‘How my preferred rank haunted me’
Published On January 17, 2014 » 6158 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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IT HAPPENED TO ME LOGO

Continued from last week

In a split second, I answered: “That field rank of major only, which is not junior and not so senior to be implicated in evil plans that give yield to wide scale corruption in the armed forces.” And as I said, Amen, I came out of the trance to find myself sprawling on the ground instead of kneeling; what puzzled me most was the fact that I had been in conversation with some one and yet there was no other person but me on the scene.

Indeed the events that followed proved beyond doubt that I had that day made a covenant with a mighty spirit. Some of the things I experienced affected even my course mates; some colleagues in A-Flight openly complained that there

was a jinx in their midst.

That came about, because all along local military training courses for officer cadets were just simple orientational programmes of a maximum three months before being relocated to the right training institution locally or abroad. Alas, ours went on for eight months which was abnormal.

It was only after the army complained of us congesting the place and making courses not flow properly, that the Air Force checked us out. Those earmarked for jet fighter pilot training in Yugoslavia had to go to ZAF Livingstone and wait there at what was called initial training wing; others went to ZAF Lusaka for helicopter pilot training and I found myself among those that were to train as pilots on fixed wing planes at Livingstone Flying Training School (FTS). I was, of course, disappointed at not being one of those to train abroad.

At the FTS we constituted course 13, which took-over the problems of the now defunct A-Flight. Things stopped moving as expected. Kitting was poor, there was no uniform material for long trousers, so we continued wearing short trousers in the freezing cold June weather.

Ground courses went on smoothly, but when it came to flying, there was a congestion of courses. There was Peter Zuze converting from helicopter pilot to fixed wing pilot, Gerry Chanda re-mustering from navigator to pilot and Slim Simpindu perfecting the flying that did not go well in Italy. Then there was course 11 in its advanced stage, courses 12 and 13 in their basic and grading phases, respectively.

All those converge on eight siaimarchette trainer planes which were not always all serviceable; and only six Italian flying instructors who could only do a limited number of hours per day. In Italy the full course for a pilot takes only nine months at most; but at Livingstone, some courses had been going on for over three years.

Italian instructors complained to the Zambian Government hoping that some students could be sent to Italy. The Ministry of Defence headed by Alexander Grey Zulu then simply instructed the school to trim down the number of students per instructor to the required standard, four only, and to ground the rest.

Your guess is as good as mine as to who would be the sacrificial lamb in that victimisation. A fateful letter came just after I had done my ninth mission, an aerobatic maneuver of making a u-turn known as, wing over.

In the evening I was at Fair mount Hotel enjoying a beer and gambling on flute machines. One of the guys who remained at the base to witness a notice being pinned on the board, bumped into me and expressed surprise to see me in the bar when I was expected to go for pre-grounding examination the following morning!

Incredible, but very true, the examiner, Captain Bagodo told me that it was an urgent programme and since I was not given enough time to prepare myself we just had to repeat my last mission and up we went.

When we landed he asked me whether I understood what is meant by, destiny; and when I gave a negative answer, he said: “Officer Cadet, Chola, it is like me, many times and with great effort I tried to be a priest. But, here I am in military fatigue which is the opposite of priestly robes. You cannot explain it better; that is destiny, ok.”

He said it was the same with me, if piloting was not meant for me; no matter how much I tried, “you shall only end up endangering your life some times. Otherwise I have found nothing wrong with your flying out of this examination, but your instructor has dropped you from his list of students and I am not ready to take you because I have the required number. Now listen to me, if you allow me to write that you have accepted grounding, I will very strongly recommend you to go to Italy for a course in engineering.”

The rest is history; that is how my ambition to be a pilot ended as destiny played its role. Upon being checked out of FTS we reported at the Air Force headquarters, where three others and I were made to join a three-month induction course for air traffic controllers which was in its second month at the Zambia Air Service Traffic Institute.

At the end of it, I scored 68½ per cent with my closest rival 33 per cent followed by 27 per cent and the last only 16 per cent. We all failed the course because by International Civil Aviation Organisation standards, the minimum pass rate was 70 per cent.

To my surprise, soon after failing the course so badly, the second and the last were sent abroad to train as military intelligence officers, while the third quit to join the special branch and I continued languishing in ZAF.

Another shocker was an officers selection board for various trades in ZAF and successful candidates were sent abroad for training, leaving some of us rotting now in our third year without being trained.

First there was a rumour that there were some un-trainable jinxes who would not be sent abroad for any course! Later a staff officer from headquarters, squadron leader Page, came to ZAF Lusaka to finally address us. He read to us a letter by Minister of Defence Zulu to the Air Force Commander, Gp. Capt. Highland, allegedly instructing him not to send any Bemba from Northern Province for any officers’ courses abroad.

I remember officer cadet Henry Chinama who was included on that list by mistake. He became hysterical as he screamed: “I am not a f****n’ Bemba, I am Lamba.” Just there and then, he was told to cool down as a course would be arranged for him in England and he went within a week or two.

