I had just arrived from a trip to Hong Kong last Monday when my hardworking office assistant, Patience Namangala, gave me an envelope in which there was an invitation for Felistas and me to attend a bond redemption ceremony at the five-star Taj Pamodzi Hotel the next day (see picture below). Three years ago we had invested K10 million (US2,000) into Investrust Bank bonds. The bank needed to raise K100 billion and was offering much better returns than the normal bank interest we were getting on our savings account. So, it made a lot of sense to give them our little savings and see what would come of it.
Well, we felt very privileged that the bank wanted us to attend the bond redemption ceremony, and so we made all the necessary adjustments to our schedules the following day in order to be there. We rarely get invited to hotel functions and so we were not going to let this one past. Our first surprise when we got there was that there were no more than thirty individuals present. How on earth did they choose us, in the light of our small investment? The guest of honour was the Minister of Trade and Commerce, Hon Felix Mutati. When the speeches were over, they gave out a few cheques to institutions that had invested fairly sizeable amounts. Then the Master of Ceremonies announced that it was not only institutions that invested in the bonds but individuals as well. Then, to our surprise, he called out our names, saying, “Conrad and Felistas Mbewe are being paid K250 million (US$50,000)!” Felistas and I were shocked as we made our way forward to get our big fat cheque, propelled by the clapping and cheering of the small crowd of people. We got a lot of congratulations from the Minister, the Managing Director of Investrust Bank, etc. As we made our way back to our seat, I whispered to Felistas, saying, “This is what dreams are made of, dear. Pinch me. Am I dreaming?”
You do not need to be a genius to guess the kind of thoughts that filled my mind at that point. Firstly, I thought the Lord was rebuking me. Felistas and I had just got a loan from a bank for the purpose of beginning to build a house using a National Housing Authority scheme where you pay them in instalments and they build for you over a period of one year. The loan amount was about K250 million (US$50,000), and so I was wondering whether the Lord was saying, “Son, you should have trusted me and waited one more month and I would have answered your prayers in this miraculous way. Now, you have a loan to clear—plus interest!” Then, I also began to think of what the tithe on that amount would do for KBC, especially in the area of missions where my heart really is.
However, as the event drew to an end, I became more convinced that this was a mistake. When I mentioned it to someone at the event who was representing an insurance company, he said, “Mistake? What mistake? Have you seen the number of witnesses here? They had better give you the money or else we will all stand up for you. We heard them announce it!” I was still not convinced. So, as soon as I got back to my office, I rang the bank and told them that I thought they had made a big mistake. Thankfully, they soon confirmed that I was right. The cheque should have read “K10 million” (Indeed, that is what it read in words, but the digits read K250,000,000). They apologized for the error. I told them, “I am willing to forget everything, but on one condition—that you tell those journalists you invited to the event about the mistake you have made so that they do not publish it. If you do not, and the world hears that I received a cheque of K250 million, half of my village will be at my doorstep the following morning wanting a share of it!” I was assured that this was going to be done.
To be on the safe side, I informed the church elders and deacons in advance, just in case this issue still came out in the papers and they started getting calls from members about how on earth I had accumulated that kind of money. Anxious to make sure that that the bank had done its job, I watched the national news and sure enough they just showed Felistas and me listening to the speeches. Phew! However, the following morning (Wednesday) I started getting messages congratulating Felistas and me for the K250 million we had been given the day before. The Times of Zambia, with distribution right across the nation, stated in no uncertain terms on its business page that we had been given this colossal sum of money (see insert on left)! So, I spent my day assuring everyone that this was a big mistake. I tried to get a hold of the gentleman at the bank who assured me that this would not happen, but completely failed. I left my phone number and he was not calling back. Thus I called a good friend and lawyer (who also happens to be a relative), Mr Mumba Kapumpa, for help. He was once the chief executive of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the institution that regulates how the stock exchange behaves itself. He gladly took up the matter for me and got the bank to issue a correction the next morning (Friday) in the same newspaper concerning the grave mistake that they had made. That was how “a dream that was almost true” came to an end—and my bank account balance still reflects the little money that I have genuinely worked for!
I have been told over and over again that other people would have made some cool cash out of this error. I know, but “better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.” Certain things must be left to the world of dreams. Reality is about earning your wealth through hard work and sweat, and not through someone else’s typographical error.