with

eating flies. The lizard did not want to help its neighbour the chicken

in setting traps to ensnare the lion. With time the lion eventually fed

on the chicken and its whole family. After sometime the lion got

hungry and decided to eat the lizard. By the time the lizard thought of

setting the traps, it was too late and its fate was sealed. The moral of

the story is to help your neighbour in times of their calamities

because that might avert the pitfalls that might befall you. Honestly I

have nothing to be proud of. You may say that I have a master’s

degree and a loving family but let me ask you, is that all there is to

life? Answer me. Where you are right now, do you know of your

rights? And do you exercise them? Or do you live a life of constantly

looking behind your back because you do not know whether in your

utterances, something anti-state slipped out? I guess you do not, so

you have no reason to tell me to just sit back as my brothers and

sisters in the southern region are slowly strangled until one no longer

hears their cries.

Obviously you would like to know about the resources of Zale. Fine

with me. We have a vast wealth of untapped limestone and coal. I say

untapped because that is precisely the way it is. The government can

not work with any private company that is involved in mining and

exploration activities. Last year a company from Europe (I forgot its

name) did some initial work on coal exploration and somewhere

along the way the government wanted to hijack the project. As the

story goes this company was fed up with the government so they

packed their goods and went away. Leaked information suggested

that Zale has a good potential of coal. But as usual the government

denied these reports and termed them malicious and fabricated. But

let me ask you dear good reader, what is malicious and fabricating

about saying that there are deposits of coal in a country?

Please let me know because I think my judgement fails me.

There is this line that goes something like “there is light at the end of

a dark tunnel”. I guess many of you are familiar with the rich football

talent we have in Zale. Two years ago, our footballers went to Europe

for some friendly matches and you know what, no footballer came

back. Most of them managed to get asylum in European countries.

The head of state branded them traitors. Honestly I would do the

same if given a similar chance. At least for them there was some light.

Now, just listen to you accusing me of deserting my brothers and

sisters. I would not desert them. I would really fight for their rights if

I were somewhere where I would be given the audience. But I guess

you still do not understand. Anyway I can not blame you. Sometimes

one has to do what he thinks is right, without bothering to get

anybody’s consent. It is my opinion that when someone is oppressed

and they manage to see a way out of their problems, they should not

hesitate to grasp the opportunity of freedom. You now ask, “what if

suicide is the only way out?” Let me ask you – did I say that I am an

expert in these matters? Please dear reader; do not put my heavy heart

to task with some questions. The day you will ever experience what

Zale is going through (may God forbid) then you shall know what to

do under which circumstances. As for now just read my story.

My mother has two young children. My brother is thirteen and my

sister is ten. The other day my mother was crying. She was at a loss

for words. I usually go to evaluate how my land betterment projects

(as I call them) are fairing everyday in the morning. I go back home

at around four in the afternoon. I think that on this day I was mad

because while in the field I dreamt of becoming my people’s saviour

from the chains of fear. When I went back home I told my mother of

my plans. I have never made my mother so mad at me but I managed

to do exactly that and much more-she fainted. Luckily there were

other women around who managed to revive her. All this time I was

so engrossed in my new found ambition (silly me), that I did not

notice my two siblings cowing with terror at a corner. Do you know

what passed through my mind when I saw them? I think you do. In

them I saw the oppressed and the way they behave when terrorised.

That image paid to strengthen my resolve to fight for my people’s

rights. My mother is not the same any more. Nowadays she is very

withdrawn. In a way she has come to grips with my present attitude.

Now please do not call me an insensitive son. What is better, is it for

her children to live a life where they do not realise their full potential

or for her to lose one son so that the others would experience

happiness? Are you asking how I know that things for sure will work

out for the better if I continue with this just cause? May I construe

this to mean that you will not do anything once you have read all that

I have written? If that is the case then I will have died for nothing.

But I know out there, someone is honourable enough to take up this

fight against the oppression of my people. Please do not fail me.

Last year the government conducted a census. It is very weird of them

to do so bearing in mind that the census is repeated after every five

years. Why I say weird is because the last census was conducted two

years before last year’s. Let me tell the world that the census was

only done in theory . Only one day was allocated for the actual

counting. This might be possible in developed countries but in my

country where the level of communication is very poor, it is next to

impossible. For your information the previous census estimated a

population of about four million people. But the following news is the

biggest joke of the century. Present census reports estimate the

population to be around eight million. That presents a whooping one

hundred percent population growth. For sure that is a lie. The

southern region was not included in this census. Do not forget that

people are dying from clashes and sickness. Someone high in the

government (I will not tell you who), told me that they had to doctor

the results so as to cheat the IMF. That way they were able to get the

$5 million that was meant for water and sanitation projects. All they

had to do was to present a sob story of the population straining the

little health resources that were in place and hooray, they get the

money to invest in other projects. I hear that the money was used to

acquire two new fighter jets. By now you should know where these

jets are to be used. That is right, the southern region.

