African Library: A casualty of power by Mukuka Chipanta

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Mukuka Chipanta: A casualty of power (2016)

This debut novel by a Zambian author tackles the highly topical subjects of the Chinese presence in Africa and industrial agitation in neocolonial African contexts, postcolonial corruption in government and the traps of compromise and co-optation in wait for entrepreneurs in developing economies. It all centres on the “resource curse” so many African countries battle with – the apparent blessing of having some key substance or raw material in abundant supply, resulting in over-reliance on its exploitation and exportation and a skewed, undiversified economy. In the case of Zambia, the substance in question is copper, and the novel centres on the strained relationship between Chinese mine managers and overseers and the Zambian (and other African) mineworkers – within a context of other complicating circumstances and individual [hi]stories. The opportunities for looting that are ruthlessly exploited by local elites in cahoots with foreign profiteers, like the abuse of power and callous repression of whistle-blowers, opponents and protestors, are old stories in African and many other societies, but the intertwinement of all the above-mentioned forces and factors is registered anew by means of its very deft portrayal in Chipanta’s engaging narrative.

Not many African writers of fiction are active in the spheres of science and business, making Chipanta’s “day job” occupation an interesting exception. In the brief author’s biography, readers are informed that he works as an aerospace engineer in Washington, DC, and helped design the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aeroplane. His chosen setting for A casualty of power probably relates to his having grown up in the Zambian Copperbelt Province, which borders the DRC, but he obtained degrees in business and engineering in Britain and America, though he ascribes his passion for storytelling to his extended family’s fondness for engagement in this form of communicating. These biographical facts relate to the narrative’s effective combination of human interest perspective and focus on individual experience, and an acute awareness of larger economic and political forces at play in the situations that are portrayed. The tale, told with artless-seeming candour, rests on a sophisticated grasp of the underlying complexities.

The title figure in this novel is Hamoonga Moya, and the main narrative thread shows us his childhood in a poor rural family as a fatherless boy with twin younger sisters and a hardworking and loving mother, followed by his tertiary studies at “The Hone” – Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka, the Zambian capital. When near completion, his studies are inexplicably interrupted by his kidnapping and four years of imprisonment (incommunicado) in a remote prison. Eventually freed, as suddenly as his incarceration, Hamoonga finds employment as a mineworker and gets caught up in a miners’ strike. The narrative concludes with the repression of the strike and its aftermath. The text bounces about a little, chronologically speaking; it opens with the eruption of the crisis at the copper mine in October 2011, which precipitates the strike, then goes back into Hamoonga’s childhood and college days, before moving on in a more-or-less steady advance up to and beyond his assumption of a leadership role in the strike. The focus, through Hamoonga’s eyes, is intercepted by details concerning a young businesswoman, Lulu Daka, whom Hamoonga meets shortly before his kidnapping, and the plans and perspective of the ruthless minister of mines and his even more callously scheming wife – who is a cousin of the president’s. Other clusters of characters whom we encounter as Hamoonga’s story proceeds are his college friends, then a few of the men with whom he interacts while in prison, and finally his fellow mineworkers. Interestingly, Chipanta opens his account from the perspective of Jinan Hu, the Chinese overseer who is Hamoonga’s immediate superior at Chishimba Mine, and from time to time briefly returns the reader to his point of view, also portraying his mother’s, wife’s and little son’s lives in Beijing and giving us a glimpse of his fellow overseer, Ping Li. Lastly, we see police (men and women) of different ranks and degrees of rectitude.

