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As ‘handsome’ conman is sent to prison

By Phili Chirwa

IT was obvious from the look of shock on their faces that the residents of Lusaka’s New Kabwata and Kabwata Estates had never seen anything like it before. In fact, some of them even wished they hadn’t been around to witness the spectacle which they considered to be a bad omen.

The question on everybody’s lips was: “But how and why?” No matter how one looked at it, the whole thing just didn’t make any sense; for it was taboo in African tradition. One could see that some people were willing to help but somehow, some invisible force was telling them: “Don’t!”

For here were four women carrying a black-painted coffin on a wheelbarrow without a man accompanying them. The coffin, apparently made of cheap wood and measuring about two metres in length, was placed on the wheelbarrow at an angle. While one woman pushed the wheelbarrow, another walked in front, keeping the coffin in place. The other two women just wept, tears dripping down their cheeks. The sight was as shocking as it was saddening.

One woman in New Kabwata could not stand the sight and she broke down and wept openly.

Just by looking at it, one could not tell whether the coffin was empty or had a body inside. What was true, however, was that the coffin was quite heavy because the woman pushing the wheelbarrow kept on staggering in despair.

Now and then, the women would stop by the roadside and rest, then resume their journey to God-knows where.

Everybody was baffled: just what was happening? How did it happen that a group of women had been left alone to perform a task – that of carrying a coffin – which, according to African tradition, was supposed to be done by men only?

Yes, in Africa, women could bury stillborn babies on their own but never adults. But then here they were, members of the fair sex, struggling with an adult’s coffin!

Subsequent inquiries by this writer  revealed even a more shocking story. Actually, the four grief-stricken women were carrying the coffin to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) mortuary to collect a relative’s body for burial.

It all happened one Saturday late May, 1989, at about 10:00 hours. A group of marketeers at Chitukuko Market in Kabwata Site and Service Township were attracted by a strange sight of two weeping women carrying a coffin on their shoulders while a younger woman with a baby in her arms followed from behind.

It was completely unheard of in an African society for women to carry a coffin on their shoulders, and so the marketeers were naturally shocked. One of them accosted the bereaved women and asked them what was happening.

The marketeer broke down when she learnt that one of the pall-bearers was the widow of the man whom they were going to bury at Leopard’s Hill Cemetery.

The widow explained to the marketeers that she and her late husband had come from Katete in the Eastern Province.

“My husband had been very sick and he was transferred from Katete to UTH. I accompanied him here together with these two relatives of mine. Unfortunately, after some time, he died,” she told the marketeers. The widow said that she had no relatives in Lusaka.

Thus, after her husband’s death, she and her relatives went to Misisi Compound to seek assistance from whoever could help to bury her late husband.

The widow approached a section chairman who refused to have anything to do with her problem.

Meanwhile, her husband’s body lay in the UTH mortuary for four days before she found a good Samaritan from the nearby Chibolya compound who made a coffin for her. One of the marketeers offered a wheelbarrow to take the coffin to the mortuary; she also joined in pushing it. Naturally, as the four women walked along, they created quite a scene. On being asked who was going to wash her husband’s body in the mortuary, the widow replied, “I will do it. There is no one else who can do it since we have no relatives here.” She then prayed to the Almighty God to forgive all those who had refused to assist her.

As the four women carrying the coffin approached Kabwata Clinic, a kind woman motorist offered them a lift in her vanette to the mortuary and the Chitukuko marketeer returned to her stall with her wheelbarrow.

At the mortuary, humanism was put into practice as many mourners who had been  attending other burials mobilised themselves to assist the Katete widow and her relatives, not only in washing the body but also in burying it at Leopard’s Hill Cemetery.

The mourners also helped in raising funds for the widow and her relatives for their transport back to Katete….

And in another  street incident, a large crowd of people gathered outside the Lusaka City Council library in Katondo Street. The centre of attraction were five people – two Mobile Police officers in combat gear and black berets, a respectable-looking gentleman immaculately dressed in a navy blue suit and sporting a well-trimmed moustache, and two barefooted boys each  about 12 years of age. It was quite an unusual combination, one might say.

As is usually the case with most street incidents, it was extremely difficult for a new arrival on the scene to immediately discern what was going on.

It was soon apparent, however, that it was the immaculately dressed man in the navy blue suit who was in trouble over something. The two boys, on the other hand, just looked on in silence.

“Believe me, officers,” the suspect was speaking, “these boys are not telling the truth. I have not seen the boys before. God is my witness.”

