What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow, Out of this stony rubbish?…(T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland)
There is place near Chancellor College called Petit. It accommodates students. It is an expensive residence, so to speak. Students pay close to K80, 000 rent per semester. Those who have lived in the city of Zomba know that life is generally expensive there, especially when you are a student at Chancellor College. Every Chanco student is rich, and should therefore be exploited. That is the general idea in Zomba. Despite the grandeur and expensive nature of Petit, there lies, within its doors, a wasteland, a mountain of unattended rubbish. In the middle of this heap there is a concrete slab, the remnant of what once had been a rubbish pit. On it are words, clearly visible: KEEP ZOMBA CLEAN. When first I set my eyes on this irony I was reminded of Ayi Kwei Armah’s celebrated book, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Those of you who have read this book know what I am trying to imply.
The heap of rubbish is not the only problem at Petit, for beneath it, there runs dirty and filthy water from the bathrooms. This water carries some fragments from the rubbish and drops them into Mponda river below. The river is a very important resource to the people of Chikanda. Every morning it is people with laundry, dishes and bathing materials. A large portion of the population of Chikanda cannot afford tap water. So these people carry the waste of the Petit bathrooms and the dirt of the rubbish back to their homes, where they share it further with their families. The most painful thing is that these people, while washing in the river, see for themselves the dirty stream from the bathroom descending on them, into their life, their health. It is like seeing your own death. It is the gravest murder, for here you let the victim die slowly, not as swift as it used to be during the dictatorial era. That time death was a quick affair. Now it is a slow process, you have to watch your life wasting away. You are a witness to your own death. You mourn it yourself.
What type of nation can rise from this wasteland? How are we to alleviate poverty in a capitalist society where human beings are mere commodities, to be bought and to be used? The most amazing reality about capitalism is that it is an unintelligible economic system. The capitalist poisons the very people he depends on with the waste material he has produced on his pursuit for profits. He goes on establishing further business, not even aware that his unattended waste is wiping away the very source of his market. In other words, he is preparing for his own suicide. Enough of Marxism and economics. I am a Literature man. I love Literature. Literature is about human experience. And now that we talk of human experience, T. S. Eliot mourns in The Wasteland:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?…….
What kind of nation can be built on this wasteland? How do you expect it to survive? It is as if Eliot is speaking here, now, in Malawi. The land is just a heap of stony rubbish. Cashgate, corruption, election rigging, exploitation, underpayment, unequipped schools and hospitals, overcrowded mortuaries, rubbish rubbish rubbish. Where does one start to build? The land is dry, and there is no mosses to strike the dry rock. The professor on the wheel is as corrupt as the wasteland itself. Who will build the nation then? I do not know, my mother does not know, my father is confused, my brother just shakes his head, my girlfriend is palpitating with fear. Even T. S. Eliot himself does not know:
…Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
There is no sound of water in Malawi, no sign of hope, especially with the corrupt version of Mosses on the wheel. They say only God knows, but I wonder whether that should justify human suffering. I am not at war with Him, but I am just not sure whether He