Chipanta’s cleverly designed plot places Hamoonga, as an earnest journalism student, in the midst of a student discussion group debating the topic of a second year assignment asking students to explore how they, “as journalists, should contribute to the social discourse on the recent takeover of the country’s mining industry by the Chinese” – as the suitably named Brave, perhaps their group’s unofficial leader and something of a firebrand, sums up their essay topic (20). The college scene is vividly portrayed, ranging from inadequate funding and cramped quarters to this kind of debate (20–4). Brave is (for example) immediately challenged by Bernice, who insists that Africans be seen as the “co-conspirators” of the Chinese, rather than “powerless” victims of foreign “aggressors”. Brave rebuts the point by saying negotiations weren’t conducted among equals, and that Zambians have been “bamboozled” and robbed. But, should the Chinese be blamed if Africans are weak negotiators? someone else asks. Maya, a young woman in whom Hamoonga is interested, brings up the point that journalists should not apportion blame or praise, but report impartially. Yes, he responds, but with so much at stake for them as Zambians, responsible journalists should acknowledge both that “we have corrupt, incompetent leaders” and that the Chinese are primarily out to make easy profits for themselves. Brave disagrees; “for one country knowingly to enslave another just to capitalise on an arbitrage opportunity” is “colonialism all over again”, he insists, confirming Hamoonga and Ken’s earlier remark on his “emotive” approach. In his next important contribution, Brave provides a more detailed justification of his indignation:

So as journalists, how should we cover a story in which over ten thousand out of a work-force of thirty thousand mine workers are laid off in a period of two years by the so-called Chinese investors; the same people who promised our government they would retain jobs? How are we to report on the loss of hospitals, schools, and other social services previously offered by government-run copper mines? How do we report on the massive influx of Chinese workers taking up jobs previously held by local Africans – and even including menial jobs? Tell me, how should we report on Chinese owners that mistreat African employees, underpaying them and overworking them? How can we cover stories of Chinese firms that plunder our natural resources and pollute our rivers and streams, disrupting our farms and making our children sick? (22)

This passionate indictment is met with Bernice’s acknowledgement that there is a role for activist journalism in Zambia. Then, the discussion moves on to the fact that familial roles and gender relations are affected by lay-offs, which result in wives’ having to become breadwinners, and a (of course, female) suggestion that there should be more women journalists to report on this aspect of the situation. There is also an acknowledgement of the fact that, within this “multifaceted” situation, the Chinese are contributing “impressive infrastructure projects”, such as a massive road network. Still, says Brave, it should be remembered at what cost these improvements are acquired, and Hamoonga bemoans the “oiling [of] the hands of [Zambian] politicians’ hands” by none too fastidious Chinese businesspeople.

Hamoonga and Maya eventually become a couple at Maya’s instigation, since she is aware that the young man would be too timid to presume. Some time later, however, Hamoonga has a chance encounter with a glamorous woman some few years his senior. This is Lulu Daka, who is an events planner with her own business. Lulu is lovely, dynamic and charming, and Hamoonga, though shy, is delighted when she asks him to meet her for drinks at a sports bar. Chipanta slips in Lulu’s background story. A beautiful and much pursued teenager in a well-off Lusaka family (her father a lawyer and her mother a nurse), she was sent off to a strict rural boarding school to remove her from dating and other city distractions. She became studious, but “languish[ed] in the confined spaces of an austere school and chafed at all the rules” (36). Early in her final year at the school, Lulu, by chance, comes across her chemistry teacher, Mr Chanda, also taking the air. They start chatting, they meet again another night, and this becomes a regular thing. The older man teaches Lulu about jazz and other cultural forms; she shares her favourite music with him. One evening, the predictable happens; the teacher seduces her and she yields to his advances. The narrator adds drily:

This was not Mr Chanda’s first rodeo. He had always had a weakness for underage girls, a perversion that had gone undetected for a few years in his early teaching career until he was caught in an uncompromising [sic] situation with a fifteen-year-old student. Each time the incident had been hushed up, for his uncle was the National Commissioner of Schools and each time he was merely transferred to a different school. (41)

Lulu obscurely realises that this was a violation and never meets Mr Chanda again, but she is confused and unable to tell anyone what happened, aware also that she was partly responsible. She is soon discovered to be pregnant and forced to divulge the seducer’s identity. Mr Chanda is dismissed and threatened never to try get a Zambian teaching post again; Lulu is sent home but allowed to sit for her school-leaving exams, and some months later gives birth to a girl she names Misozi, who becomes the pivot of her life. Lulu does not yield to her misfortune, and manages to pursue her tertiary studies (with her mother’s help), obtaining a degree in business administration.

