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Of powder and mourning

A POLICE officer (left) is doused with white powder ‘inkula’ by his traditional cousin Angela Cifire outside the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka on Thursday, where President Sata’s remains are laying-in-State. The Bembas and Ngonis hassle each other in jest during such events. PICTURE: JEAN MANDELA

WE naturally believe funerals are sorrowful occasions. But many funny things can happen during the most solemn and sad times. In many instances, one would not consider the idea of a funeral having a happy ending as possible.
But in the case of President Sata’s death, we have seen his traditional cousins, the Ngonis, come out en masse to do Mgubo, official mourning meant to celebrate his life.
During this mourning period of the death of President Sata, the practice of Mgubo involves sprinkling of white powder on everyone considered Bemba-speaking.
Hell first broke out at Kulima Tower bus station where Ngoni-speaking ng’wangwazis [bus drivers and conductors] have been sprinkling white powder on their counterparts from Muchinga and Northern Provinces.
The same has been happening in most trading places such as Soweto, Mandevu and other areas.
In fact, while others like Zambu Mwenda at a taxi rank in Kabwata bought baby powder, others poured out anything white – from roller meal to lime.
While it doesn’t sound funny on paper, it was pretty humorous to see former MMD Luangeni member of Parliament Angela Cifire sprinkle powder on a cop on duty at Mulungushi International Conference Centre where the body viewing is being conducted.
I have never known cops to be friendly when on duty, let alone allow themselves to be subjected to such social activities while in uniform, but I guess Ms Cifire must have gathered some courage, inspired by fond memories of how humorous Mr Sata was, to paint the cops’ face white.
Besides, President Sata enjoyed the traditional cousinship with Ngonis and did not miss an opportunity to say or do something to poke fun at his traditional cousins.
For instance, at one occasion Mr Sata teased former President Rupiah Banda, his traditional cousin, about a monkey, which came out of its natural habitat to urinate on the latter during a press conference at State House lawns early in his tenure of office.
Mr Banda’s encounter with the primate came to be known as ‘kani tundila, meaning, “It has urinated on me,” referring to President Banda’s comment on what had happened to him at the time.
At one point, President Sata joked at a rally in Chipata that he would not declare the municipality a city because easterners were backward. The idea was to show how he enjoyed teasing Ngonis, predominantly found in Chipata.
Coming back to the police officer’s encounter, he looked comical and surprised at the same time at what had happened to him.
I wonder how he was going to face Inspector-General of Police Stella Libongani if she appeared on the scene, considering that no civilian is allowed to touch a uniformed police officer on duty, worse still sprinkle him with white powder or mealie meal.
But fortunately for Ms Cifire, the group of Ngonis she was with was accompanied by deputy inspector general of police Solomon Jere, who is also Ngoni.
I am not sure if Ms Cifire had prior knowledge that the police officer, who was in uniform, was Bemba by tribe. I suppose she saw his name on a tag attached to his uniform.
But all the same, all we know is that the cop had a shock of his life. It would not be surprising if he warned Ms Cifire saying: “You have the right to stop sprinkling powder on me right now madam. Whatever you do to me will not be wiped out, but used as evidence against you in the court of law.”
Someone would say, you do not play around with cops when they are on duty. The only time I saw some cops do something stupid while on duty is when Zambia won the African Cup of nations in 2012.
That night most of those who were on duty forgot they were in uniform and joined soccer fans on the streets in celebrating the national team’s victory.
Of course, the sprinkling of powder is a different encounter altogether, you have to be a Bemba to understand what the cop went through at the hands of a Ngoni woman.
He could have reacted angrily by making the former lawmaker eat beans for a while – I mean rot in police cells, but he had to understand the situation.
Let’s hope this encounter does not make the cop ask for a transfer to another department, preferably road traffic section.
Perhaps he thinks he would look good in his khaki uniform with a cap away from the game of powder and mealie meal smearing.
I could imagine his colleagues saying, “Mwami ba mizoleka powder ka, manje muza sebenza bwanji,” meaning, “Boss they have sprinkled powder on you, how are you going to work?”
However, whether powder or no powder, people have come together to celebrate the life of our departed President.
Those who have found themselves trapped in the ‘crossfire’ of traditional cousinship between Ngonis and Bembas should understand. It’s part of mourning President Sata.

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