By Caroline Marchant-Wallis, Daniel Millum and Tracy Wilson
We’re taking the opportunity of our (temporary) exile from our beloved BLDS collection (personally given its resemblance to a Cold War nuclear shelter I voted that we should spend the lockdown period in the IDS basement where the collection is housed, but University management thought differently) to spend a bit of time writing about some of the interesting and unusual items we’ve already found as part of the project.
These are found in unlikely sources. At first glance the title The Zambian Parliament 24th October, 1964 to 31st December, 1974 sounds of course worthy of inclusion in the collection, and of interest to scholars of Zambian political history, but possibly a little dry. Yet delving inside shows the Zambian parliament to have been a more colourful and contentious forum than you would expect the official record to reveal.
In his introduction, President Kenneth Kaunda solemnly states that he has ‘repeatedly reaffirmed our complete confidence and trust in democracy’, and this is followed by a quote from Edmund Burke stating that Parliament should be a deliberative assembly of one nation guided by the general good. However, it appears that not all members had taken this lofty Burkean approach to parliamentary discourse, as can be seen from a brief perusal of appendix one, which contains a list of ‘unparliamentary expressions’ for each year.
It’s quite hard to ascertain what criteria is being applied, given that in 1964 the two entries listed are for ‘scum’ (probably not that parliamentary) and ‘Chaps’ (surely relatively innocent), but what we can say is that things go rapidly downhill, with 1965 recording 16 instances (favourite ‘any dunderhead in the street’) and 1966 34 (including the evocative ‘cow dung economics’, the seemingly innocuous ‘boy’ and ‘boss’ and the wonder-what-the-context-was ‘bottoms’).
1967 only saw four examples, but there seems to have been a running theme, as three of these were ‘and booze’, ‘and drunkards’ and ‘are you drunk?’.
In 1968 things get really out of hand. There are 126 instances, and a lot more non-English parliamentary language, including ‘chola boys’ – this translates from Chibemba (the most widely spoken of Zambia’s more than 70 local languages and dialects) as ‘a bag carrier or what Zambians refer to as “a yes bwana”’ (see a 2012 spat centred on this insult for more detail as to why it may have been contentious). Among the English phrases are the scatological (‘suffering from diarrhoea’), the intriguing (‘milk you’) and the inexplicable (‘Harry’).
Whether the language improved after this or standards slipped is hard to tell, but for the remainder of the period until 1974 there are only 35 more remarks deemed to have crossed the line, though there are still some which whet the appetite (‘something wrong upstairs in our brains’ (1973), ‘bottom glued on the table’ (1974) and the seemingly uncontroversial ‘phew’ (1972)).
One wonders what Bercow would have made of it. Probably not the same as Kenneth Kaunda, who ended up abolishing multi-party democracy in the early 1970s. We can only guess if this was in some way a reaction to being called a ‘F—- B—–’ (1968) in his own parliament…(1)
To arrange to see this item when the library reopens, and to access the parliamentary records on which it was based, just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) To be fair to Kaunda, a former schoolteacher who consistently sought to prioritise Zambian education, the rationale was to increase popular participation in the country’s political economy – ‘participatory democracy’ as opposed to ‘parliamentary democracy’.
One thought on “‘Are you drunk’ or is there ‘something wrong upstairs in your brain’? : Unparliamentary expressions in Zambia 1964 – 1974”
That was really interesting guys. Liked the link and look forward to looking at this further when we get back