When Hamoonga meets Lulu at the sports bar, their conversation is soon interrupted by a cell phone call to Lulu – clearly not only an unwelcome interruption, but a troubling imposition, as Hamoonga judges by her response. She has been requested or ordered to come and pick up a package at a fairly distant location, and asks Hamoonga to accompany her without offering any explanation. They drive to a heavily guarded and gated mansion (Lulu is recognised by the gate guard, but Hamoonga is asked to provide an ID and has his student card copied and checked), where a muscular, suited man gives Lulu a small rucksack that she locks in her boot. The evening spoilt, and with Lulu announcing an unexpected flight to Johannesburg on the morrow, she apologises for the curtailed date, but promises to make up for it after her return, as she drops him off at his university residence. We learn subsequently that, with Lulu having got to know Mrs Zulu, the mining minister’s wife, in her events organising work, this wealthy woman and her husband eventually provided a substantial loan with which Lulu could proceed to fulfil her dream of setting up her own business – in return for certain favours. The “favours” utilise the fact that Lulu frequently travels on buyer’s expeditions to places like Dubai and Johannesburg, and involve her couriering certain mysterious packages for the Zulu couple.

Minister Zulu, the narrative informs us, was a freedom fighter along with the president. They remained close and cemented their relationship when Zulu married the president’s cousin, a very formidable woman who became her husband’s foremost advisor and strategist. For his loyalty to the president, Zulu was rewarded with the lucrative post of heading the ministry of mines. We are never informed in full detail about the “extracurricular” activities of the Zulus, but catch glimpses of the dark doings they engage in when Lulu is informed by their henchman Babu that the relatively small bag she is instructed to take to Johannesburg contains “a big consignment worth over half a million dollars” (63). This can only be drugs. A horrified Lulu arrives at the South African airport only to discover that the bag has gone missing; she knows Babu’s role as enforcer, and is in a panic that, should the bag not be found, the henchman will not hesitate to mete out the Zulus’ “punishment” for something she was not to blame for, by harming Lulu’s daughter. She quickly makes arrangements for her daughter to be put on a plane to join her in Johannesburg. Fortunately, this succeeds; however, a raging Babu beats up Lulu’s assistant at her shop, before recalling that Lulu had someone in the car with her when she arrived to pick up the consignment. It is at this moment that the nearly fatal “connection” between Hamoonga, the Zulus and Babu is established.

Neither suspecting nor knowing any aspect of the events related above, Hamoonga is asleep in his slightly isolated college dormitory along with his easy-going friend and roommate, Ken, when three AK-47-wielding men burst in on them in the middle of the following night. The brutal assailants do not even know which of the two young men is Hamoonga, so they (these are evidently Babu and two assistants) beat up both of them while screaming at them to identify their target person. Ken is left bleeding, broken, unconscious and close to death on the floor, where he is discovered the next day by four friends; Hamoonga has disappeared without a trace – the attackers obviously abducted him. While they are overcome with bewilderment at the seemingly inexplicable attack, the immediate thing to do is to get Ken to hospital – which the friends do with the aid of a taxi, since an ambulance would take too long. Once Ken is in safe hands at the hospital (he never regains the use of his legs and ends up living in the UK, where his parents send him for specialist care), two of the friends go to report the attack and Hamoonga’s disappearance at the closest police station. Ben and Cholwe, arriving at the Lusaka central police station, find five people waiting, unattended to, while the police officers on duty engage in trivial conversation, ignoring them. When Ben attempts to gain their attention by telling them that he’s come to report an assault and a missing person, they carry on chatting as if he hasn’t spoken. He tries again: “‘Excuse me, officers!’ Ben said, his voice tight with anxiety and impatience, ‘We’ve come to report an important case!’” The police show nothing but fury at being “disturb[ed]”, and the female officer threatens him not to dare to do so again when “two police officers are talking”. Frantic at such “negligent and arrogant” conduct, Ben is driven to try a third time to make his “urgent” report when “both officers [rise] from their chairs” (75). Ben is shouted at and even threatened with imprisonment, his attempt to explain cut short by the woman officer striking him in the face. Under a barrage of swearing from the police, the youngsters retire, defeated. Three hours later, they are, at last, able to enter a case so that an investigation can be lodged.

