By ALFRED MULENGA –
IT was in 1960 when I found myself in a group of pupils who were selected to go and start a Standard Four class at the newly constructed Muleya-Winter Primary School in Mufulira’s Kankoyo Mine Township.
The headmaster was one of Northern Rhodesia’s acrobatic goalkeepers, Musa Kasonka, formerly of Chingola 11 Wise Men, who had been transferred to Mufulira to launch the school in Mufulira West on the way to Butondo Mine Township.
Our teacher was a man called Nebat Nkonde, a graduate from Chalimbana Teachers Training College in Chongwe outside Lusaka where Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was ounce a tutor.
It transpired that young Nebat Nkonde was taught by Kenneth David Kaunda who was a primary school teacher at Lubwa Mission in Chinsali District in Northern Province at the time.
But as former British prime minister Harold Macmillan’s famous ‘winds of change’ sweeping throughout Africa reached our shores, Kaunda, who had left teaching to become secretary-general of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress (ANC) led by ‘Old’ Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, broke away to form his ZANC – the Zambia African National Congress in 1958.
Much to the shock of men and women of goodwill, Kaunda and his non-conformist comrades, who were smeared as “trouble-makers” by the settler regime, were soon arrested and detained in various prisons across the territory.
Kaunda, the “ring leader”, was banished to remote Kabompo District in North-Western Province for, among other accusations, allegedly fomenting trouble and, according to frightened white miners, planning to bring Kenya’s “Mau Mau” atrocities to Northern Rhodesia.
So after being released from Kabompo prison, Kaunda addressed a public rally in Mufulira mine’s Section 8 Township. The venue was at an open playing field near the present copper mine dump and Kasimbaya shopping centre. (The place has since been developed into a residential area).
On the day of the meeting, Mr Nkonde, who knew it was against Federal government policy to take part let alone involve children in active party politics, pretended that he was taking his civics class on a social studies excursion and sought the headmaster’s authority.
Delighted at being given the unexpected go-ahead, a beaming Mr Nkonde said: “Bayiche (children) I would like you to go out and see my former teacher. He is the president of UNIP and from what I know of him he is likely to become the first African prime minister of Northern Rhodesia. He is addressing a public meeting in Section 8.”
As the venue of the meeting was within walking distance from our school, we strolled there for what was to become our introduction to the liberation struggle that being waged by young educated African politicians, inspired by Kwame Nkrumah who triggered the decolonisation of Anglophone Africa when he led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957.
According to former University of Zambia (UNZA) lecturer and educationist Professor Ezekiel Mphalele, who met him at the Accra All Africa Conference in 1958, Kaunda looked more serious and intent on securing self government in his country.
The late South African professor, who died in Pretoria a few years upon his return from exile, was working in Ghana at the time, says in his book, The Drums of Africa, that he met with Kaunda and other young nationalists, including Seretse Khama of the then Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana), at the Accra Conference that Nkrumah had organised (to ‘blooded’ the young warriors for the protracted battles against colonialism and neo-colonialism that lay ahead).
But today, the Kabompo ‘prison graduate’ I first saw in 1960, and who went on to become the first president of Zambia four years later, is not the battle-weary Kaunda the younger generation see on television or newspapers and magazines.
At only 36 then and dressed in a white short-sleeved shirt and a black pair of trousers – with a wristwatch that he wore on his right hand – Kaunda looked stunning as he stood on the anthill that had been cleared and transformed into a platform by party workers for watershed meeting.
He was not only handsome but, as I came to learn later from history, Kaunda had the charm and charisma of the inspirational Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to independence in 1947, Honest Abe’ Abraham Lincoln who helped end slavery in the United States of America (USA).
Yes, from what I can recall, the former Munali Secondary School student was no doubt experienced beyond his years, may be that was due to freedom flu he contracted from veteran politicians like Nkrumah at the Accra conference in West Africa.
On that sunny afternoon in Mufulira Kaunda oozed much confidence – the confidence of a man who knows what he is doing, which prompted his former Lubwa primary school learner Nebat Nkonde to remark while breast-beating, saying:
‘Baiche, bushe mwamona ifyo impalume shaba? (Bemba for ‘Children, can you see how men of substance are like?’)
I also recall the fact that the meeting attracted a multitude. It was such a hive of activity that riot police were lurking in the vicinity.
Kaunda had apparently won widespread acclaim on the Copperbelt, including in Mufulira where conservative African miners – some with the covert backing of their Afrikaner bosses and traditionalists – remained solidly behind ‘Old Harry’ and his and were vehemently against this breed of perceived ‘radicals and ‘malcontents’.
And yet it was in Mufulira that some people probably witnessed the full flowering of Kaunda’s political career when he exposed some of the follies of racism and the cancerous apartheid system in general, buying a bicycle and insisting it be given him through the small pigeon hole from which African customers were served because ‘blacks’ were not allowed to buy from inside white-owned shops.
It was reported then that the ‘white shopkeeper’ was so furious at this display of insolence by a ‘k…r’ that he called in NRG police so they could come and arrest ‘this trouble-maker’. After that showdown at the shop (Africans were later allowed to buy from inside the shops) Kaunda’s fame spread like a veldt fire in the country and beyond.
