Oct 28, 2013

Top Zed Brands

It’s time to nominate and vote for your favourite people, businesses and things to do in Zambia. #TopZedBrands is all about you. Reward the people and brands that give you the most value for your kwacha. The places where you eat, shop, play and relax give Zambia its life.
Your nominations and votes will create a Top 10 list of brands in Zambia of which we can be proud. Reward Zambian companies you are proud of by nominating them, promoting them and voting for them.

Schedule of events

  1. October 28 to November 15 you can nominate your #TopZedBrands. Send the name of the brand you are nominating together with your reasons for your nomination in one or two sentences. Nominate brands on Twitter @TopZedBrands using the hashtag #TopZedBrands,and through the #TopZedBrands Facebook page.
  2.   Between November 15 and November 20 a panel of judges (to be announced) will select a top 10 list of brands based on set criteria.
  3. Between November 20 and December 15, you the public have the final say as you vote in your top three brands.

Get nominating

You can nominate as many times as you like. Remember to tell us why you are nominating the brands you put forward. This is what we are looking for in the brands crowned #TopZedBrands:

  • Quality product or service you can depend on 
  •  Good customer service
  •   Impressive visual brand (logo and marketing message, packaging, or in-store visual brand)
  • A product or service you feel is export ready, and should be on international shelves

As you consider who to nominate consider your Zambian brand experiences, and what you know of brands across all sectors. Here are some suggestions:

  • Products made in Zambia
  • Food and drink - Your favourite dining spots.
  • Entertainment - The hottest spots in our area to have a good time. What are the best places to take your kids or hang out with friends?
  •  Retail -  The best shops that keep you coming back
  •  Fashion
  • Travel
  • Personal services – Head to toe, who does the best at pampering you
  • Professional services - Covering a wide range of services, which businesses do you trust to get the job done? Best home builder, hotel, lodge, residential real estate agent, auto repair, etc.
  • Financial services - banks, money transfer service companies
  • Agricultural brands
  • Industrial brands

Nominate by

Nominate brands on via @TopZedBrands and use the hashtag #TopZedBrands and through the #TopZedBrands Facebook page. Send the name of the brand you are nominating together with your reasons for your nomination in one or two sentences.  

Please help us reward the best brands that provide products and services in Zambia!

Sep 12, 2013

Bitches’ Brew by Fred Khumalo – A Review

April 2007, Fiction
Jacana Media, 328 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1770091900, Available on Amazon

It’s a rare book that will keep me up into the wee hours of the morning, fully engrossed, and unwilling to let go even for just a few hours of sleep. When I put down Fred Khumalo’s Bitches’ Brew it was with a deep sense of satisfaction; I’d just read a fascinating story.

The novel is told in an epistolary form – as a series of letters between the two main characters, Zakes and Lettie. Through these letters we learn about their lives, their shared love, the circumstances that shaped them, along with their joys and regrets. Lettie, a retired shebeen queen, is from Maseru, Lesotho and later moves to Durban, South Africa as a young woman where she meets Bra Zakes, an amateur musician and hustler. Theirs is a relationship of missed opportunities, for lack of a better phrase.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that it celebrates life and love. Though Lettie and Zakes struggle individually and together, this does not overshadow life and living. They both inhabit a world that constantly knocks people down, often through no fault of their own. Those who survive and thrive are not always be on the straight and narrow but given the backdrop of harsh township life where it’s a dog eat dog existence.

Khumalo is unapologetic in his description of township life, and the hard choices people have to make. He strikes a delicate balance by not make excuses for the people, or passing judgment.  The violence he describes is neither glorified nor minimized to protect the reader’s sensibilities.

An important theme in the novel is the role of music. Khumalo reveals himself to be great lover of jazz. If the book title Bitches Brew (named after Miles Davis’s gold album released in 1970) isn’t a clue, this quickly becomes apparent as each chapter is headed by a song title. Zakes has a love for music, and as a young man travels the country performing; he uses it for self-expression.