Two detectives arrive at Ken’s hospital bedside, where, after eight hours in the ICU and several days recovering, he tells them what he can. Yet, this is but little, since he has no idea why he and Hamoonga were attacked. He is, at least, able to testify to Hamoonga’s not being a junkie or a drug smuggler and not having any connection with the criminal underworld. The officers conclude that the assailants must have been military men, and that they will need to dig much deeper; all they can surmise is that there must be some kind of “political” element involved – possibly, this expression is a euphemism for a suspicion that only a political “big gun” could have ordered this type of attack – possibly because the abducted Hamoonga “knew” or had stumbled onto something. Later that afternoon, the senior detective assigned to the investigation is unexpectedly summoned to the office of police chief Daka. The conversation initiated by the superior officer starts with praise for the detective’s work, followed by a question, put to him by the chief, of what the greatest quality might be for a police officer to have. It is not, rules the chief, “honesty, integrity”, as the detective timidly offers, but “in a harsh world of sometimes ugly truths […] that the ordinary citizenry cannot stomach […] the one thing that separates those who get killed on duty and those who make it home to their wife and children every night […] is loyalty!” (85). He proceeds, with no further “explanation”, to order the detective to close the case of the two students who were attacked by, as he puts it, some “unknown bandits” (86). It is merely a situation where “the missing boy has run off with some loose woman somewhere and does not want to be found”, he decrees. Scenes like the above confirm the old truth that in a society that is rotten at the top, most state functionaries end up contaminated. Ordinary citizens and the poor pay the price and bear the brunt for the luxuries of the powerful.    

In the meantime, Hamoonga regains consciousness in the aftermath of the attack in the early hours of the morning, finding himself naked, in pain, on the floor of a pitch-dark room. It is two days after the assault; all he learns from whom he discovers is a fellow inmate of the prison where he has been taken, is that it is a detention centre for political prisoners – people deemed enemies of the state. “No one makes it into this prison without having angered a politician or posed a threat to the state, real or perceived,” (69) the elderly man tells him. In despair because he knows himself to be an innocent man, Hamoonga is taught to resign himself to the situation – there is no court of appeal available to these prisoners. The Zulus’ pet thug, Babu, comes to “visit” Hamoonga in a violent yet, of course, fruitless attempt to extract information about the lost “package” from him, leaving his victim with further serious injuries. The old man who nurses and advises Hamoonga once attempted a coup against the government, he learns. His name is Mr Miti. A police officer who later interviews Hamoonga confirms the suspicion that he is the Zulus’ victim because he happened to be with Lulu on the fateful evening when she collected the now missing package. The Zulus, the officer says, “have created a vast empire of corruption, patronage and greed [and …] operate with impunity” (91) because of their political connections and position. The Zulus cannot risk Hamoonga’s compromising knowledge; they are grooming their son to become the next president of Zambia.

Several sections movingly describe how Hamoonga’s old mother comes to Lusaka in search of her missing son, but is fobbed off by the police, who, as ordered, have ended their enquiries, albeit pretending otherwise to the pleading mother. The greatest cruelty inflicted on Hamoonga is that he learns of his mother missing and mourning him, falling into a physical decline and dying while he remains incarcerated; he is not even permitted to attend her funeral. Hamoonga withdraws into a “deep emotional stupor”, knowing himself “irreparably damaged by the loss of his mother” (104) and his inability even to say his farewells to her. Then, suddenly, because humanitarian international pressure has demanded closure of the notorious Cha-Cha-Cha prison, four years after his detention in it commenced, Hamoonga and the other prisoners are quietly freed – penniless and broken – with no explanation or apology for what they have been through. Hamoonga, laboriously and through the kindness of a few strangers, makes his way to his (favourite) sister’s house. He finds that her home has become shabby and her tiny house is ill-furnished; she struggles to support herself and her two little girls; her husband has deserted them after taking up with another woman who “gave him” a son. But, there is warmth and some compensatory comfort in the familial love Hamoonga finds here. The next hurdle to overcome is for him to find a job to help support them all.

