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Flames of Gondola: Must-read

BOOK REVIEW
Title: Flames of Gondola
Author: Henry M. Musenge
Number of pages: 307
Publisher: Xlibris Publishing Corporation
ZAMBIA has inevitably undergone significant changes that have indisputably altered the landscape of the country from all angles. Flames of Gondola presents an interesting, contemporary and vivid picture of some chapters in the lives of some societies in Zambia.
The book, presented in fiction, is an imaginative piece reflecting some communities during Zambia’s post-independence era.
Flames of Gondola is a depiction of activities in Zambia around 1970s. It was published sometime this year.
The book, which is colourfully written and undoubtedly rich in vocabulary, has a total of 307 pages which are bundled into 21 chapters that sail through seamlessly to the conclusion, leaving the reader craving for more.
The fiction novel toasts the first chapter with an abstract, yet captivating, short sentence that certainly stimulates the reader’s interest into an unknown journey and destination.
“Sweet-scented dawn arrived on a chilly Wednesday morning,” it reads and continues, “It was greeted by the joyful singing of birds perched high up tall treetops.”
The starting sentence and indeed the chapters that follow through the book seemingly prove the maxim that ‘It’s the journey and not the destination that matters.’
In typical movie drama style, the first few lines of chapter one successfully introduces and sets out one of the main characters Chikange.
This is before he goes out for a compelling and urgent shopping mission for his newborn baby’s wear. Apparently, the baby and mother would not be released, until hospital regulations were complied with.
The critical assignment lands him at Gondola Supermarket, in Lusaka’s Kamwala where he would be employed by the proprietor, Rao, a successful businessman of Asian origin.
It emerges that Chikange, who later repented his misdeeds after he lost his job at the council, is an overly ambitious man who would use all means possible including unorthodox methods to get what he wanted.
From inception and before Chikange successfully completed his probation at Gondola, discussion and exaggerated gossip about his recruitment circulated among the supermarket staff.
Chikange is however determined to firmly get ‘rooted’ at the supermarket by working hard to impress both the customers and his supervisors, and was later to be promoted and started  climbing  the ladder to the top.
He is doing all this with frantic efforts including imitating his boss’s religion and attire.
In the meantime, Gondola Supermarket executive chairman Rao, who is a staunch Christian in the eyes of all, is not really what he seems; he equally presides over ‘unholy’ activities, such as the much-loathed illegal externalisation of funds.
Rao, like other contemporary businessmen, was involved in the externalisation of money, which the government of the day was strictly against, and ‘exported’ profits due to insecurity about the prevailing political situation.
“These Africans cannot be totally trusted, you know,” he cautioned his colleagues. “Economically, we may have a weak and naïve leader today, but there is no guarantee that the same leader will be around tomorrow. Therefore, we have no choice but to look after our future interests,” Rao is quoted as saying during one of their ‘dark-corner meetings.’
As for Chikange, his ambition to climb the ladder at Gondola has no limits, and gains momentum as he desperately turns to witch doctors for some black magic to ‘sort’ out his supervisor Kakoma, who coincidentally is mooting a similar plan because he is unsettled by Chikange’s amiable  and growing relationship with Rao.
The juju was concocted to cause artificial lightning, locally referred to as akalumba, which ruthlessly tossed and burnt Kakoma, as he was having breakfast.
This is perhaps where the title of the book ‘Flames of Gondola’ inevitably debuts to the reader’s mind.
Chikange undoubtedly achieved his objectives and was promoted as senior shop supervisor, a position previously occupied by Kakoma and coupled with a salary hike and a personal-to-holder vehicle, among other incentives, some of which his predecessor did not enjoy.
With this ‘weaponry’ at his disposal, Chikange had enough leverage to win personnel officer Lumba’s heart, even though she had initially received him as a poor loafer.
However, after a dramatic fling with Chikange, Lumba is ‘scooped’ for an affair by the ‘big boss’ and the drama continues.
The story further narrates how fraudulent and illegal activities were planned, literally through boardroom strategies and how they were meticulously implemented, thereby weakening the country’s economy.
In the story, smart Chikange works extremely hard, to impress boss Rao, including imitating his religion and dress code. As he is favoured above all workers, their bonded relationship is envied by many.
Chikange rises to the top and becomes chief executive officer of Gondola following a landmark decision by government to Zambianise some foreign-owned companies in certain parts of the city.
In his typical ambitious and nosy style, Chikange realises that he is being used as a front by Rao who is ‘pulling the strings’ behind scenes. He also discovers that his boss and saviour is involved in illegal and fraudulent activities, information he later uses to his advantage.
As a break-up is imminent, Chikange, true to the meaning of his Ngoni name, refuses to be used as a stooge, and instead plays for the highest stakes, major ownership of the company, annoying boss Rao further.
But a ‘suicidal’ mistake was already made as Rao had inadvertently transferred the majority shares for Gondola Enterprises to Chikange.
An ownership wrangle ensues and Rao is bitter about the turn of events and up goes Gondola in flames (literally)! Thus, Rao and Chikange, who for a long time seemed to be closer than mouth and tongue, were now at daggers drawn.
With the company’s stocks and shares up in flames, Mr Musenge equates Gondola to a country whose economy goes up in flames, due to corruption and fraudulent activities of some investors.
The matter goes to court, but Rao fails to prove arson charges against Chikange,  while in the case of Rao against the State, the defendant is found guilty of  corruption, underpayment of tax and other fraudulent activities and is deported after Chikange reported his ‘sins’ to law enforcement agencies.
The conclusion certainly leaves a keen reader in suspense with more questions whose answers can perhaps have more room to unfold in part two of the book if the author wills.
The book is an interesting vivid and creative depiction of some Zambian business communities during the one-party system and the Zambianisation era.
These attracted money, power hungry and sometimes ambitious people who later ‘fitted in their master’s shoes’ by hook or crook.
Reviewed by CHIMWEMWE MWALE

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