On payday back when the Malawi Kwacha was at times at par with the South African Rand, we were kings.
Once you collected your pay envelope from Accounts, the rest of the day either went too fast or too excruciatingly slow depending on one’s circumstances.
In general, we fell into two broad categories. The first comprised the usual suspects and for these, payday was curse.
Payday was a torture because within the month they would have drawn salary advances / loans under all sorts of pretexts. Now, come the month-end, the paymaster would unfailingly recover the advances, leaving their net salaries deformed beyond recognition.
A badly mutilated salary was just half the story. The other half was a long line of creditors waiting at either the reception or the main gate.
These creditors, mostly women who provided meals or sold beans, second-hand clothes, pots and all sorts of wares on credit on the understanding that come the 27th, customers would settle their accounts, were a no nonsense lot.
It was not wise to mess with them, nevertheless some daredevils did.
Blues’ Orators, on 27th we used to witness drama as professional debt-dodgers, eager NOT to part with a single tambala to the furious vendors, tried all manner of tricks to evade the creditors.
We heard all sorts of outrageous yarns being sold to the irate vendors as to why this or that gentleman – much as they would have loved to – was not in a position to clear their account. We also witnessed a variety of stunts as desperate men tried in vain to dodge creditors.
For this lot, the time between collecting a wage envelope to knocking off flew with a distressing swiftness.
The second category comprised carefree guys fresh from college or university. For this lot, the time between collecting pay envelopes to knocking off seemed to last an eternity.
I was in this category and when the time finally came, I promptly hit the road, destination: Pats’ Restaurant.
Pats was a trendy pub situated opposite Escom House.
Having thus registered “present bwana!” and caught up with the gossip in Blantyre CBD, we would disperse. Sometimes I would invade Chilomoni; other times Kamba, Bangwe, Zingwangwa or Ndixville: Chimseu or New Lines.
Once installed on a stool in a local pub, armed with a packet of 555 by State Express of London, I was “royalty” to the manner born.
You wouldn’t have been resident of Windsor Castle, just touring Kabula.
I didn’t buy by the bottle, no. A crate, or half a crate was my minimum.
Any friend who popped in was showered with beers. Somehow, even without Facebook or cell phones back then, word that a “king” was in the vicinity didn’t take too long to get around.
Very soon, friends, neighbours, relatives, all and sundry would surround me, laughing hard at all my stale jokes.
If anyone whispered to me that they fancied kanyenya, my response was “Charge Lonrho!”
If anyone craved for this or that they only had to beg and I would bellow to the bar tender, “Charge Lonrho!”
For any round of beer I ordered, my decree to the bar tender was “Charge Lonrho!”
Late in the night, sometimes into the wee hours of tomorrow, by this time totally inebriated and therefore drunkenly believing that I was either a prince or indeed the tycoon Roland “Tiny” Rowland (the owner of Lonrho) himself, I settled the bills, hired a cab and went home.
Blues’ Orators, this tale might have aroused a huge feeling of wistfulness in you or a whole lot of questions. Since I cannot bring those good old days back, I won’t even try to tame your nostalgia. Rather, I will attend to your curiosity.
“What is the message behind, Mapwiya?” is the question you are asking.
Well, I have been thinking about the Salima – Lilongwe Water Project and how Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which benefitted from Khato Civils in the past, is failing us all.
Despite the glaring irregularities and shortcuts and despite the MCP President’s fluent condemnation of less grave anomalies, MCP has never whispered a bad word about this extortionate project.
Listening to MCP Finance Spokesperson the other day, I could not help but marvel at how the mighty have fallen. Blues’ Orators, for all practical purposes, MCP is now Khato’s Debt Collection Unit.
The irony is that although Goodal Gondwe is dillydallying to consecrate the grand larceny, it doesn’t mean that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is any better, no.
It was DPP that flouted all procedures, totally ignored the then Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale’s counsel and landed us into this blackmail.
Whether SKC’s Transformation Movement will condemn this and undertake to tear it apart if elected, remains to be seen.
Personally, I doubt it.
Now, let me tell you a story. During the Mozambique civil war, Malawi’s imports were frequently tampered with and ‘Alidzi’ sought advice from the owner of Lonrho, Mr Tiny Rowland, who was his buddy.
“What could I do to safeguard the Nacala Railway Line?” Alidzi asked.
The response he got was as shocking as it was ingenious.
Rowland, goes the story, explained that he had once faced a similar challenge in Rhodesia when Zimbabwean nationalists were fighting the white minority and he had circumvented it.
“How?” asked an incredulous Alidzi.
“I bought off both the white rulers and the nationalist factions, without the other knowing, and the warring sides never touched Lonrho’s assets.”
This left Alidzi mouth agape, too flabbergasted to speak.
Lonrho continued, “Give it a go, it could solve Malawi’s problems.”
Back to the Salima – Lilongwe Water Project, I am wondering: hasn’t Khato Civils borrowed a leaf from Lonrho?
I will not be surprised if both DPP and MCP 2019 elections budgets are all “Charge Lonrho!”
How else does one explain the loud silence surrounding this dubious deal?
Sad, isn’t’ it?