Desperately trying to find any kind of employment, after months of searching and a more immediate memory of being sneered at for even attempting access to the application process at a local copper mine, Hamoonga (walking back disconsolately to his sister’s home in the dusk) spots a car that has landed in a ditch. The lone driver, a Chinese man, cannot get his vehicle back on the road unaided, so Hamoonga offers help and, with great effort, they succeed. The driver is Jinan Hu, and in gratitude for Hamoonga’s help, on being told that he was turned away at the mine, he tells the young Zambian to mention his name at the gate. The next day, Hamoonga is let in and, after a brief interview with Jinan Hu, is offered a job on the overseer’s team, having been warned that he does not tolerate “razy” workers (139). Although he has to rise at three am to be at the mine on time for the morning shift and initially gets only back-breaking manual labour to do, Hamoonga’s dedication and his college level education are soon noticed, and he gets tasks involving the operation of complex machinery. He is also liked and trusted by his fellow mineworkers and by Jinan. Even though Jinan is a hard taskmaster and harsh in speech (often disrespectful in his manner) towards the workers, Chipanta humanises him by showing that he is a lonely migrant and actually fairly low in the mining hierarchy, working very hard to earn enough for his small family’s keep and his small son’s future education. Chipanta vividly, though briefly, evokes the household in Beijing, where Jinan’s elderly mother and his soft-hearted, hardworking wife keep each other company and together look after his five-year-old boy, Tao. Taking a rare holiday, Jinan’s wife and son take a train journey to go and pay her family a brief visit in the distant south of China, but there is a terrible collision and both are killed. The news devastates and embitters Jinan, “tormented by the thought that he [has] been away too long and not been able to protect” his gentle wife and lively little son, whom he has not seen for over five years. Such “despairing thoughts ate at his core, devouring him like a malignant tumour” (135). All these factors make clear that Jinan’s cantankerous nature does not comply with the stereotype of the heartless foreign capitalist amassing a fortune at the expense of Africans.

Six months into the job, Hamoonga’s calm, mature nature and courtesy towards others have made him something of an unofficial leader of his team (under Jinan the supervisor, of course). The team comprises fifteen Zambians and two Congolese, well liked by the local workers, and a miner known as Kalala – a transformation of the term “coloured”, as he is of mixed race – the firebrand among them. His real name is Paul Berg; his father is a Norwegian who impregnated his Zambian mother and then “disappeared”. In Kalala’s view, Africans will never get a better deal as long as they remain what they are: by far, “too docile”, in his view. He remarks tauntingly that the Zambians have “give[n] away [their] mineral wealth and the future of [their] grandchildren” for “a few football stadiums” built by the Chinese (139). As if in confirmation of Kalala’s political indignation, the narrator remarks that mining is “the lifeblood, the heart, the liver, the kidneys and the brain of Zambia”, adding that “copper, the red gold” is “the chalice that holds the dreams of a nation” (140). With Hamoonga recalling the discussion among the journalist students in which he participated years ago when he was at college, Kalala pursues his argument against neocolonialism by insisting that local “politicians sell our people and enslave them into a life of poverty [even] as they enrich the Chinese imperial master” (141). It must be said that the remaining section of the novel, in particular, largely confirms this bitter remark, as the role and later actions of the Zulu couple and their henchmen make clear. Jinan yells at the men for talking as they work, saying, “Hamoonga! Watch your people! […] Next time I fire your friends, prenty people need job, if you don’t want job, I find someone else!” (141). Shortly after this scene, Kalala approaches Hamoonga as someone trusted and admired by the workers and respected by the Chinese, and as an educated man with articulation skills, to become the workers’ spokesperson in raising their grievances (disrespect, inadequate pay levels and no increases in view of rising inflation) with the bosses. But, Hamoonga refuses, telling Kalala that no lowly mineworker would be listened to by the Chinese “who are backed by big money and powerful politicians”; they are simply too “weak” and must accept this hard truth.

Kalala is persistent, however. If the mineworkers stand together, he believes, they will have to be heard. When Hamoonga asks Kalala why the Mine Workers Union does not negotiate on their behalf, Kalala laughs bitterly; it is “the worst kept secret”, he says, that “all the MWU leaders are in the pockets of the Chinese and the politicians” (143). In the meantime, miners’ safety is under threat by poor conditions of service and badly maintained equipment, healthcare for workers nonexistent, and their earnings nowhere near a living wage; and, they are spoken to as if they are “bastard children” or “animals” (144). While not conceding concerning what can be done to address these problems, Hamoonga privately admits that Kalala’s points are valid; he agrees to join the workers after shift time the following week at a shabby pub to discuss their situation. When Hamoonga arrives at the pub, Kalala introduces him to the others as the man they need on their board. The discussion centres on the feasibility of organised protest action, but comes to no definite conclusion in view of the risk of retaliation. Hamoonga walks home afterwards, still unconvinced that even a mass movement has any chance of succeeding against the ruthlessness (of which he has such bitter personal experience) of those in power in Zambia acting to protect their assets.