“But he is the one who stole our K20,000 (unrebased),” one of the boys called Andrew chipped in. “We have not made any mistake as to his identity. He is the thief and we demand that he gives us our money back.”

The two policemen appeared to be at a loss. On the one hand, the suspect appeared to be a very respectable man in society. On the other, the boys were insisting that the man was actually a wolf in a sheep’s skin. Whose word were they to believe?

The suspect had been “fished out” of one of the nearby restaurants where he had been having lunch with an attractive female companion. The two boys had identified the suspect to the two policemen as the person who had tricked them out of K20,000 in Kamwala Second Class Trading area some three  weeks earlier.

The boys had been sent by their parents to buy wheat flour from a National Milling Company depot in Kamwala. They were travelling on a bicycle. As they approached the depot, they were confronted by a short and stout man, light in complexion and smartly dressed in a navy blue suit, who accused them of having hit an Indian boy with their bicycle.

The boys were naturally surprised and told the man that he was a liar. “Where is this Indian boy we have hit? We haven’t hit anybody, although our bicycle has no brakes,” they said.

The man looked at the little boys suspiciously and swore that they looked exactly like the boy who had hit his master’s son only a short while earlier.

“If you think you are innocent, you have to say so at the police station. Accompany me to the police station,” he told the boys who had no choice but to comply with the order.

As they were walking to the “police station”, the man suddenly stopped and asked the boys, “Do you have any money and other valuables on you?” One of the boys called Andrew said that his mother had given him K20,000 to buy flour from the NMC depot in Kamwala.

Andrew then produced the K20,000 in two K10.000 notes and showed it to the man, who took it, looked at it and said, “Foolish boy, this is not the way we keep money.” He then took an empty envelope, enclosed the K20.000 in it while the boys looked on and handed the envelope back to Andrew’s friend.

The man got back the envelope from Andrew’s friend and put it in his breast shirt pocket.

“This is where we put money, not in your shorts pocket. Do you get me, my son?” the man asked and the boy nodded in agreement.

He then took what appeared to be the same envelope from his breast pocket and handed it over to Andrew who put it in his own pocket. The man then said, “Remain here. I want to go and collect a ball pen from that building over there so that I can sign the envelope before we go to the police station.”

That was the last time the boys saw the smartly dressed man that day; for he disappeared. However, believing that the envelope they had contained the K20,000,  they cycled to the NMC  depot to buy their flour. Much to their astonishment, when Andrew  opened the envelope, he found it filled with useless pieces of paper!

He started crying.

Although his parents appreciated his predicament and did not beat him over the theft of the money, Andrew was determined to find the culprit. A few weeks later, Andrew and his friend went back to town for a routine visit and lo! as they passed one restaurant, Andrew recognised one of the men  having lunch with a female companion at a table inside. The man was light in complexion, short and stout and wearing a navy blue suit.

Both the boys recognised the man as the person who had tricked them out of K20,000 in Kamwala some three weeks back. They therefore started looking around for people to assist them to apprehend the suspect.

Fortunately for them, they saw two Mobile Unit policemen passing by and approached them for assistance.

The suspect was subsequently taken to Lusaka Central Police Station where, upon being searched, he was found with a lot of  envelopes containing useless pieces of paper…

Eventually hauled before a Lusaka magistrate’s court, the suspect pleaded not guilty to the charge, pleading mistaken identity.  However, after a trial, he was found guilty of the offence as charged and convicted accordingly.

In mitigation the accused, who had a record of two previous convictions involving dishonesty, pleaded with the magistrate to exercise  leniency on him. “The woman the boys found me with in the restaurant is in fact my fiancée and if I am sent to prison, I will not be able to marry her because I love her  so much,” he said amid laughter from the courtroom.

But the magistrate told the accused that he should have thought about his beloved fiancée before he committed the offence. In any case, the fact that he had two previous convictions involving dishonesty was a clear indication that he had deliberately chosen crime as a means of sustaining himself. It was therefore the duty of the courts to help such offenders reform by being slapped with harsh prison sentences.  Said the magistrate: “You are such a handsome young man. I am not surprised that your companion in the restaurant that day fell head over heels in love with you. It baffles me that such an Adonis could have chosen crime to sustain your lifestyle. Unfortunately, your lovely fiancée will have to wait a little longer  because I am sentencing you to three years’ imprisonment with hard labour effective from the date of your arrest”

The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant who also worked in the Foreign Service as a diplomat  in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827 or email:pchirwa2009@yahoo.com

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