Malawi’s only Most Excellent Grand Achiever or MEGA -1, Professor Abiti Dr Joyce Befu has directed that we leave Mangoni although water hasn’t started flowing from every fountain like it did in the garden of Eden before Adam and Eve made that catastrophic decision to eat the forbidden apple.
Last Wednesday, we invited a few active souls at Ntcheu, the capital city of the Republic of Mangoni, to put our heads together and peacefully force the government to intervene soonest in the water crisis bedeviling Ntcheu and Balaka.
We met at a place we cannot disclose because we don’t want to jeopardise our host’s hotel business
“You see,” started MG 33, our leader of the delegation, “our government understands only one language for it to act. Unless Mangonians speak that language, no water will flow here.”
“Chichewa?” one participant asked.
“No,” Abiti said.
“Chiyao?” another participant guessed.
“It must be Chakumpoto,” another participant, who had just joined us, chipped in.
“What’s Chakumputo?” Abiti wondered.
“The language the mbwenumbwenu speak. What do you call it?” the first participant explained.
“Chitumbuka?” Abiti asked.
“Yes,” the participants chorused, erupting into uncoordinated laughter.
“No,” Abiti said, emphatically, “the language I am referring to is different. It is the only language governments understand. We must inform the police that we will peacefully demonstrate against this insensitivity to the death-threatening crisis. The only arms will bear are placards and songs. We will give our petition to the District Commissioner to forward it to relevant authorities.”
There was a long and deep silence.
“Madam,” one participant broke the silence.
“Madam Professor!” Abiti said, cutting the participant in mid-thought.
“Sorry Madam Professor. My fear is that if we demonstrate here and now, the government will misunderstand us as supporters of the UTM.”
“And the leader of the UTM is a Mangonian. He is government and therefore already knows our problems,” another participant.
“For nearly three years, we have had intermittent water supply here,” said the only Mangonian female participant, “we have complained, cried and sworn but nothing has happened. Let’s leave things as they are. God will intervene when it pleases Him.”
“In short, we are not demonstrating,” Abiti concluded.
“I understand these people’s fear,” said Jean-Philippe, “What colours will you put on because the street demonstration colour now belongs to UTM? It will be very easy for police to consider your demonstration as a UTM-inspired activity.”
So, we disbanded.
As we walked back to our lodge located near the bus depot, Nganga suggested that we should do some window shopping.
“Good idea,” said the Most Paramount Native Authority Mzee Mandela, “I need herbicides to send home!”
We entered Zonse ndi Mlimi store. Mzee Mandela asked for Stellar Star.
“Here it is,” the shop owner said, handing over a bottle of Stellar Star to Mzee Mandela. I also have Round Up, glyphosate, harness, dual Magnum, and weed bombardier.”
“Sir, I think you put on protective clothing when handling those poisonous chemicals, “Jean-Philippe suggested.
“We are told they are not dangerous to humans unless swallowed in large quantities,” the shop owner said, “but very effective on weeds.”
“Just last week a court in America asked the manufacturers of Round Up to pay a farmer who was exposed to glyphosate and developed cancer some $250 000 or K200 million.”
“But we, herbicide retailers, are never warned about herbicide carcinogenicity. Maybe farmers are but I doubt it very much,” the shop owner said.
Jean-Philippe took bottle after bottle, reading the instructions.
“You see,” Jean-Philippe said, “the pesticides law in Malawi says no pesticide, including herbicides, should be sold unless all instructions are also available in English and at least one local language. This one is in English and Afrikaans, the second one is in English and Kiswahili, and this one is also in English and Afrikaans! Already these herbicides are sold in defiance of the law.”
“Extension officers explain these instructions to farmers,” the shop owner said.
“English is a local language. Isn’t it?” I joked.
“How many smallholder farmers and herbicide retailers in Malawi read and understand English? Do you understand English, Sir?” Jean-Philippe asked.