28 January 2005

Zambia: Bizarre Way of Raising Awareness

Chawama residents use hoax odd stories to highlight public interest issues

IF there is a township in Zambia that would produce many mystery writers in the world of stranger-than-fiction, it is Lusaka's Chawama township where residents have a very subtle way of adding their voice to the various issues affecting them.

Chawama residents do not use violence or resort to demonstrations and bomb scares in expressing their disapproval or approval of any public interest issue.

They instead always come up with all sorts of bizarre and humorous stories that spread like wild fire and, in no time, manage to bring people together to appreciate the seriousness of a particular problem.

The latest episode happened last Tuesday when hordes of residents trekked to the local police station to catch a glimpse of what was reported to be a 15-year-old girl who had turned into a pig.

Coming barely a month after residents complained of the heavy presence of satanists in the sprawling township, the latest event easily convinced everyone that a girl had picked up a K10,000 note while walking to the market with her friends. She then started transforming herself into a pig before she was handed over to the police.

By 14:00 hours on the material day, hundreds of people had already gathered at the police station.

They refused to go back to their homes without proving the truth of the reported strange incident.

John Howard residents were briefly cut off from town, as traffic could not flow out of the area through the only tarred road to town because of the people who had covered the whole area around the police station.

Commuters were forced to walk a distance of two kilometres to Chawama bus station to catch buses while all minibuses coming from town U-turned at Chawama to avoid the human traffic.

People kept flocking to the police station until the whole building was completely blacked out by many people. Police had a tough time explaining the facts surrounding the bizarre incident as the multitudes adamantly refused to go away

"Please, we don't have any pig here and we have not even received such a case. It is all lies and you are all just wasting your time here," appealed one police officer at the station.

But the plea fell on deaf ears until police resorted to using force and manhandled a number of curious spectators around 18:00 hours.

"They (police officers) beat me up and threw me into the cell after telling the inmates that I was accusing them of being pigs. The inmates kicked me many times and punched me in the face," cried Joseph Kunda as he wiped blood from his mouth.

People only scattered around 19:00 hours after it was established that what they had heard was nothing but a concocted story.

But the excessive attention that the hoax received can only be understood if considered against the backdrop of several other similar incidents that have been reported before. Chawama township is notorious for creating odd stories, based on current affairs which never turn out to be true.

Early last year, hundreds of residents flocked to the local clinic to confirm the presence of satanism at the medical institution.

This was after word went round that a dead nurse had assisted a pregnant woman in delivering and had later disappeared with the newly-born baby.

While people expected to find the dead baby lying on top of the nurse's corpse in the mortuary as was reported, facts on the ground never pointed to anything of that nature. There was no woman with such a complaint and no nurse had died at the clinic.

People remained chanting outside the clinic for hours on end until they were taken into the mortuary to disprove the baseless event that was reported at the peak of unconfirmed stories of satanists conniving with medical personnel to initiate people into the occult.

The claims were easily parried but their negative impact on the community took many months to be cleared.

A number of expectant mothers stopped seeking medical attention from the clinic and started giving birth under very difficult circumstances at homes until the local neighbourhood health committees did a lot of door-to-door sensitisation.

When the Sakala Brothers duet of Moses and Levy penned their hit song Sandra which spoke of a woman who became an instant millionaire after 'sweet-hearting' dogs, Chawama bizarre rumour mongers had their own humourous way of condemning the inhuman behaviour which was the main talking point at the beginning of this millennium.

They told of a woman who gave birth to a four-legged baby with the feet of a human being, the head of a dog and thick hair covering the whole body.

Again people surrounded the clinic from as early as 05:00 hours, only to learn that the reported incident which was highly publicised in the early morning hours, was actually another hoax story.

At the peak of the "Millennium Bug" talk in 1999, Chawama clinic also played host to hundreds of residents who one morning rushed to hear the end-time prophecy from a baby who was born with a body of an old man, beards on the chin and a full set of teeth in the mouth.

The baby was said to have declared that the world was ending the same year and had interpreted the year 1999 to be the inverted form for the so much talked-about "Mark of the Beast" 666.

Well, the world is still turning on its two axis and more weird incidents have continued emanating from Chawama after the baby's doom prophecy!

In 2002 when perpetual roadblocks became a thorn in the flesh of Lusaka bus drivers, a strategy was mapped out in Chawama to end the problem.

Remember the story of a driver who plunged his minibus in the infamous Blue Water dam with seven police officers dying inside with him?

It was all lies but, according to minibus driver, Given Kafwimbi, "It somehow helped us because police reduced on roadblocks along the Kafue road."

The Blue Water hoax tragedy spread so wildly that police spokesperson Brenda Muntemba had to issue up to five Press statements within the same month refuting the claims.

Still people did not believe her until some concerned stone crushers around the dam confirmed there had not been any minibus which plunged into the dam.

And life has always been that way in Chawama. Soon after the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation by former President Frederick Chiluba when wizards started crash-landing, Chawama bizarre story master-minders refused to be left out of the contest.

On three occasions, in 1997 and 1998, they told of naked women that kept crash-landing after failing to perform their satanic rituals properly.

In all the three incidents, however, the then Lusaka Province police chief Bernard Mayonda disputed the validity of the claims, let alone the presence of women that had crash-landed.

But still Chawama residents never seem to learn enough from such incidents which traditionally should have been expected to work only on April Fools Day.

Even when another bizarre incident is concocted in Lusaka, chances are that it will have its full-grown roots in Chawama township and residents will still troop to the scene to 'witness' it.

It is unlikely that next time such a fake story is reported, people will have found something better to do than rushing to waste time on incidents that never turn out to be true.

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