I recently returned to Ndola, and as I drove down Kabelenga Avenue from Kwacha Road to the Times of Zambia offices where I once worked (1969-1992), old memories started flooding back.
Former United States president Abraham Lincoln has gone down in the annals as saying, “The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.”
Yes, the man famously remembered as ‘Honest Abe’ was right. Who would ever forget an all-weather friend or a good natured and modest superior?
So as I approached the Presidential Guest House, I remembered one of Zambia’s highly gifted journalists and drama enthusiast, Winter Duke Lemba, who lived near this mini-state house located on Kabelenga Avenue.
Winter Lemba was one of the people I met at the Evelyn Hone College of Further Education where we were studying journalism. Lemba, who was a year ahead of me, finished earlier but I found him at the Times when I joined the then Lonrho-owned newspaper.
I remember Lemba because of hard work and unique sense of humour. At my wedding, for instance, he bought me a set of kitchen knives. Borrowing liberally from Macbeth, who committed regicide at the behest of his wife Lady Macbeth, he jokingly told me in Charter Hall, now called Nakatindi Hall, that “these ‘daggers’ are not meant to stab you in the back but to ensure ‘ba-mulamu wesu’ (our sister-in-law) uses them to prepare nutritious meals.” We laughed heartily at the apt twist he gave to one of William Shakespeare’s popular plays.
If I remember correctly he ‘Zambianised’ the post of chief reporter when he took over from John Edlin and undertook many important assignments, among them, the ‘Alice Lenshina Uprising’, especially when her followers fled en masse from Chinsali in the Northern Province to Congo (DRC) and camped at Mokambo along the Pedicle Road.
At that time, it was almost unthinkable that anyone else would ever occupy that former Mpelembe Properties’ palace as it was, for want of a better word, the preserve of President Kaunda who towered over Zambia like the proverbial colossus.
Yet two men I knew and fraternised with – Mr Frederick Chiluba and Dr Levy Mwanawasa, who became second and third republican presidents respectively – used this house whenever they were visiting Ndola.
A few metres from The Presidential Guest House, I remembered Mr Ridley, Mr John Mufalali, Dr George Simwinga and V. Kapoka who all lived in what was then the general manager’s official residence. The property has since been converted into a private lodge at the confluence of Kabelenga and Mulobezi roads.
I also remembered former Furniture Corporation of Zambia (Furncoz) managing director and founder of Vitafoam United FC, Abram Mokola and his neighbour and businessman Mike Kaira, a few metres down Kabelenga Avenue.
Then I reached Number 46 Monterey Flats where I lived next door to my former white bosses, Sports Editor Joe Taylor and Features sub-editor Mr Terry Bell, who now writes a column on labour issues in The Star newspaper in Johannesburg. Ridgeway Liwena became the first Zambian sports editor when Mr Taylor’s contract ended while Mike Moono, my friend who taught me some bits of Tonga and introduced me to his cousins Judge Weston Muzyamba and Saul Mweetwa, replaced Mr Bell as features sub-editor. Mike also edited my sports column, the Zambian Soccer Scene, when Mr Mike Pearson, who had been editing it, left to settle in Cape Town.
For his part, Mr Taylor and his wife Ronnie returned to Toronto in Canada.
In fact, dear reader, you must know that it is he, Joe Taylor who groomed me as a sports reporter while his fellow Canadian, Paul Juhl, who was doing the sports pages then, groomed me as a sports sub-editor.
A few years later Mr Taylor with whom I had last travelled to Chingola to cover a boxing tournament at the Lawrence Allen Hall, sent me a message that “Paul Juhl had died” but his wife had returned to Africa as a missionary ‘somewhere’ in Benin.
The Juhls had a daughter who was born in Luanshya Mine Hospital and the couple decided to name her Luanshya, as a testament to the hospitality they enjoyed during their stay in Zambia.
Tragedy then struck Mr Taylor. He sent me a chilling e-mail, announcing the death of his beloved wife, Ronnie.
“You may not know this,” he wrote, “I recently returned to Africa to fulfill her wish. As you read this you must know that Ronnie ‘lies scattered somewhere in KwaZulu Natal’ – which is where she said she should be buried’”.
He added that as they had no children, he was extremely lonely and feeling the full impact of Canada’s severe winters. I could not help but shed tears particularly at the realisation that the lady who eschewed what James Farmer calls the “racial mystique” deeply rooted in some white women, had chosen to spend her eternal life among the Zulus in South Africa.
