Blast the Radio
By Luckson Msekandiana (Malawi)
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The country was at peace. Autocratic rule of the government had forced every person with rebellious thinking into its docile state. Those who tried to resuscitate their ingenuity on rights and freedom were silently and brutally reprimanded. Everybody talked but it was one identical talk, the praise and worship that they showered on the government and its leader was overwhelming and incomparable. For over two decades the people had played the same old song. The parliament didn’t make sense, for there was none to question and urge, a debate without opposers. Forcefully the people had been hypnotized and the president like a god on his throne had enjoyed the glory of being the everlasting leader for he foresaw nothing that will oust him from power. He had won the heart of many people by reminding them of their past, and how he single handedly defeated the colonial government.
“You were in bondage, slavery when I arrived. None of you were wearing shoes that time. You were all in rugs and sleeping in leaking houses.” On numerous occasions, especially in mass rallies he had echoed these words. Nevertheless everybody accepted him as the savior. With his rhetoric speeches he had brainwashed the people, stagnating their minds so that everybody was just looking up to him.
That was the time when Casten, his full name Casten Yohane, recognized the degradation of human rights and freedom. He was tired of listening to the same political praise and worship songs; he had several times tried to listen to other international radios but only to be barred by languages. Most of them were vernacular dialect of that particular country and sometimes English of which he understand very little. So he was glued to the country state radio. When the women donned the party clothe to shake their behinds to the rhythm of the drum he perceived the one and only political party as religion with their own Buddha. If he had gone to school, only if he had gone further with schooling he would have done something for the people to see the light. Despite the praise the party and its leader had received from the local people he had great, deep, and unfathomable resentment for the country leadership. Sometimes he had wondered why he was born revolutionary like that. For twenty years he had been stoic and had no one to confide his political feelings to. There is nothing dangerous than solo politics and that he knew that politics is an endeavor of a group. Once he tried to empty his mind to his wife who immediately warned him.
“Casten, I will report you to the authorities if you persist telling me your evil grumblings,” she had said in a serious tone while pointing at her husband who was stunned with the behavior of his own beloved wife. Judging from the voice and the tone he was convinced that she could in deed carry out the threat, so the political bitterness and resentment grew stronger everyday and when he heard of some political figures missing, others dying in accidents, and some fleeing the country he had been hitting the walls and banging tables with anger. In his own solitary moment he had questioned what was happening in the country but with no one to discuss with. He knew that they were others with a sickness like his but they were afraid to come out and after all you couldn’t know who the Judas might be. He forgive those who were ignorant for they were supporting the devil without knowledge that he is the devil but for those educated he cursed them for he knew that they were either cowards or greedy people who just want money. However, he kept his fingers crossed waiting for the day when his desired change will come. Sometimes when you cannot change a thing just be patient and watch it, time will change it.
One day as he was crossing the road with a grief stricken face after hearing of the accident that has left ten party members dead as they were coming from the a political rally he bumped into his long time friend, Moyenda. They shook hands, greeted each other while intimate their still strong hands glued to each other. Casten knew Moyenda with his long hand shake.
“How have you been and where have been?” Moyenda asked meanwhile swinging the mating hands, which had gripped palm to palm, and Casten shook too as if he had ridden in an earthquake. Those watching from far concluded that the two men just beside the road hump were dancing. Everybody in the township preferred to cross the road on the hump for the cars always slow down whether they like it or not. As they were exchanging greetings and healthy related stories about their homes a drunkard driver failed to step on break and slow down and instead pressed the accelerator and the car skidded. Fortunately it just flew past the hump without turning over or diverging to the nearby houses but landed safely back in the road, fire, off he goes. Moyenda had inevitably pulled Casten off the road to the nearby street light pole. Letting the hand of his friend go he folded his arms and closing the distance between them, Casten knew that he had something clandestine to tell.
“Have you heard?” He said in a whisper.
“Heard what?” Casten backfired.