For the rest of us there was only one option, to quit or continue languishing indefinitely. By this time prospects of quitting to join thousands of new school leavers seeking employment, were unthinkable.

I, therefore, planned to do something to redress the bad situation. My civilian friends, thanks to the Ndakala family, advised me to see such politicians as Simon Kapwepwe through Boniface Kawimbe. So I went to the office which Kapwepwe shared with Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula and I found Geoffrey Hamaundu who ushered me in to see Nkumbula since Kapwepwe was away.

The old man received me very warmly and kept referring to me as, “my son.” After listening to my story, he advised me to wait for Mr Kapwepwe whom he telephoned. The two politicians exchanged jokes and comments about Kaunda.

However, they dismissed me with a promise to do everything within their means to address the situation. Soon after that air force headquarters sent me to Mbala for a course at Outward Bound lake school. While there, the ministry of defence authorised the air force to send all the cadets, including Bembas from Northern Province already in the system, abroad for training in various trades.

By the time I came back from Outward Bound, all the trades offered by Italian Air Force were allocated to cadets, ZAF had to request for an extra place through the embassy and they were given one for a meteorological officer which I took.

That is how I ended up with a job that I had never thought of doing, a predicament that inversely proved to be the most suitable condition for fulfillment of the wish I expressed before my Lord and God at Kohima Barracks.

The establishment of meteorological offices in ZAF stations went only up to a squadron commanders with the highest rank of major. Moreover, there were absolutely no such facilities as a meteorological office and equipment at ZAF Mumbwa, where I was to work throughout my service.

That made the squadron a proper Cinderella that was least considered in all ZAF functions and with little access to ZAF facilities, making me live in the station more like an alien than a real member of a regular air force.

Indeed, I had the most difficult time a man can experience in life; I saw not only my contemporary peers, but also juniors get promoted to higher ranks while I remained stagnant at the rank of major for 12 years.

However, those and many other troubles worked as a catalyst for serious personal plans for my stay in ZAF. Since the system had no plans for me, I had to make my own plans. I worked in one station and sitting on the same desk for 22 years!

Despite that, I was far more prosperous than most, I changed personal motor vehicles like shirts when only senior officers could inter change dilapidated service jalopies for personal- to- holder motor vehicles; my house had all the household properties every one envied to have; and that brought in another problem of envy of the worst dimensions. Some senior officers openly wished me ill luck for making them look like paupers.

I worked under Lieutenant general Hannaniah Lungu for about 10 years and he felt my situation needed addressing. He talked about it indirectly saying that he was ready to see me promoted, but I had to visit his house or his office privately and pledge to him loyalty: “we don’t wan’t to repeat the mistake that Obote made in promoting Idi Amin,” he concluded amid laughter from officers.

One of the officers told me at the urinal: “The ball is now in your hands.” But to me that was unthinkable, I am opposed to ifichawa, the same way heaven is opposed to hell, or east opposed to west. Lt. Gen. Lungu’s offer was unacceptable, much as I desired a promotion; I could not demean myself by begging him for it.

Later, promotions came out, and all squadron commanders were promoted from major to Lt Col, but I was the only one left out despite being the most senior! I remembered the wish I made, but as a routine procedure, I wrote to the station commander asking for an explanation for being left out of promotions for which I believe I was eligible.

Col. Simon Kazembe, in a manner most unbecoming of his position, shirked the responsibility and instead referred my file to his administrative officer, Lt. Col Kashinka who, ironically, confronted me and sarcastically said: “Promotion is sweet because some are not promoted; it is like heaven which is sweet because some will not make it.”

I calmly swallowed Kashinka’s sarcasm and responded to him saying: “You are only trying to tease me and you have not answered what I have asked the station commander to explain to me. However, since you have made reference to heaven the home of all fairness, let me also refer to Christ unto whom it was written long before He came that He would suffer the things He went through, but woo unto them at whose hands He suffered. Me too, “it is probably the will of God that I am left out of promotions, but woo unto him that causes others to suffer victimisation through injustice such as this.”

I was 43 years when I left Zambia Air Force through the early retirement scheme, after a service of 22 Years and, of course, at that field rank of major. I have not worked anywhere else, I had a vision just before moving out of the base; the Lord God called and ordained me a scribe to proclaim his message through writing.

As I am writing, I am in the wilderness of Mumbwa living on a K122 monthly pension. I have a shelter all right, I am used to one meal a day and my van is still going on very strong. I’ve been under the tutelage of the spirit day and night alone for 21 years.

Indeed, it cannot be for fuck all that the Lord God has made me tread such an itinerary; Believe it or not, it is for a purpose, Zambia is at the core of a major plan of action on earth and those are the intricacies of declaration of a Christian nation. I am, here to proclaim those things, but at the time appointed which I believe is not now; only the means and ways I await.

As for those horrifying troubles I have testified, such as perpetual frustrations, a lack of promotions and job satisfaction, they have all been justified through that which says; “And we know that all things work together for good to them who love God, them who are the called according to his purpose,” Amen.

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tozletters@gmail.com or drop them at any of our Times Printpak offices. We wish all our readers and contributors to this column a prosperous 2014. Editor.

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