That said the book isn’t without problems. There is violence against women that is merely glossed over and not tackled within context. This is especially true of Sis Jane, Lettie’s best friend and business partner; her story is so tragic and miserable. Lettie is shown as being fiercely independent – she travels to Durban as a teen in search of an erstwhile lover but upon arrival deems him unworthy and launches her life in a different track, her choice to be a shebeen queen though not unusual for the time is still rather bold for a young woman and her decision to remain a single mother to multiple children  – but the author let me down by not amplifying these strengths and instead falling into the trap that portrays women in townships as victims of their womanhood and enslaved to the love and lust they hold for the men in their lives.

This detracted a little from my overall enjoyment of the book but it not so much as to stop reading in frustration. Khumalo is a gifted story teller, and I hope his subsequent books build on what he did with Bitches’ Brew.

Aug 5, 2013

Asking the right questions

Last month two Zambian online publications most critical of the government were victims of targeted attacks which made them inaccessible to users within the country. This set off a cat and mouse game between one of the publications and those said to behind the attack. Multiple proxies were put in place to circumvent the blocks. It’s still ongoing.

From the outset the general consensus has been that the government is behind the blocking though officials have neither confirmed nor denied the allegations. In recent months our Vice-President and other cabinet members have categorically stated that they would be cheered if the publications were effectively killed off due to the negative reporting of the government. So, it’s not a leap for people to accuse the government of carrying out those threats.

Much of the outcry has been about censorship. Yet there’s an issue that very few people are talking about – the legal framework. If indeed the government is behind the blocking of online publications what legal framework have they used? Is there a signed court order that gave them green light for the action? If so, what case was built to convince a judge that taking down the sites was justifiable?

These are very important questions to ask because the answers are telling of our government’s rationale and respect for the law. There is an assumption that this action is simply targeted at clamping down on publications who don’t conform to the government’s will. This may be true, but I really think we ought to asking about due process. Was it followed? If it was, then the government shouldn’t have a problem sharing this information and deflecting some of the criticism. If not, then we have an even bigger problem on our hands.

Jul 11, 2013

The Sleeping Baobab Tree by Paula Leyden - A Review

Photo Credit: Paula Leyden
The Sleeping Baobab Tree
Walker Books, 256 pages
 ISBN-13: 978-1406327939, Available on Amazon and Walker Books

The Sleeping Baobab Tree is the second book by Paula Leyden which follows the adventures of siblings Bul-Boo and Madillo, and their friends. As in the first book, A Butterfly Heart, the story is set in Zambia and is told from the children’s points of view. This is not a sequel but rather stand-alone book, as explained by the author.

Bul-Boo and Madillo are twin sisters, and classmates and friends with their neighbour Fred. As the story opens the children are introduced to Ng’ombe Ilede “The Place of the Sleeping Cow: the place of death.” Sister Leonisa, the religion teacher, has a morbid fascination with grim stories, the story of Ng’ombe Ilede notwithstanding. She has a flair for exaggeration and does not brook any arguments from increasingly skeptical students.

Bul-Boo is one of the skeptical students who often challenges the facts in Sister Leonisa’s wild stories, and the interactions between the two are comical.  Madillo on the other hand believes in magic and spells, and is intrigued by the stories. Fred has a gift which he describes as a curse. He has premonitions and as a result has a foreboding nature and takes things too seriously for someone so young an age.

At home as the children are processing Sister Leonisa’s latest story, Fred is informed by his great-grandmother Nokokulu that she’s travelling to Ng’ombe Ilede, and he’s going with her. Nokokulu is a witch, and this journey is one she’s undertaking to do battle with someone she calls Man-Beast. Fred, unable to dissuade Nokokulu and knowing his parents will be just as unsuccessful, resigns himself to his fate; the unaccountable sense of foreboding he woke up with that morning ticks up a few notches.

Next door Bul-Boo overhears her parents discussing the mysterious disappearance of patients from their mother’s HIV clinic; one of whom is Fred’s beloved aunt Kiki. She shares this news with Madillo, who lets her imagine run wild and speculates the patients have been taken by a wizard much to Bul-Boo’s chagrin.

What follows is Bul-Boo and Madillo trying to unravel the mystery of the missing patients, and a wild trip to Ng’ombe Ilede with Nokokulu. Will Fred’s sense of foreboding come true on this trip and was Sister Leonisa’s right about the mystical things that happen in the place of death?

