Shutting up and being self-sufficient
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ZAMBIA had been independent for 28 years when I first set eyes on its lush farmland. It was from the air during take-off on board Air Zaire from the now-Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern city of Lubumbashi, situated on the same deposits of minerals as the Zambian copper belt.
On landing back in SA, I learnt that the talk in Zambia was of white Zimbabwean farmers taking an interest in their northern neighbour after president Robert Mugabe had started to talk about taking their farms.
Off I headed to the country that had once been home to some white kids from my Natal childhood whose parents had opted for apartheid South Africa over independent Zambia. They had not painted a pretty picture of the place.
“Jeez, there was a bloody terrorist training camp a mile from our house,” said one, referring to Zambia’s hosting Zimbabwe’s liberation forces.
In later years, overland travellers from various Western nations even avoided the country, for fear of being detained as suspected spies for apartheid’s intelligence.
I entered the country from Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and spent an entire day in the dead town of Sesheke, on the bank of the Zambezi River, sitting in the shade of a massive anthill, waiting for transport to the town of Livingstone.
Eventually a 1960s-model truck carrying firewood made its way along the most potholed road I had yet seen. I have, however, encountered worse roads here in South Africa. Paying passengers sat on top of the flammable cargo.
I was struggling to get myself and my backpack up on to the vehicle when a friendly voice said: “Pass me your baggage, Duncan.”
I froze in astonishment and surprise.
“How on Earth do you name?” I asked the kind man with a friendly face, qualities I was to learn was a common among Zambians. It’s a nation of lovely people.
“I stamped your passport this morning!”
After a night travelling at treetop level, with chunks of freshly slaughtered cow added to the cargo at one stop, we arrived at Livingstone, a town whose name has not been changed to an African name. Neither has Livingstonia in neighbouring Malawi nor the Livingstone Mountains in Tanzania.
Remembered for his missionary work and fighting the slave trade, David Livingstone’s name remains on Africa’s modern maps. Another European who name remains on the maps of post-independence Africa is Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà, an Italian-born, naturalised French explorer who had been fiercely against slavery and the abuse of African workers. Brazzaville is the capital of the Republic of Congo.
My immigration officer friend and I spent a long evening solving the world’s problems: among the topics, South Africa’s last white referendum about whether to take the route of a non-racial democracy, for which I would need to go home to cast my ballot.
He was going to town to fetch his paycheque. I followed him to the Government Rest House packed with many other folk who had come to town for the same reason. We joined a long line of collapsed bodies on the floor and caught some shut-eye.
The next morning, in town, I met a friendly fellow who was the first of many to say to me, on hearing I was from South Africa, “come and invest!”
Later, on a bus, when a Zambian soldier who boarded at a roadblock to inspect people’s IDS, on seeing my “green mamba” (SA passport) asked courteously: “Have you come to settle?”
The big change in Zambia happened as a result of founding president Kenneth Kaunda’s government not being able to continue subsidising mealie meal, used to make the staple ntshima.
Food riots led to the country becoming a multiparty democracy with Kaunda standing down gracefully. Many Zambians remained deeply fond of him even after his defeat. He died this year, aged 97. A legacy he left was a well-educated population, having invested heavily in schooling.
On August 12, Zambia held an election.
I had never imagined South Africa would see looting on the scale of Kinshasa, the topic of last week’s column. However, I always saw it as a possibility that SA may not afford Sassa grants forever – or their buying power might reduce to make them insignificant and the rush of privatisation – and Zambia-style investment friendliness might follow.
How collapsed does a country have to become before it is ready to turn a corner?
In 1992, the government investment office was on the eighth floor of a skyscraper in Lusaka’s main street, Cairo Road. The lift worked only to the 16th floor, so getting there required an up-ride and descent down seven storeys in a dark stairwell.
State-owned enterprises were up for privatisation.
But that wasn’t the only battle towards transformation.
Agricultural investors were welcome but with some caution, especially after one, from South Africa, was quoted in the New York Times as saying he wanted to go to Zambia because “Africans there still respect the white man”.
It caused a bit of an uproar in the country, including among those white Zambians who had not joined my former schoolmates' families in relocating to South Africa but had stayed and become Zambian citizens.
“It’s taken us time to learn that this is an African country and that we are a minority. The last thing we need is for people to come up here and say things like that,” said one, who was a farmer.
That community had also learnt to be self-sufficient.
A get-together at one farm for a workshop on dorper sheep was followed by a delicious lunch at which everything from the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to the rhubarb pudding had been produced on the farm. As was the electricity from a generator beside a waterfall.
The Independent on Saturday