...The Story of a School Leaver Who Was Rejected As An Untrained Teacher
Guest blog by Victor Kunda Mwaba
When I graduated (from) Mukuba Secondary School in 1994, I bought a one way United Bus (Company) of Zambia (UBZ) bus ticket to Chinsali with the only un-rebased currency I had at the time. My plan was to work as an untrained teacher for some months and save up money to sponsor myself to The University of Zambia (UNZA) in the 1995 freshman intake. I considered myself smart enough to be in the top three of my graduating class, I just didn’t know for sure I would graduate valedictorian, until the results were out. I must say it was depressing to know I would qualify to go to UNZA, but I had no funds even for a ticket to Lusaka.
When I got to Chinsali, I was denied employment as an untrained teacher. I did not have connections to speak on my behalf, nor did I have money to bribe to recruiters. I tried to promise recruiters that I would pay them 10% or even 20% of my salary for as long as I was employed if they gave me a chance. They told me that even those who were bribing upfront also had to ‘tithe’ part of their salaries. It was game over for one Victor Kunda Mwaba! That was not the worst; I got a serious first time bout of malaria that nearly killed me! When I briefly recovered, I got a job at Lubwa Mission. There was a grinding mill, ichigayo. My job was to collect money from villagers and grind their maize. That was the only way I could raise money to return to Kitwe. At that point, I realized I could not raise enough money to go to UNZA by working at a grinding mill. For the record, I did not steal a penny working at the grinding meal. I got paid my dues, enough for a one way ticket to Kitwe, and off I went; KT 42 Mabena Bus Services.
|The tomato meme after Stella Sata suggested graduates should sell tomato.|
The entrepreneurial spirit was sweeping Zambia in 1995 after the MMD liberalized the economy, coupled with multi-party democracy. Well, going back few years in the early 90s, some of us had hustled with not just selling charcoal; we made … then sold charcoal. Fellaz, try getting a young girl’s number covered in charcoal from head … to toe … . Let’s just say some of us may not have ‘scored’ as much as other teenagers did at the time.
In hindsight, God has a way of preserving His own people, according to His sovereignty. I remember delivering charcoal to the residence of this one wealthy couple, relatively speaking, and the wife could not allow me to step on her well polished veranda; I was that dirty! Yet still, I did not lose my dream of going to UNZA.
My father was and still is a hustler and a half himself. He had made it at one point in his life, owning and operating a thriving fresh fish supply business in the 60s. By the 70s, he lost his Midas touch. He worked in the mines for decades, but his retirement wasn’t much to speak about. When I graduated high school, my father and a friend of his were trying to set up a mining contracting company. Dad would provide the expertise, his friend, the finances. My dad and his friend did not succeed in their venture. They were competing with the likes of late Ben Mwila, then Defense Minister in the new MMD government. Naturally, the rich government officials at the time became richer.
Shovelling Sand Underground
My father and his friend went bankrupt. Before bankruptcy, I was offered an opportunity to work as a laborer on a small contract they had won. My job was to go 3,360 feet, over half a mile, underground and shovel sand for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. The contract was short lived, and so I did not raise very much. The little I raised went to take care of the immediate family needs, such as food and school fees for my younger brothers. So, I was back to square one.
About the time our small contract ended with the mines, ZCCM had advertized for some Form 6 scholarships. They were looking for 35 high school graduates to be sponsored to the UK and the US for training as future miners. I had scored high enough to be considered for admission to just about any university out there, including Ivy League, if I had the money. The mines were looking for 12 Mining Engineering students (34%), 9 Metallurgists (26%), 4 Geologists (11%), 4 Electrical Engineers (11%) and 6 Mechanical Engineers (17%). Since I am not much of a gambler, I picked the top two disciplines that offered me the greatest odds. Electrical and Mechanical engineering at that time were more appealing because they offered the most flexibility of industries to work in, from ZCCM, ZESCO, etc. At that point all I was looking at was a scholarship … to study something. Out of about 400 applicants, I made top 36, and I was offered the scholarship to come to the US to Study Mining Engineering at South Dakota School of Mines.
One minor detail I skipped is that during the time I was going through the process of being selected for the scholarship, I was selling salaula at Kapoto market for one of our good neighbors. That is how I raised some funds to get ready for the ZCCM scholarship at Mpelembe Secondary School.
In the interest of time, we will skip much of the American hustle, and highlight a few noteworthy points thus far. The highlight of my mining career in the US was when I was managing a quarry of some 40 employees, a little over $10 million annual operations budget. During that time, my employer then flew me first class to Turkey to attend a company meeting. Shortly thereafter, the same year, an area CAT equipment dealer offered his private jet for a day’s flight from Alabama to CAT headquarters and manufacturing facilities around Chicago Illinois. This was just a glimpse of American corporate life, but it doesn’t take much to get addicted to. During these corporate travels, I did remember the time I worked at the grinding mill, and the time I was a laborer underground. My current employer isn’t doing too badly either, but my dream is that the best is yet to come.
I told my story in order to highlight the hustle of your typical Zambian graduate.
No One Is Refusing To Sell Tomato
No one is refusing to sell tomato, no one is refusing to sell salaula (Second hand clothes), no one is refusing to sell even malasha (charcoal). In some extreme cases, young ladies even go to the extent of selling their bodies. All we the people (AKA #TheJobless6) are saying is that please give us a chance to help ourselves, if you have the means to. If we had the capital to sell any of the aforementioned, we would not even bother you! We can’t lift ourselves from our own boot straps. Lend us a helping hand and the benefit of the doubt we deserve, not corruption and nepotism. Governance is a noble calling from above; treat it with the trepidation it deserves. Zambia needs about six hundred thousand more formal jobs created for the country of about 14 million to have one million employed. ‘Yes we can’ do this!!
Yours truly – Jobless1, Mukuba Secondary School class of 1994