A few weeks later, Jinan wakes up in a terrible frame of mind; it is exactly a year since his wife and son died. He is hence especially unreceptive when Kalala, in Jinan’s eyes nothing but “a dawdler and a troublemaker” (149), chooses that very morning to approach him with the demand that the workers’ case for higher wages be considered. Despite Jinan’s resistance, Kalala persists in putting the case for what he terms a “fair” wage, at which term Jinan erupts to exclaim in fury, “You people [the miners] sit around talking and compraining every day and now you want more money?” (151), threatening to have the lot of them fired and replaced by more docile employees. At that very moment, something resembling an earthquake sends everyone scuttling for safety. Paramedics soon arrive to tend to men who might have been injured, but it turns out that, luckily, there are no serious injuries. What happened was that an elevator shaft at this, the very deepest and also richest of the Zambian copper mines, tilted just as it was bringing up a full lift of workers after their night shift; this was caused by the fraying of the steel cable hoist combined with the overcrowding of the lift cage. It is when this fact is revealed that the Zambian workers start shouting at the Chinese supervisors who are on duty, accusing mine management of caring nothing for mineworkers’ safety and of failing to maintain and conscientiously check the proper functioning of crucial mining equipment. “Years of resentment, ill-treatment and exploitation rose to the surface, stimulated by fear and the knowledge that their lives were at risk” (153). The cry “Zambia for Zambians! Africa for Africans!” is raised by a young mineworker, and, as he in this moment of fury leaps onto one of the five Chinese overseers, he is struck in self-defence by his intended victim. As the miner falls down, the entire crowd erupts, and the Chinese men take to their heels, running for their lives to and through the guard post, and locking themselves in their tiny one-room office. This takes us back to the opening chapter of the text, where the Chinese are described as barricading themselves in as best they can as the mineworkers overrun the guard post and approach their office. Jinan is shown taking out a loaded pistol from a drawer. Certain that they are about to be killed, Jinan’s colleagues insist that he fire into the crowd as stones begin to rain down on the office. Initially reluctant, he does so, and, as one miner falls down dead, the others flee.

The narrative continues from beyond this crisis, already well past the halfway point in the novel, as Zambian newspaper reports proclaim that the shooting was a murder, railing at “the new imperialism”, slave labour conditions and abuses of Zambian workers’ human rights. Members of the opposition party call for the minister of mines to be sacked – Minister Zulu now in the direct firing line of the crusading press. “The pressure was building for action to be taken at the highest levels to address the crisis at the mines and with each day that passed, the chorus of dissenters grew louder. Something had to be done” (156). Zulu is livid; his years of illicit profit by taking bribes for granting licences, etc, have come to a threatening pause. His wife calms him down, assuring him that the situation can be handled; they must devise some new cause to occupy media attention, diverting the anger. At this moment, the president calls Zulu, ordering him to go to the mine and “sort it out” (160) – the Chinese are threatening to terminate all mining operations in Zambia unless the five Chinese overseers (all in police custody) are freed, while the mineworkers (perhaps the whole nation) might respond by rioting if the supervisors are not charged.