“Multiparty,” he said and Casten noticed that the strong hands of his friend was quivering in their folding position. His instinct told him that the word multiparty spells doom to the current government system and the way Moyenda voiced the words it may be treason to say them aloud. Inside him he repeated the word multiparty, multiparty... In his life this is the first time he had heard of this frightening word multiparty. Moyenda invited him home to tell him more about the new system of government that will dethrone the glorious leader of the one party rule. Time, time is the limiting factor. When he heard him talk about multiparty he knew time, time comes with its own effective vocabulary that signifies change. They parted in jovial mood as usual and promised to meet the next day after work. Casten blessed that day for he had found a companion to discuss politics with. But all in all he realized that few, not many people have started talking and he wondered why, and where do they get the information. He had always known Moyenda as not really a coward but a very obedient, royal and discipline man, no wonder it surprised him as to who has poured the spirit of courage and defiance in him.
The following day at work as he was laying bricks, systematically one on top of the other like bread and butter he placed wet cement between them, he smiled when he thought of multiparty. He had been a bricklayer the twenty years of his adulthood and he will always be. He liked the job so much that he had been proud of many building, mainly the government buildings he had helped erecting in the city. The supervisor had caught him smiling and asked him what’s the matter but he could not spill the beans for fear that he may go to jail, a detention without trial. As he was pondering on multiparty he knew that many with an excitement like his were languishing in the prisons if they are lucky not to be slaughtered. Immediately after knock off time he rushed home for a bath before visiting his friend Moyenda. The joint of the relationship between them was cemented by professions as Moyenda was a carpenter and him, the bricklayer. They could talk of the architectural of a building, discussing its strength and weaknesses.
On the way to his friend he saw the police just loitering around the area and when they approached his direction his heart beating escalated. For once he feared for the dear life of his friend. Maybe someone had betrayed him to the youth members of the party and reported him to police. He slowed his pace and glancing at the house of Moyenda he saw nothing unusual. Before he crossed the road he waited for the party vehicle, Land Rover 110 with a country flying flag at the top corner and he shuddered. He hesitated to cross as question flooded in his mind. What if we are caught discussing multiparty? He knew the penalty of that kind of offence. Any way he crossed and walked to the house of Moyenda. Knocking at the door Moyenda opened the door, despite his old age he had not married and people wonder if he will get married at all. He slyly smiled as he let him in and he felt like Judas on the day he betrayed Jesus. Quickly the door was closed.
The room was dark and Moyenda did not bother to light the lamp which stood at the corner of the room. He just pulled a radio under the bed and connected some wires for its cover had deteriorated with old age; it has out lived the owner who was the grandfather of Moyenda. He connected it to the pile of batteries that had been left basking on the sun the whole bright afternoon to recharge. The blowing sound from the speakers occupied the room. Silence loomed, Moyenda was busy tuning the radio to the right channel and Casten stood in the obscurity with anticipation of what he will hear. Revolutionary ideas were embroidered in their hearts as the radio tuning bump into different radio station and Moyenda persisted in his tuning on this Short Wave until he finished the whole meter then started again. Patient hunting finally rewarded him as he caught the exact radio station he had been searching. Life would have been easier if the tuning meter had its numbers, the megahertz but serenity had erased them all, that not even a faint mark existed.
Casten was surprised that the program on the international radio was in his language, vernacular language. He understood every word. Attentively he listened to the name of the presenter and concluded that it should be one of those political victims who had fled the country. Then he heard the man introducing the guests in the program, men who claimed to have vowed to fight from far. Once they had labeled as cowards but the radio was turning them into overnight heroes.
“You are listening to Channel Africa Chinyanja service…” the husky voice declared on the radio.
“What’s the name of the station again?” He asked Moyenda who did not hear him for he was really immersed into the radio program. He had to repeat the question and he was told that it’s the Channel Africa, and the program was in Chinyanja and its Chinyanja service time. The radio station broadcast programs in different languages and Chinyanja is one of them. Listening carefully and intently he noted the names of the once prominent and now exiled politicians. And boldly and fearlessly they began to talk of the evils of the one party rule.
