Kalaki’s Korner: The Great Zombieland National Disaster


I was carefully and reverentially pouring another brandy when swinging round the corner came a huge leather satchel, closely followed by a school uniform containing the skinny figure of Thokozile. ‘Grandpa!’ she said, ‘before you drink too much brandy, I’ve got a question for the Paramount Chief of Kalakiland!’
          ‘Fire away,’ I said. ‘Anything except Quantum Theory.’
          ‘Why is it that all the land to the north of us is nothing but empty bush? My friend Rochelle says that nobody lives there, except a few scary zombies. I asked my Geography teacher, but he told me not to worry about that because it’s not in the syllabus.’
          ‘It all happened more than a thousand years ago,’ I said, ‘when that place was called Zambia. In those days it was a highly developed country with more than ten million people.’
          ‘What d’you mean by highly developed? Did it have spacecraft, intergalactic tourism, time travel and that sort of thing?’
          ‘Good gracious no,’ I laughed, ‘it wasn’t developed in that sort of vulgar futuristic way. But it was developed in the sense that people enjoyed life, looked after each other, ate well, drank well, and were peaceful and considerate. People were happy and laughed a lot.’
          ‘So what went wrong?’
          ‘Things went wrong after they elected the new Chief Ukwa to be their new king.’
          ‘Wasn’t he any good at running the country?’
          ‘He wasn’t asked to run the country. In those days people were very well organized and civilized, and they knew how to run the country.’
          ‘So what was the king supposed to do?’
          ‘In those days the most precious and civilized thing was laughter. And Chief Ukwa was their most famous comedian. They always elected ridiculous leaders to make them laugh, and Ukwa was generally reckoned to be the best yet. He could tell a joke in a very dry and droll fashion. And while everybody else was falling around laughing, he would just stand there sternly with a straight face.’
          ‘Why didn’t he laugh?’
          ‘He had very bad teeth.’
          ‘So couldn’t King Ukwa develop the country by further developing everybody’s sense of humour? What went wrong?’
          ‘It all went horribly wrong because Ukwa was not content with being a great comedian. Instead he had dreams of being a great leader, who would take charge of everything. He declared himself to be the Great Omnipotent Dictator.’
          ‘Did people really have to call him the Great Omnipotent Dictator?’
          ‘He preferred the shorter version – GOD.’
          ‘Didn’t people laugh?’
          ‘Well, yes, to start with they did. Until they realized that this was not just another joke, the man was really deadly serious.’
          ‘So he didn’t develop the country?’
          ‘It wasn’t that simple. He had a completely different idea of development. He said it meant more roads, hospitals and schools.’
          ‘But didn’t that make the people happy?’
          ‘Schools don’t make people happy, they make people miserable. And before long he was very puzzled to find that he had no money to pay the teachers.’
          ‘Why not?’
          ‘He had spent their salaries on building more schools. Just as he had also spent the doctors’ salaries on building more hospitals.
          ‘And did he still keep building more roads?’
          ‘He needed them to bring in the big machines to build the hospitals and schools.’
          ‘So he needed to find more money. What did he do?’
          ‘He took it from the people. He removed the subsidy on mealie-meal, so that poor people had to pay more for it. He removed the subsidy on farm inputs, which made things even worse, since now farmers couldn’t produce much maize. He increased the tax on petrol, so that people had to pay more to go to work. People became more hungry and more angry. They stopped laughing and started shouting  Is this what you mean by development?
          ‘And how did he answer?’
          ‘He didn’t answer. He stayed in his palace. He was too busy with his plans to build more roads, more schools and more hospitals.’
          ‘So what happened next? Did the people protest? Demonstrate? Rebel?’
          ‘They could not. King Ukwa had been careful to feed his army well, and the people were now weak and starving. And then the next thing was, without any medicines in the hospitals, all the old diseases came back: TB, polio, pneumonia, kwashiorkor, cholera, and typhus. The hospitals were full of dying patients. The doctors and nurses had all fled abroad, making good use of the new roads.’
          ‘So what happened then?’
          ‘The survivors all fled. All that can be found now is the crumbling ruins of all those schools, hospitals and roads, overgrown with creepers, vines and trees. People say that the ghosts of all those that died still haunt the land. That’s why it’s now called Zombieland, and the king’s reign is now remembered as the Great Zombieland National Disaster. Nobody has ever dared to go back.’
          ‘And those who survived and fled, where did they go?’
          ‘They fled over the border and into a neighbouring country.’
          ‘Tell me, Grandpa, how do you know all these things?’
          ‘Because it was I, Kalaki, who led the exodus into the hinterland which is now called Kalakiland, where I became Paramount Chief Kalaki, and where you are the Princess Thokozile.’
          ‘That means, Grandpa, that you are more than a thousand years old!’
          ‘Yes,’ I said, as I refilled my glass. ‘I am well preserved in brandy.’

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