The man who died from Jinan’s gunshot is Kalala. Recalling the dead man’s “passion for justice, his refusal to be deterred by the apathy, fear or indifference of his colleagues”, Hamoonga cannot but feel that the manner of Kalala’s death confirms all the points the man had insisted on and stood up for. He does not only mourn his friend, but wants to do something about it, for to him “Kalala’s death marked a point of no return […]; it brought back memories of all the injustices he had seen and suffered himself” (160). Hamoonga recalls the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “If a man cannot find something that he is willing to die for then he is not fit to live.” Articulate and passionate, Hamoonga becomes the leader of the small group coordinating the miners’ strike subsequent to the shooting. He is the one to suggest that they gather every day in front of the municipal offices, and the main formulator of the miners’ four key demands: immediate prosecution of the five Chinese supervisors, a change in management of the mine, resignation of the mining minister for incompetence, and improved working conditions (a 40-hour working week and a 50% pay increase). They are, basically, the same demands that are put to the group comprising the government delegation, the mining representatives and the representatives of the Mine Workers Union (clearly not on the side of the strikers), when Hamoonga and two other workers are received by them in a meeting called to address the strike. Hamoonga is the spokesperson and bears the brunt of the sneers and fury at the miners’ “audacity” coming from all quarters. When Hamoonga recognises a thickset man who enters to have a whispered consultation with one of the people on the opposing side, as the man who handed Lulu the package, the loss of which caused all his trouble, and as the man, too, who came to beat him savagely in his prison cell, he realises that he and his worker colleagues have no chance of succeeding:

[They] were in over their heads. Their rebellion had ruffled the feathers of politicians at the very top, people who always got their way no matter what; things were going to take a turn for the worse, he could sense it. These so-called negotiations were a sham, mere window dressing to try to convince outsiders that civil protocol would be followed. No, he knew now that these talks were just that – talk, nothing more! (172)

That very night, Hamoonga returns home to find that he has an entirely unexpected visitor – Mr Miti, the older man who helped nurse his wounds and gave him advice during the period of his imprisonment.

After initial enquiries regarding each other’s welfare since the prison period, Mr Miti tells Hamoonga that he’s heard much about the strike and his friend’s role in it. He is, however, anxious to warn Hamoonga that what he is doing is extremely dangerous, since the “people in high places” that Hamoonga is “angering” might “do terrible things to you and those you love”. Indignantly, Hamoonga makes clear to Miti that he is “a man with a clear conviction”, not to be deterred by the threats of enemies to the cause he has espoused. On hearing this, Miti suggests that, to be effective, Hamoonga and his allies should broaden their base and “make it a national revolt […,] engag[ing] the entire country to finally make real and lasting change” (176). With Hamoonga heartened by this suggestion, Mr Miti’s further argument that while an armed insurrection is bound to be repressed, an entire nation demanding change will have to be listened to, startles Hamoonga. A little taken aback at the thought that the much more modest and circumscribed demands of the mineworkers could grow so big, Hamoonga warms to the idea, with Miti’s encouragement. Miti advises him that, as a first step towards engaging with the leaders of all civil groups, the miners should meet and devise a joint plan of action with key leaders in the Marketeers Association, which has a strong branch where they are, in Kitwe. Having also warned Hamoonga that civil society groups are often infiltrated by government spies, Mr Miti tells Hamoonga that he can set up a meeting between him and his associates and the local Chikosone marketers. In the wake of a cleverly disguised invitation, Hamoonga and some other miners join Mr Miti and some marketers at a bar deep inside the maze of stalls and alleys that make up Chisokone Market, as one of his group fortunately knows his way around here.

After useful discussions, the mineworkers and marketeers “resolved to join forces” (182). Their meeting successfully concluded, Mr Miti suggests that the marketers leave first since, if all leave together, they might attract unwelcome attention. As the miners walk back in the eerie pitch-dark of the market, they suddenly hear a disturbing sound – the crackling of flames! The close-packed, dry wooden stalls and tarpaulins soon turn the entire area into an inferno. Hamoonga’s friend fortunately leads them out safely, but just as they emerge, a shout goes up from the dark claiming that the miners are the men who started the fire and must be apprehended. Hamoonga, though with a badly hurt leg, is the only miner who manages to escape – by sheer luck. The next scene shows Mrs Zulu complacently rejoicing that their “plan worked swimmingly”; it is now big news that leaders of the mining strike have been arrested for “murder and arson” (185); one paper suggests that the miners started the fire (which caused three deaths and property damage costing millions of kwacha) “trying to cause unrest for their selfish plight [sic] for more money” (186). With the press now baying for the miners’ blood, Mrs Zulu praises her husband for having suggested that “Agent X” was the man to devise and set the plan in motion. The Marketeers Union leaders had no idea what was behind the meeting they attended in good faith – “unwitting pawns in the whole affair” (187).