“We want the people of Nyanjaland to have the freedom of speech, freedom of association, religious freedom. The government must respect rights of the people. For example on religious freedom the Jehovah’s witness people had been murdered, snatched of properties, some of them are still in prison as I am talking all because of their religion which do not allow them to be involved in politics. People must have a choice and multiparty is the answer to all this hardships. This federal party and its leadership are all killers; there is blood in their hands. They killed the three ministers, they murder our friend Gamaliel and before you knew it, they will be coming for you. The remedy for all of these is democracy…the government of the people by the people and for the people,” the speaker paused. Casten presumed that he may be drinking water.
“That’s Noah, remember the former minister of internal affair…” Moyenda tried to remind Casten and he nodded his head as he vividly remembered the minister who was accused of hiding a Jehovah’s Witness member. And several times he had tried to oppose the government on several issues. Women had defamed him, labeled him the devil in their political songs and many party ardent followers had wished him dead. Since he fled the country he had become a menace despite the fact that people did not listen to other radio station but he had been on air challenging the government of Nyanjaland.
“You haven’t heard enough, listen to Thomas Gama…” Moyenda whispered.
“I would like to tell all the people in Nyanjaland that I am coming, like Moses to take my people out of bondage. You federal government of Nyanjaland, let my people free…I don’t care if they kill me like they did with the others but I am coming back home to fight not with guns but with words until democracy and multiparty is accepted. Human rights respected. Let me tell you people, you are the one who had empowered these monsters you can also demoralize them. If you are united in one goal you can influence change, they can not kill us, your mouthpiece for we are always talking on your behalf…” Thomas said all these with a powerful voice without any element of remorse or any molecule of fear in it. And this left Casten stunned. He couldn’t believe that now one could stand on an international radio talking ill of the mighty federal party. That’s blasphemy, treason, and delusion in its totality yet it sounded like liberation of his radical mind. Suddenly as the presenter began to introduce the other speaker in the studio the radio went off, run out of battery. Moyenda, christened Matthews squeezed the batteries but they couldn’t produce any more power. Casten offered to buy batteries the next day.
“I first heard of this political evolution, multiparty from my church priest. Then after mass on another Sunday the bishop was confiding to the other church father and I was there arranging the bottle of wines at the vestry,” Moyenda explained as his friend did not move, jerk but ears were wide open taking every word from Moyenda. Since the broadcast he believed every word that his friend said. If the church has started talking then change is close, he thought.
“But how did you know about this radio station?” He asked with admiration of his friend’s ingenuity.
“The same priest notified me that if I want to hear more of multiparty I should listen to this radio station but he warned me of the risk of being involved. Since I started listening to this program my thinking has changed, transformed indeed, I was blind now I see. It is true that the ignorant clapped hands for the witch. This program has unmasked the demons, taking off their angelic face,” he confessed to his friend just as he should have done in the confession box at the cathedral. Moyenda pulled matches from his pocket, slide the packet and took one stick and light it on one try and pressed on the wink of the metal lidded grass bottle lamp. The paraffin was just half as displayed on the transparent grass bottle. Both light and little line of smoke invaded both the room and their eyes and for a moment they saw fog like surrounding before the real light. Casten saw that his friend was perspiring. His eyes moving around the room he saw the carpentry tool, like hand saw, plain, hammer and scattered nails allover the place as planks tilted on the corner and the wall supporting them. Looking at his friend he concluded that he was a politician by heart and a carpenter by profession. He wished there more like him and above all he enjoyed this covert radio listening.
