Jean-Philippe and I failed to make it to Mwanza and Neno. After taking one too many non-soft drinks at Lirangwi, Jean-Philippe gained verbal sovereignty. He swore at me liberally using the most haraam words in his linguistic arsenal. He was in that state when we stopped at the Zalewa Police Checkpoint. An innocent-looking female police officer approached and greeted us. She asked where we were headed to. Before I could answer, Jean-Philippe was up in arms.
“We are visiting Mwanza and Neno, the source of that charcoal over there,” he shouted, pointing at mountains of bags of charcoal some metres away.
“Thatâ€™s been impounded,” the police officer said, smiling.
“And from here, where does it go?”
“Whatâ€™s your problem, sir?” the police officer asked Jean-Philippe before ordering me to open the boot.
As the police officer walked round the car to inspect the boot, Jean-Philippe shouted: “Careful, there is my iLaptop there. Such items get stolen here.”
“Insinuating that I am a thief?” the police officer asked before she slammed the boot door.
She asked us to cross the checkpoint and park the vehicle near the police makeshift office. I followed her instructions. She followed us slowly, majestically and authoritatively.
“Can I see your driverâ€™s licence?” The police officer asked me before turning to Jean-Philippe: “And you, can I see your work permit?”
“Work permit? I left it in Blantyre. Do I need to take it with me everywhere I go?” Jean-Philippe wondered.
The police officer called her senior, a man, rather too fat for someone employed to hunt down criminals. She explained to him that Jean-Philippe had called the police thieves for failing to produce a work permit.
“She is lying under oath,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Do you realise I have the power to detain you?” the senior officer asked Jean-Philippe before warning him against playing games with the law. Jean-Philippe momentarily sobered up and apologised.
“Iâ€™ll detain your licence and your friend. Drive back to Blantyre and come back with his work permit,” the senior police officer said as he and his junior officer walked to their makeshift office.
I followed them to the office where I apologised for Jean-Philippeâ€™s unpalatable language. Then the senior police officer lectured to me:
“Mwene, lead us not into temptation. Our work is very difficult. We face the same economic hardships as everybody else but we are insulted by everybody every second of everyday.”
He gave me back the driverâ€™s licence and told me to take Jean-Philippe back to Blantyre immediately.
As soon as we hit the road back to Blantyre, I told Jean-Philippe that his careless remarks had landed us in deep trouble.
“I was only joking with her,” Jean Philippe said.
“All average civil servants are currently frustrated because of security breakdown, soaring commodity prices, and delayed promised salary increments; yet the president is busy handing out blankets, flat-screen TVs, money, soap, and food to prisoners while warning police officers against stealing from prisoners. Such executive lack of focus is what leads the poor into deifying indicted gangsters, confessed tribalists, terrorists, and mass murderers of yesteryear.”
“Then speak the language your president will understand,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Strikes, boycotts and street marches are good but, I fear, most workers donâ€™t understand the ethics of labour withdrawal.”