Wednesday 9 September 2020

Mysterious Death Of A Popular Fish Unites Zambians

 By Paul Shalala

The carp fish popularly known as Mafishi

It had to take the death of a fish at Zambia’s second largest university for politicians to speak the same language.

Over the past month, Zambian politicians have waged a bitter war of words over the role privatization has played in Zambia since the 1990s.

Opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema has been on the receiving end of uppercuts for having been a consultant of the Zambia Privatisation Agency in evaluating the parastatals companies that were sold during the MMD era.

But when the legendary fish at the Copperbelt University (CBU) in Kitwe died on Sunday, all politicians issued statements expressing sympathy with thousands of students at CBU who believe the fish gave them miraculous powers to pass examinations.

The fish, which was nicknamed Mafishi, died on Sunday in unexplained circumstances yesterday.

According to experts, Carp lives up to 20 years and can weigh 14 kilometers.

Mafishi is believed to have been introduced in the research pond somewhere in 200 or 2001 and was mainly used for research by students studying natural sciences.

“The fish is a Carp and it was sourced from China. Its habitat was the pond near Monk Square and students believed that when they visit the pond and see Mafishi, they can enter an exam room and pass,” said Professor Felix Kalaba, the Dean of the School of Natural Resources at the Copperbelt University.

Professor Kalaba, who himself was a student at CBU between 2000 and 2003, says he remembers walking to the pond to watch the fish at the time.

“The fish was a source of inspiration and part of the university community for over 15 years. That fish knew a lot of secrets because couples would sit by that pond and discuss many issues. And even students when they meet at Monk Square, they would plan a lot of things and Mafishi would be a witness,” added Professor Kalaba.

The School of Natural Resources has since written a letter to management at the university, seeking for the renaming of all fish ponds after Mafishi.

On Monday evening, students lit a big fire at Monk Square, singing funeral songs and praising Mafishi for his ‘heroic’ legacy.

Clad in black attires, the students marched around campus, wailing loudly.

“We are in mourning; this fish was part of us. We are appealing to well-wishers to embalm it and preserve it so that future generations can learn about Mafishi,” said Lawrence Kasonde, President of the Copperbelt University Students Union.

As the students were singing funeral songs, one of them who spoke in Bemba, gave the purported life history of Mafishi stating that the fish was born in 1983 in Mwansabombwe District in Luapula Province.

Students paying their last respects to Mafishi 
at CBU Fish Ponds -Pictures by Paul Shalala

He comically said Mafishi was enrolled at CBU in 1987, graduated in 1991 but returned to lecture Fisheries the same year but died on Sunday due to depression.

Outside of campus, social media was ablaze with #RIPMafishi hashtags.

With the 2021 general elections just 11 months away, politicians stole the limelight as they showed solidarity with CBU students who form part of a large voting group in Kwacha Constituency which is currently held by Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Malanji.

President Edgar Lungu was one of the first politicians to weigh in on the death of the fish.

“Mafishi was part of the CBU community for a long time…….. I’m glad you received a befitting send-off. We’ll all miss you,” said President Lungu.

Opposition UPND President Hakainde Hichilema led opposition leaders in paying tributes to the fish.

“We stand with the CBU student community, past and present, over the death of their iconic pet Mafishi,” said Mr Hichilema.

Another opposition leader Chishimba Kambwili of NDC wrote: “On behalf of the NDC and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to send our sincere heartfelt condolences on the passing of the iconic Mafishi, to the CBU student community.”

From the academic world, the University of Zambia also joined in sending messages of condolences.

“UNZA sends its heartfelt condolences to Copperbelt University on the demise of Mafishi,” a statement on the university’s official Facebook page reads in part.

However, it is not yet known were the ‘remains’ of Mafishi are.

Management at CBU is still waiting for its security agents to hand over the beloved fish.

Meanwhile, some students have written a petition, seeking President Lungu to declare three days of mourning for the fish.

Kitwe Mayor Christopher Kang’ombe, himself a former President of the CBU Students Union, is leading the calls for a state funeral.

Students mourning the fish at Monk Square.

“Ba Kateka (Mr. President) Ba ECL (Edgar Chagwa Lungu), have you received the petition for a day of National Mourning for Mafishi and ka State Funeral? I graduated from CBU in 2009 and still remember seeing this fish in the Riverside Campus ponds for five years,” wrote Kang’ombe on Facebook.

This Facebook status drew 95 comments, mostly from current and former CBU students who are in support of honoring the fish with a state funeral.

Others students like Flo Kampamba, followed Higher Education Minister Brian Mushimba on his Facebook page to ask him to erect a monument for Mafishi on campus.

“Receiving these petitions, let’s see how many we receive and decide,” said Dr. Mushimba in response.

On Sunday, security guards spotted the dead fish, floating in the pond but they only reported the matter on Monday.

Since then, no one has seen the carcass of the dead fish.

This has led to speculation as to what happened to the fish.

"We have not seen the fish itself. No one has seen it. But we are investigating so that whoever had a hand in the death or disappearance of Mafishi can be brought to book," said Professor Naison Ngoma, the Vice Chancellor of the Copperbelt University.

Asked whether the university would consider engaging the Zambia Police Service to beef up the investigation, Professor Ngoma answered in the affirmative.

"We will use all investigative resources at our disposal and if it means engaging the CIA and FBI, we will do so. We need to find Mafishi," he added.

As it stands, students are just mourning without evidence of the death of the fish.

What if the fish was stolen and relocated to another water body? What if Mafishi is live somewhere? This could be a theater style deception.