The outside was dark, for the moon has shunned that night. He peeped left then right as if crossing a busy road, checking traffic but he was just cautious of being spotted by the informers. He couldn’t understand how the government has made almost everyone a spy, an intelligence agent in the locations. Many have gone to prison for just buying what was considered a luxury as they were reported to the authorities to investigate them for the source of their wealth. Every thing that could be considered as individual development has been questioned with a big question mark, and detention without trial followed or sometimes people have just surrendered their goods, their properties to the government. For the whole week the children haven’t gone to school as they were forced to go political rallies. Markets were closed, public water kiosks were closed, and women were forced to dance for the political leader. Since this had gone for a long time people has gotten used to that as life and he hated the malleable mind of the masses. However he knew that if they accepted one party rule they will embrace democracy too.
Casten walked back home using short cuts for fear that he will meet the police. As he was crossing the road he met his fears, the police patrol. They stopped him and three uniformed policemen approached him. Then he noticed the most feared uniformed political party solder coming to him too and he knew he won’t go away without a prize of beating awarded to him.
“Where are you coming from? The tall and handsome among them asked him but in a low law enforcer’s tone. He hesitated to reply. When he asked again it wasn’t only a question but a blow accompanied it. He swerved.
“I am coming from this direction”, he said while pointing at the direction. He stared on their faces as he gradually moved his face like a binoculars reconnoitering and meet all four faces. He was struck again and fell on the ground. Without much ado he realized the influence of the program on that radio station. It has made him stronger and defiant. His eyes still raised and glanced at them. They retaliated waiting to see what he will do. Until that night they had never met any one so courageous like Casten. So they stood watching him in wonder and amazement until one of them spoke what sounded like a death sentence to him.
“You have been listening to that crazy, idiotic radio. Okay… you are one of them, and you must know that multiparty means war,” he said with his observing voice. To his surprise they left him to go.
“Don’t undermine the government, those subsidence talk on the radio don’t take them seriously,” the political party solder warned as he quicken his pace and five, six, seven…ten meters separated them. Taking a left turn he rushed home thanking God that they had not detained him. Deep inside his heart he was convinced that the time of change has come and judging from the behavior of the police, he concluded that his side, the opposition side has populated. The subversive talk on the radio had sown a seed of democracy in the mind of the people. He jumped with joy just before he opened the door of his house. Tucking himself in his blanket he tried as much as possible not to betray his joy to his wife.
The following day he wanted to listen to his own radio but he remembered that his neighbor was the ruling party’s chairman and listening to that kind of program is like visiting the police station with marijuana in your pockets. He couldn’t risk that, knowing that most of the people in that position would not like the change that will spell their downfall. So he decided to visit Moyenda again after all he provide him a wonderful political company, a party of two. That night after work ‘he put on the darkness’ just as his wife used to talk of the people who walk during the evening and walked to the house of Moyenda, which most part of it looked like a workshop than a house. Moyenda had bought new batteries and they just switched it on for they dared not to tune it to another station yesterday. The status quo station of last night maintained and they sat side by side separated by the radio between them.
“This is channel Africa, Chinyanja service,” the presenter announced and Moyenda and Casten smiled at each other.
“Time has come for that dictator to go; time has come for the life of every person in Nyanjaland be it young or old to be transformed and enjoy real freedom; time has come for those people who amassed wealth on the expense of the poor people to give back to the people what they have stolen; time has come for the people to have a say, and we say no to dictatorship, and yes to democracy. Viva multiparty!” Thomas said as the two men kept nodding their hornless heads. They listened to more and more talk until they couldn’t withstand the sleep that conquered them despite soaked their heads and faces with water. The next day Casten was accused of infidelity as he could not explain where he spent the night but he apologized to his wife and swore before god that he will never sleep out again.
After three months since he started listening to the program round table discussion on the political situation in Nyanjaland, many people joined the channel Africa Chinyanja service listening club without being coerced. The fear of the police were wearing out and this came to the authorities which declared listening to Channel Africa Chinyanja service as not accepted in the country. Gradually they started to take drastic but tiresome measure by confiscating radio if the owner was found tuning to this international radio station. By the end of the week they had confiscated more than one thousand radios. Moyenda had managed to hide both his radio and his love for the political program.