The penultimate chapter is tellingly titled with the Latin motto “Sic semper tyrannis”, which proclaims that oppressors will inevitably meet their downfall. Its applicability only becomes clear as the narrative proceeds. Limping along and knowing that he is a hunted man, Hamoonga reflects on the unexpected and disastrous turn of affairs after what seemed so promising a meeting. He cannot help wondering whether he and his colleagues’ being pounced on just as they emerged from the market was really just a coincidence – were they set up? And, if so, by whom? Could there have been a government spy among them – and who might that be, if not (however “sickening” the thought) the man he has thought of as “his most steadfast friend”, Mr Miti? But, he is forced to conclude, “it could only have been Mr Miti” (189).

The focus shifts briefly to Jinan, the Chinese overseer who shot down Kalala, at this point. He feels no pleasure or vindication from being released from jail after his arrest:

He had no respite from his own thoughts: he replayed the image of the bloodied body of the mineworker over and over again, as he had done in his jail cell. The finality of having ended a life suffocated him; he felt utterly alone, trapped, a prisoner of his own thoughts. He had lost his wife, his son, and now, having killed someone himself, he had lost even the will to live. He loathed what he had become. There was only one way out. (190)

Filling his mind “with the pleasant memories of his wife and son singing nursery rhymes after dinner in their tiny hutong”, Jinan breathes deeply of the carbon monoxide fumes from the pipe connected to the exhaust of his idling car.

Having slept – or, more accurately, passed out from exhaustion – in a roadside ditch, Hamoonga wakes the next morning to the sound of poor neighbourhood women denouncing the mineworkers as selfish, greedy, irresponsible and even murderous. He grasps immediately how fiendishly clever a trap they were caught in: “remove and discredit the leaders of the movement and the sheep will scatter. Once again, he had fallen victim to the evil machinations of a corrupt system!” (191). Slowly limping along, he passes near a petrol station; filling up there is a car he recognises as the Zulus’ – and, in a momentary glimpse, he recognises Mr Miti sitting with them! As fury at his betrayer erupts in Hamoonga’s mind, he knows himself to be “in control”, yet simultaneously “mad” – trying to calm himself by lighting his last cigarette, he takes a few puffs before throwing it away. He storms at Mr Miti, but the other man proves stronger and resists the attack, putting a choking hold on Hamoonga’s neck. Onlookers rush to separate them, as they can see Hamoonga’s life is in danger. Lying on the ground, he next sees the Zulus’ henchman, Babu, returning to the car’s occupants with refreshments he was sent to buy. All the years of suffering come together in one profoundly wrathful act, as Hamoonga lights and throws a match into the pool of petrol under and around the car – fuel that was spilt when his and Mr Miti’s struggle knocked the muzzle of the petrol pump from the parked car. In a moment, Babu, the car and the Zulus in it are engulfed by flames. Watching it all, Hamoonga has no regrets; “this was a statement for all African people tired of tyranny in all its forms, tired of lies, the empty promises and empty bellies, tired of propaganda and deception” (197). Sic semper tyrannis! are the words with which the chapter concludes.

The final chapter depicts Lulu in a coffee shop in Johannesburg, where she has made a good life for herself and Misozi. She is reading the Zambian Daily Mail when she sees that the main report describes the fiery death of the Zulus and an unknown person supposed to have been their aide. The “dangerous ex-convict named Hamoonga Moya” has been arrested for these deaths, and the paper reports that he is sure to hang for it. Jolted by the name of the naïve student she had lightly worried about from time to time, Lulu that evening makes a phone call to Zambia – her first since the loss of the notorious package became a certainty, almost seven years earlier. She calls a friend to ask an important favour: the friend’s uncle is a brilliant attorney, and Lulu wants to connect with him in order to assist “someone [she] knew a long time ago, someone who needs help – big time” (203). On that tentative note, Chipanta concludes the narrative.

A casualty of power is a brief novel, but it packs a strong punch, vividly and effectively raising matters of importance and urgent relevance to millions of Africans – and others, for African situations are never unique – and their intelligent depiction can enlighten readers all over the world.

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