It was thoroughly enjoyable to join the twins and Fred on this adventure in The Sleeping Baobab Tree. Leyden does a remarkable job telling the story from the children’s points of view. Each of the three children moves the story along from his or her perspective, and the reader is privy to their individual thoughts and anxieties. An unexpected joy was the character of Nokokulu. Though a self-confessed and powerful witch she is not at all a caricature whose presence in the book is to terrify children and fit the mould of “evil, old woman.” Instead, she’s the matriarch of Fred’s family, and takes her role as a defender and keeper of tradition quite seriously. She knows Fred has a gift and is grooming him as her heir, despite his misgivings and desire to be a regular child.

Leyden is particularly skilled at descriptive text. The people and places she writes about allow the reader to feel part of the story and believe they are there with the characters. The dualities of contemporary and traditional customs are also well done. It is not at all preachy about the old ways being archaic, instead the reader is presented with the reality that exists in many African countries – the two co-exist, informing our past and present.

Once again Leyden has proven her skill at taking concepts that would otherwise be dark and burdensome for children (her target audience), and made it a lively adventure, all the while inserting lessons about history, friendship and loyalty. This is a recommended read for all ages. If you have a chance to read the preceding book, A Butterfly Heart, do so. You will not be disappointed.

*Ng’ombe Ilede is one of the most important archeological sites in Zambia. It was discovered in 1960 during civil engineering works. It is an Iron Age prehistoric site on the highest point of a ridge of the same name, on the left bank of the Lusitu River, a tributary of the Zambezi River in southern Zambia. The site was first settled between the late seventh and the late tenth centuries, then abandoned and reset­tled in the early fifteenth century. Most of the graves and their goods date to the fifteenth century. More information here

Jun 17, 2013

Still a darkie!

I look in my mirror as I do every morning. This morning is no different from any other that has come before. As I moisturize my face and examine the dry and discoloured spots left by the harsh winter a thought comes unbidden.

Wouldn’t it be nice to even out my skin tone and get a nicer shade of brown?

I’m shocked by the thought, and look around me. Surely those words didn’t come from me!  The words were not said out loud but they effectively silence everything in me. I move from shock to self- disgust. I hurry through the rest of my morning rituals carefully avoiding the mirror. I can’t look at myself.

Hard as I try I can’t run away from this; where did those words come from? Are those feelings really inside me?

Self-examination can be brutal yet I must. I consider myself a strong and confident black woman. I have worked hard to be where I am, and continue to grow. Do we ever stop growing? I surely hope not.

For those who don’t know me well, strength and confidence came late in the game for me. I was a shy and awkward child. My height often made me a target for bullies, because I was often thought to be older than I was and kids can be cruel. After years of never being defended took to defending myself; I learned early that a good defence is a good offence. I developed a smart mouth and had no problem throwing elbows when the need called. I make no apologies for the noses I bloodied along the way.

Along with the teasing about my height, my skin colour was a constant target for both kids and adults. I’ve been called darkie, blackie, chifita and every other variation of the words more times than I care to count. This was more often than not accompanied with the word U.G.L.Y.  Later, the digs were a little more subtle but just as hurtful. “Are you sure you’re Zambian, your skin colour is like that of a foreigner,” “how come your mother is lighter than you?”

In the mid-90s when lightening creams and soaps became more widely available my aunt caught the proverbial bug and started using the products. I watched with morbid fascination as she and the maid shared notes about which blends were said to work best for a nice, even shade and what was to be avoided to prevent dark patches from developing. They excitedly whispered how they’d be more attractive and likely to catch a good man. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to jump into the fray. It would have been so easy to cave in – money and access would not have been a barrier. The products were everywhere and dirt cheap.

However, I had already encountered numerous women with skin damage from the use of skin lightening products, including some girls at school. It didn’t add up for me and at the time was lucky enough to draw closer to an older cousin who validated me in ways I don’t think I’ve ever said to her in person. I had a lot of unresolved aggression which manifested itself in a badass attitude. I learned to temper this and realise now that I’ve never really dealt with the root cause. Yet how does one deal with that without dredging up past hurts, peeling away scabs and bleeding all over again?

