So I sat at the balcony of my aunt’s apartment looking over the city skies. The night was chilly with a cold wind sending shivers down my spine and my feet feeling like I just did the ALS ice bucket challenge. But my body fought back the cold with spikes of weak currents running through my nervous system, resulting in uncontrollable spasms every five minutes or so.
If it wasn’t for the noise from the traffic below, I would have easily forgotten that I was in a city – a vast pitch-black darkness covered the entire part of the city in my view. It seemed the power rationing or “load shedding” had also been extended to the natural sources of light, the moon was not in view and neither were the stars. As I looked on into the darkness I couldn’t help but wonder “Is this my future, so dark and cold? Is this the future of my country? Is there no light at the end of the tunnel?”
Just a few days before I would not have imagined that I would end up at my aunt’s apartment and be gazing at nothing except darkness. I was a final year engineering student looking forward to completing my degree program in just a few months’ time. Everything seemed to be going well and I was quite sure that I would be done with school by July 2016. Then suddenly, on the 3rd February, 2016, like a plane plummeting down under the Earth’s gravitational pull my hopes of completing my degree in less than six months came crushing down! University of Zambia (UNZA) was closed indefinitely. We were sent packing and had to vacate the university premises before the clock struck midnight!
The previous night, I was working on my progress report for my final year project which was supposed to be in my supervisor’s hands by 31st January. I was two days behind schedule. I was determined to finish my progress report that night even if it meant staying up all night. As I was typing and reading through literature I heard the sound of a metal canister hitting the ground just outside my room. When I looked through the window, lo and behold there was white smoke! 60 seconds later my lungs, throat, nose and eyes felt like they had been dipped in hot Mexican chilly. The police had just thrown a canister containing the chemical weapon lachrymator, commonly known as tear gas, directly outside my room. We were about seven of us in the room at the time and the minutes that followed were characterized by coughing, teary eyes, mucus running out of the nostrils, gasps for air and brief states of delusion and panic. It is in such moments that one realizes that the most important necessities for survival are oxygen, water and food, in that order.
Why did the police indiscriminately use this chemical weapon on students? What baffled me was that we who had been in our rooms and not taken part in the riots by the roadside became the police’s main targets. They inundated our rooms with tear gas, broke down doors, brutally beat up anyone they found inside and apprehended them for riotous behavior. All this because a group of students had gathered to protest over meal allowances. Not only did the government delay in paying these allowances, they paid only half the amount that was supposed to be paid to students. This resulted in some students protesting as they felt the money was just too little to see them through until when government would credit the remaining half, a date which was not clearly stated.
I have been at UNZA since June 2011 and I am amazed that year-in year-out I have had to endure tear gas because of the same reason – unpaid meal allowances, delayed meal allowances, none increment of meal allowances, meal allowances, meal allowances, and meal allowances! Can’t a permanent solution be found to this meal allowance ‘problem’? Who is to blame here? The government? The students? Who takes responsibility?
Certain systems can be like a blanket of fog that keeps people from doing what they know needs to be done. Under normal circumstances, if you see a snake, you kill it. In some systems, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is hire a consultant on snakes, and then you discuss the snake for a couple of months or even years. The most likely course of action is: – nothing is done!! You reason, “The snake hasn’t bitten anybody yet”, so you just let it crawl around your offices.
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”
God asks man, man blames woman, woman blames snake! It seems humanity has been escaping responsibility from the very beginning and that trait is not about to change anytime soon.