People never learn. In our location we have a waterfall. The sight is

captivating not only to visitors but even to us. It is sandwiched

between two valleys. Watching the waterfall during sunset makes

your heart fill with sheer pleasure. The sun’s golden rays reflect on

the falling water and form a very beautiful rainbow. Once in a while

you normally come across a bunch of excited and naked children at

the bottom of the fall where the water is calm. They play in the water

oblivious of any adult’s stare. I envy them (the children – of course).

Once in a while I ask myself, “Why is it that adults never learn from

the sheer innocence of young children and imitate them?” Does

adulthood blot the very beauty of life in such a way that happiness is

only measured in terms of how much power one can weld and for

how long? Our location is also graced with wildlife. Very early in the

morning the chirping of the sparrows is like golden music to our ears.

Many a times I have recorded their voices (I own a tape recorder). I

then replay their voices over and over during the day. I recommend

that you should give it a try one of these fine days. There was a day I

caught people in the field staring at me as I was listening to the birds.

I was crying. Can you believe that, I was crying. Some of them were

pointing at me and whispering. Later on I learnt that, they were

saying that I was running mad. Human beings are complex. They can

not let you live your life in peace.

Talking of peace, do you know that Zale has been independent for

thirty-five years? You know something else-we have known peace for

only five years after independence. After five years the elected

government was toppled to pave way for military rule. These to us,

are the fruits of independence.

I told you that my father is a chief. For sure it is a big post but

without much to do. So much power is vested in the office that a chief

is known to live off the wealth of his subjects. My father has done

exactly that. I am proud of him being my father but I am not happy

with what he does. Do not start saying “like father like son”. That is

an adage that does not augur well with me. Just come to our location

and you will know that I have stood against my father when he tried

to oppress my people. He tried making people pay what he termed as

“The chiefs upkeep”. I laughed in his face and told him off. He had to

think twice about his idea. I am quite popular with my people partly

because of my boldness and partly because of my land projects. You

can call me a visionary. I think I like that name.

The level of literacy in Zale is five percent. You now know about

illiteracy levels. Does it frighten you? What about the knowledge that

there is one doctor for every two thousand people? Please call it the

proper name. A nightmare. Even if we had two doctors for one person

it would not help the present medical crisis. Why? Well our hospitals

are poorly equipped. Military hospitals and there are four of them, are

the best equipped. I bet they cater for the military casualties from the

war against our southern brothers. I thank God that missionaries help

out in one way or the other.

The arrival of missionaries to Zale according to information that has

been passed down the ages and a little mathematics, backdates to

around sixty years. Their first appearance was met with hostility by

all tribes. There are about fifteen tribes in Zale. One of the most

memorable and most horrifying encounters between the missionaries

and one of the tribes known as Mumu, was in the northern region.

These people in the northern region are anti-Christianity. They are

involved in traditional religion. This missionary called Reverend

Black made the grievous mistake of shunning the witchdoctors. He

preached against them and he was burnt on a stake. By the way that is

the common punishment that is meted out to individuals who develop

negative attitudes towards Northerners religion. So, the man was

killed and his followers told to publicly denounce Christianity or face

similar punishment. They opted for the former. Up to now

Christianity has known no inroads in the northern region. I am letting

you know that even religion has not been spared in our efforts to

cultivate animosity amidst us.

Do you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend? I have one. She is called

Mary Kalende. Kalende means: the shining one. To me she is a pearl.

I have never seen a pearl. I only hear it is smooth and round. Please

do not find me naive if this is not so. But I hope you get a picture of

how graceful she is. There is no animosity between us. By the way

she is educated. She has a university degree. Sometimes I regret that

we were not born in a peaceful country where we could be assured of

a good life. Now this is called self-pity and I want none of it. One day

I will marry her because I love her.

Do you take alcohol? I do not. When I was in the university I went

for a medical check-up and the doctors said I had a medical condition

(the university I studied in has two doctors). The condition has a very

long name. They said I could not take alcohol so now I do not. The

other week we had a party in our location. It was a circumcision

ceremony. There was a lot of alcohol. People celebrated from dusk to

dawn. I think you know how Africans value such occasions.