I learned really young to hate myself - my height, my hair, my skin, my body. I was ugly; the face only a mother could love. I’ve slowly come to terms with this and let it go little by little. It’s terrifyingly hard but I’ve learned to love myself over time. As I said I’m a continual work in progress and it shouldn’t shock me to know there are lessons from long ago that remain in me still waiting to be purged. Or perhaps they’ll stay with me forever, a constant reminder as to how far I have come.   

May 22, 2013

Insaka: Changes in Traditional Marriage Process

Our next Insaka will be the first in a 2-part series. We will be discussing “Changes in Traditional Marriage Process." To participate on Twitter please use the hashtag #Insaka

Part I – Lobola. Sunday, May 26 at 6 p.m. CAT, 12 p.m EST, 9 a.m. PST.

Part II – Marriage Celebrations i.e. Kitchen Parties, Icilanga Mulilo, weddings. Sunday, June 2 6 p.m. CAT, 12 p.m EST, 9 a.m. PST.

Part I - Lobola
The tradition of lobola has existed for many centuries and has traditionally been a means of bringing two families together. However, like many traditional customs lobola is open to abuse and distortion.

Some men have expressed hesitation at entering matrimony for fear of being gouged by potential in-laws. And some see lobola as an antiquated custom that turns women into commodities to be “bought and sold.” 

It is also becoming increasingly common to see exorbitant money being charged for lobola. Does this harm the practice?

As the practice of lobola has become quite contentious does this lead to resentment in families and among couples entering marriage?

How do we take back lobola to intended purpose – appreciation, respect, unity between families.

How do different tribal groups tackle the issue of lobola? 

Part II - Marriage Celebrations 

Icilanga Mulilo and Amatebeto are traditionally practiced by the Bemba speaking people of Zambia. Icilanga Mulilo (literal meaning is "showing of the fire") is the ceremony that takes place before a couple weds. The bride-to-be's family prepares foods and beverage and delivers it to the groom. This is to introduce him to the foods he is likely to eat in his new home, and serves as an open invitation to dine with the bride's family during the courtship. Traditionally a groom is forbidden from eating in the bride's parents or guardian's home before this symbolic gesture. 

The foods, both exotic and familiar, are presented one by one. And it is explained that these are foods the bride will later prepare in their home. This occasion, other than being a "showcase" of the bride's menu, also symbolizes that the groom is responsible for the welfare of his bride from then on. He can now assume the responsibilities of taking care of his bride’s financial needs. The bride at this stage is also allowed to start cooking and doing laundry for the groom. 

Amatebeto is a ceremony for couples who are already married. Amatebeto symbolizes the appreciation of the groom by the bride’s parents for keeping a trouble free marriage. It is an acknowledgement by the bridge’s family that the groom is capable of looking after his wife well and that they have re-affirmed their blessing of the marriage

These two ceremonies are often confused by people, and many have come to refer to the Icilanga Mulilo as Amatebeto as it has become more mainstream and increasingly practiced by non-Bembas. Businesses have cropped up providing catering services, along with professional drummers and singers available for hire. 

Kitchen Party

This is similar to what is referred to in the west as a bridal shower. Guests bring gifts for the bride to start her home; these are often kitchen appliances, utensils, and home decorations. This has elements of both modern and traditional incorporated. The modern elements – gifts of big ticket household items like refrigerators and dining sets, traditional – gifts of pestle and mortar, a sieve, and cooking sticks. This is typically a woman-only domain.

Nowadays the kitchen party is often an opportunity to show off how generous the families are, and how not to be outdone. You must bring a gift, and not just flimsy, plastic wares! In recent times a trend has emerged with the groom making an appearance at the kitchen party, often with a bouquet of flowers and expensive gifts in tow. I’m not entirely sure why and how this started but this can be quite controversial, with no-show grooms facing the real prospect of wedding cancellations by irate brides. 


This one is self explanatory. Though we can touch on the necessity of these ceremonies when couples celebrate traditional ceremonies and rites.