Casten marveled at the passion for politics that his carpenter friend was showing. One Sunday afternoon Moyenda visited him with a magazine, focus on Africa magazine and he showed him a color marked map which showed countries that have accepted multiparty and those who had not. Nyanjaland was in blue which represented dictatorship and it was among the few for the large part of the map was in brown, multiparty. He had proof now that other international organizational and European countries were exerting pressure on those countries still under the rule of one party. But where did Moyenda get that incriminating magazine? He wondered. After pressing him, he told him about the priest who working tirelessly advocating for multiparty, he gave him that magazine.
Moyenda went back home entered the house but he noticed something unusual. His tools were all scattered and nails were spread all over. His tool both was shattered. Finally he got the shock of his life. The radio had been hammered, butchered for it was in eight pieces. He knew what it means and he was lucky not to have been home at that particular perilous hour. His body was quivering as he put the pieces together but there was nothing he could have done. Moyenda mourned for the radio, dear radio. Tears were coming down drawing transparent lines in his cheek and when they dried white crystal craftily appeared. Immediately he returned back to the house of his friend to seek solace. On the way he saw them, in red uniform smashing radio of those suspected to be listening to channel Africa Chinyanja service. Men were beaten, bullied and humiliated and evil radio received eternal death. Moyenda did not wait to hear what was happening he ignored everything and everybody as he run for his dear life. When he told Casten what had happened to the radio, Casten knew the hour has come, the hour of change. Contrary to the feeling of Moyenda who was grief stricken, he stood there smiling and consoled his friend by saying that the radio was a freedom fighter, one of the political martyrs.
“Cowards, they are fighting radios,” he murmured.
Several months passed since the radios were destroyed and expensive ones confiscated for good. That third month of the year was special as news spread in the country that those people who were talking on the radio were coming. Thursday, beautiful as usual, decorated by a warm temperature while in his bedroom preparing to go to work, on a bedroom window he saw Moyenda approaching. He run out of the house to meet him and while heart palpated he asked what has happened. One could easily read in his voice how nervous he was.
“Have you heard?”
“Thomas Gama arrived yesterday and was immediately arrested at the air port.” Moyenda finally said between quivering lips. Casten did not comment or reply he just flashed a smile. “Today he will be in court,” he added.
“How do you know about this?”
“The same radio, I just asked Patrick Juma that young man to make me another radio and indeed he did. He connected resistances and some telephone receivers and some things I don’t know and it’s working properly,” he elaborated. Casten walked to his room and brought out his radio and tuned it to the forbidden channel. He told Moyenda to maximize the volume.
“This is channel Africa Chinyanja service, and this is special edition of what is transpiring in Nyanjaland,” the presenter as usual said. He began to talk about the change that was about to take place in the Nyanjaland as one of the political activist has arrived in the country to start the long talked battle. The voice from the radio echoed in a very audible vernacular language that attracted many ears. Men stopped along the road to listen to the voice. Those who were going to work stood, smartly dressed their ears glued to the radio, and those selling firewood on their bicycle stood there too listening to what may be considered as blasphemy coming the radio. Everyone was stunned with the owner of the radio’s courage. He was the first person to blast his radio with such kind of espionage program.
“We want change, we want change; we want change…”Casten burst the words and within a minute other have joined and it became a song.
“We want change…”
“We want change…” the group then left the radio alone as the owner picked it up and followed the men who run into the road with the song. They were united in one, fighting for freedom and without telling each other what to do, despite having no proper leader they all run to the court singing we want change. The group that started with twenty men swelled on the way and became thousands.
Earlier that day, the ruling party general secretary on the state radio had asked what kind of wild animal is this thing called multiparty and the people had replied in a manner they never expected. They tried to warn the people about the acclaimed evil of multiparty, but the people had chosen their way. Casten and Moyenda sat on the grass outside the court and looked at the crowd they smiled and shook hands, tightening their grips like men after the world war. They had done their part, and the other roles were to be played by other players.