Kaunda’s arrival on the Northern Rhodesian political scene also split families, at least in Mufulira where I grew up, with sons and daughters following his party while parents continued to back the ‘favourite son’, Nkumbula. I can reveal that ours (the same can be said of many others) became a house divided.
I remember that although we, the children, were not members and despite repeated protests, our father always bought us ANC party cards and which he renewed with monotonous regularity.
Back to the scene of that unforgettable meeting: After being introduced to the audience by a man who was himself described as the “UNIP firebrand” then party secretary general Munukayumbwa Sipalo, my teacher’s former teacher started to address the mammoth rally by greeting the expectant crowd with ‘Chisokone, Chisokone’.
It was a rally call – a vigorous waving and shaking of the right hand – punctuated with shouts of party’s slogan “Kwacha” – which can/could be interpreted variously to mean that “time to wake up and fight for your rights” has dawned. It also symbolised the shaking colonialism off its hinges so it could eventually collapse – and the people loved it.
So you can imagine. The atmosphere at the meeting was electric, as the massed crowd roared back with chants of “Ngwee” – literally in agreement with Kaunda that indeed ‘the writing was on the wall’. Colonialism and the Federation simply had to go or else…
It was apparent to us as young as we were (average age 12) that our teacher’s teacher knew how to control his audience with his oratory skills (though he seemed to have a stammer) and use of UNIP choirs and musicians like guitarist Tolomeo Bwalya, who spiced up the meeting with fables and songs, depicting Nkumbula’s ANC as the sluggish ‘tortoise’ and Kaunda’s radical ZANC as the swift ‘hare’ that would win the race for the oppressed black majority.
In his address, Kaunda outlined his party manifesto and attacked the imposition of what he called the ‘hated’ Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland by white settlers in 1953.
He also spoke of how he and his ZANC comrades would fight to halt the ‘Bamba Zonke” syndrome – the siphoning of and shipping of revenue derived from Northern Rhodesia copper mines to Southern Rhodesia, ostensibly to develop Salisbury (then the Federal capital city) into another Johannesburg – at the expense of Lusaka, which was left looking like a ‘cowboy city in the American Wild West’, according to authors of the book, ‘Inside Africa and Out’.
I also remember the fact that at that meeting there was one young white police officer, superintending a platoon of black constables.
In contrast to his black subordinates, who were dressed in rough khaki uniform, heavy boots and hard helmets, the white ‘boss’ was smartly dressed with gleaming black shoes, light grey socks and a fine cap. This contrast did not escape Kaunda’s critical eye. He vowed to standardise police and army officers’ uniform, end colour bar, and introduce far-reaching economic, educational and health reforms once his party assumed power. The people cheered wildly.
The meeting ended peacefully with calls for “Self-government Now’ and the singing of ‘Ichikoti Chakwa Kaunda chaba ichapambaana, nga Welensky achimona nomutima munda waya’.
The song characterised Kaunda as the whip-wielding shepherd and Sir Roy Welensky, the Federal prime minister and symbol of white domination and oppression, as a wolf terrorising the sheep and loses his wits at the sight of the African leader’s sjambock.
As years rolled on, Mr Nkonde’s utterances proved prophetic because after the Kankoyo watershed meeting, Kaunda became president of Zambia on October 24, 1964 and a pan-Africanist destined to help complete the decolonisation process in British colonial Africa, particularly in the southern African region.
And true to what the Bible says in Proverbs 16:7-8: “When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them”, Kaunda scored more successes in his battle for justice for all irrespective of colour, race or tribe.
In 1962-3 following the defeat of the white-dominated United Federal Party UFP) and formation of a coalition government between UNIP and Nkumbula’s ANC, Kaunda’s unrelenting efforts paid a huge dividend, as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland fell down flat like the biblical Wall of Jericho, exactly 10 years after its imposition.
If my memory serves me right, some of the classmates at Muleya Winter School in 1960, who attended that historic gathering public at which I first saw the man who became popularly known as “KK”, included Albert N’gandwe, Athanasio Makumbi (my late brother), Godwin M’siska, Peter Shamano, Kasasa Mutati, Jeremiah Lwando, Kenneth Chiti, Michael Chewe, Chipepo Kasumpa, Peter Kalunga, William Katongo, Bessie Nyoni, Maud Banda, Philemon Siwale, Wedson Bulaya, Romano Chikuku, Janet Besa, Bertha Nkole, Helen Phiri, Margaret Samukange, Angelina Mwansa, Boniface Mwila, Bishop Chipili, Joseph Zulu, Peter Kalembe, Robam Mwewa, Geoffrey Mwenya, Moses Kambafwile, Mike Mutale, Richard Mwape, Michael Mwansa, Dubbin Makungu, Thomas Chibaye, Naomi Ntemba, Rose Makungu and Evans Kalunga. (Sila Press Agency)
*The writer is a former Times of Zambia Chief Sub-Editor, Editor of the Botswana Gazette and Sunday Tribune; Assistant principal information officer, Department of Information Services, Republic of Botswana; and Mmegi/Monitor sub-editor, Gaborone.