By Gershom Ndhlovu
The issue of senior government officials kneeling before the president has dominated the press in the last few months from the time when Southern Province Minister Joseph Mulyata was pictured down on his haunches shortly after it emerged that he had dubiously helped the release of an impounded bus belonging to another politician.
Not too long after that, Defence Minister George Mpombo was also pictured on his knees talking to President Mwanawasa and just over a week ago, he was captured again kneeling before the president.
This is quite interesting in the sense that Mpombo deals with Generals at his ministry and I just wonder how they approach him as minister in charge of the defence ministry if he, himself approaches the President like that. I hope he does not demand these men and women grovel before him.
Just before local government elections in 1999, former President Chiluba addressed a rally in Luanshya at the height of tensions between the late Cameron Pwele-led MUZ Roan Branch and Binani Group's RAMCOZ management over miners’ ZCCM benefits and when the presidential entourage retired to the Director's Lodge, I witnessed something that shocked me. One senior politician and businessman, who was a minister at the time, knelt before Chiluba who sat on the left side of a three-seater sofa to whisper something, apparently to tell him he was leaving to go and attend to other matters somewhere.
All this reminds me of a joke, malicious I hope, that had been going round among journalists about how another top government official who was then a minister, was found kneeling before President Chiluba in his office at State House in the company of two other politicians from the province where this man hails. The joke, if it is one, says Chiluba had deliberately ordered the removal of chairs from his office.
Contrast this culture of kneeling before our presidents to what we see on BBC TV of how the youthful British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, 37, appears very relaxed and confident in the company of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, 57. You get the feeling that the two are equals in the service of their nation, forgetting that Brown can easily terminate the young man's job.
But if you think of our Mpombo for instance and you go back to his days in Ndola where he was almost down and out, pounding the streets of the city in a sorry state for a man who had been Ndola Rural governor and MP under UNIP, you get the impression that he badly needs the job he holds and can do anything to keep it and kneeling before the appointing authority is but a small matter.
Although I do not know much about Mulyata’s background, seeing him bruising his knees like that gives one the impression that he badly needs the job and to show that he is sorry for his "transgressions", he can even swallow his pride.
If the pictures of Mpombo and Mulyata on their haunches are anything to go by, one wonders what goes on behind the scenes when ministers, permanent secretaries, chief executives of parastatal and private companies and other officials are summoned to the inner sanctums of State House. This is not withstanding the fact that the environment there is quite intimidating even for an ordinary visitor who has to go through various security check points manned by mean-looking geezers.
Unfortunately, kneeling is one culture that has permeated our social fabric such that whoever has little power over another person wants to be worshipped like a god or goddess by showing them respect that turns out to be out of proportion by any means.Or is it a case of heads of state wanting to be treated like royalty? The president of