Sometimes it is just an excuse for people to be lazy and to get drunk.

Have you ever realised how friendly people become when they are

drunk? That is something that really amazes me. Someone told me

that when drunk, one is able to reach the inner self whatever that

means. Give it a fancy explanation but friendly will still remain


Dear reader have you ever gone to church? I have never gone to a

mosque. I am a Christian. On Sundays, people in our location attend

different churches. You should come and see people jumping up and

down when singing for God. Most of our church floors are made of

mud. During dry seasons (believe me, they are many), people are

very dusty. When I was in the university, some students believed that

there is no God. I think, too much of education is dangerous. There is

a tendency for everyone to believe that they are philosophers once

they learn two or three things on philosophy. Imagine a student telling

us that when you die you become part of the stars. It is just crazy.

Last week I went to our capital city. It is a sorry state for a capital

city. The journey took five hours. It took that long because the roads

are not tarmacked. Thirty-five years and most roads are in a pathetic

state. The city has slums in almost every corner. I had gone to meet

with others like me who are not happy with the Zalets present state of

affairs. It was a fruitful meeting.

There is a new disease in the country. Many families have lost their

loved ones to the disease. It is spread through sexual immorality.

I think you know about it. Have you ever seen anyone’s private parts

falling off? I did. It is not a nice sight. That is what this disease does

to you. The person suffering from it screams in agony. I think it is

very painful. There are many prostitutes in the city. They parade

themselves on the streets like a guard of honour. I am really ashamed

of the level of degradation that our morals have reached. I saw a girl

from my location. She is one of them. You are asking me what I was

doing in the streets at night? I was touring the city. Someone told me

that at night the city turns evil. I had to see in order to believe. I now

believe. She ran away from me. I guess she was too ashamed. I will

not tell her parents about what she does in the city.

The toppled president was from one of the southern tribes. He was

very young. Thirty-two years. He was killed in the coup. I was told he

was very intelligent. The present head of state was his General of the

armed forces. From that time the southerners have been very bitter

against the government. We are also angry but we have no will to

fight. We do not want to be alienated like them. Do not call us

cowards. They have fought the government for about ten years and

they have gained nothing. All that I am trying to say is, we do not

want to go to war with anger. We have to plan. I have planned. I do

not plan to fight with arms. That is a war I will surely lose and for

which my people will suffer. I want the world to know how dictatorial

the government is. The world will then fight for the freedom of

everyone in Zale. I believe in the power of the press and through it I

will let the world know the truth. For sure the world will not sit back

and watch more people die in Zale.

I have heard that some countries are called watchdogs. It is a funny

name. Funny but appropriate. A watchdog is supposed to safeguard.

These countries should live unto their name. Obviously I do not mean

that they should come and declare war against my country. That

would be wrong. You have heard of embargo. They should do that.

We shall suffer but that will be for a while. We have persevered for

the last thirty-five years so two or three more years will not hurt so

much. Do I still cut across like a visionary? I hope you have not given

up on my cause.

During the meeting in the city it was decided by the people present

that someone should be smuggled out to a friendly country.

The honours fell on me. I am pretty excited. My name will appear in

the history books of the country. My main task is to sensitise the

world. Zale is in problems and you have to know. Some members of

the armed forces are not happy with the present regime.

They promised to help. They will turn their backs and close their

eyes as I pass through the border. I believe everything will go on as

planned. I will travel at night. That way, the chances of detection will

be minimal. If I do not make it, this story will. Then the world shall

act. I have contacts in the friendly country who have promised to

meet me on their side of the border.

While in the other country I will hold conferences. I am very

eloquent. I was a university students’ leader. I think that is why I was

chosen for this arduous task. You will recognize me when you see me.

Do not hesitate to come and say hello. Let me know that you have

read this story and that you are doing something about our situation.

Are you wondering whether I will come back to Zale? If things

change for the better, I have to. Otherwise I will continue fighting for

my people until they get their freedom. I have not forgotten about

Mary. We will be communicating through letters. By the way Matete

means hope. I am the hope of my people. I should not fail them. Do

you know what my mother told me last night? She said that I have

been a loving son. My father said that I have a stubborn spirit. I think

I inherited that from him.

Dear reader, you will not believe this. My friends have come. They

are in a truck. I can see them from my window. That means that I am

leaving today. I have butterflies in my stomach. I will let you know

how my journey was (if I make it). I have to say goodbye to my

family. They will survive. If I do not make it, please continue with my

struggle against this oppression. Pray for me.