It would appear Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection had some ring of truth to it because more terrible news awaited me. Former Times training editor and chief sub-editor Vernon Wright, the current owner/publisher of the Bulletin in Lusaka, sent me a facebook message, saying something like: “I am not sure if you are aware that Joe Taylor passed on. His friends will be bringing his ashes to me so I can scatter them in the Luangwa valley because that is where he said he left his heart.”
Joe and his wife loved collecting butterflies from the Zambian countryside.
There wasn’t much traffic on Kabelenga Avenue that morning so I had the whole road to myself. But slowed down when I came to the block of flats on the corner of Kabelenga Avenue and Shinde Street and next to what used to be Standard Chartered Bank’s Kabelenga Branch office.
Immediately I remembered my former colleagues, Mike Moono, Adam Hamiwe, Gideon Phiri, Gabriel Mukuwa, Eddie Mwanza, Eddie Karrim, Wamulume Kwaleyela, Mike Wasa, Simon Ngoma (typesetter), George Musowoya (Goss machine) and Chase Mhango that once resided there.
While Mr Mhango literally ‘recruited’ me in 1992 by introducing me to Mr Peter Olsen to become editor of the Botswana Gazette in Gaborone, I remembered George Musowoya in particular for our ‘great trek’ to Kasama in 1987. The three of us – George, Bernard Lubumbashi and I said ‘Our Lozi friends in urban centres often go back to the Western Province for the annual ‘Kuomboka Ceremony’ but why can’t we, Bembas, learn from our compatriots and start our own version of Kuomboka by going to Chief Chitimukulu’s palace?
It was Easter so we left early in the morning and drove all the way to Kasama, which is almost 1 000 kilometres from Ndola. We stopped briefly to refuel at Serenje and Mpika.
This trip was memorable because it was my first time to see an example of the high price Zambia had to pay for supporting the liberation struggle in Southern Africa – relics of a bridge over the Chambeshi River that was blown up by Rhodesian soldiers, believed to be the dreaded Selous Scouts, who had sneaked into Zambia in ‘hot pursuit’ of so-called Zimbabwean ‘terrorists’.
We arrived in the provincial capital at dusk and George and I spent the night at the council-owned Kasama hotel while Bernard Lubumbashi went to sleep at the residence of Colonel Clement Mulenga, the Zambia Defence Force’s (ZDF) regional commander then.
The following morning, we drove to Chief Chitimukulu’s village, passing through Mungwi Secondary School, which Mr Anderson Mazoka, the founding president of United Party for National Development (UPND), attended before proceeding to Canada for his engineering degree.
Unfortunately, we did not find the paramount chief because he had flown to ‘Lusaka for a UNIP Central Committee’ meeting. But our journey was not in vain as we were well received by the motherly and caring Queen.
Happily surprised at our demonstration of such loyalty and respect for Zambian culture, she issued instructions that a big chicken be slaughtered for our lunch before being taken on a conducted tour of the sprawling village, which is strategically built on some form of ‘sunken lounge’ and separated from the mainland by a fast-flowing stream.
As all these past events continued to run in my mind I finally arrived at my destination and parked my vehicle in front of the Times of Zambia offices. This is the nerve-centre where the nation’s two leading papers, Times and Sunday Times, are produced and distributed to all corners of the Republic.
Emerging from the vehicle, after applying the handbreak, I remembered Mr Milimo Punabanthu, our Editor-In-Chief at the time, as he and Mr Mike Pearson stood on the verandah, looking uncharacteristically worried. It transpired that they were apparently looking for the company driver detailed “to transport the boss to the airport or else he would miss his flight” back to Lusaka.
Mr Pearson saw me and called me to where they were standing.
Am I being fired on-the-spot?
I muttered to myself. But much to my relief Mr Pearson handed me keys of a company Fiat 128 car.
“See if you can drop Mr Punabantu off at the airport,” he said, explaining that he could not do so himself because he was writing the day’s Opinion column.
As we drove to the airport along Dag Hammarskjoeld Drive in Itawa, Mr Punabanthu, who later became President Kaunda’s special assistant for press based at State House, told me something of seminal value – something that should be excellent food for thought for everyone who cherishes improved work ethic among the Zambian workers. He said:
“Alfred your worst enemy is the one who denies you an opportunity to work.
“These people (workers like the absent driver) cry for jobs, but when we give them jobs they do not want to work. What are we expected to do?”
For God’s sake how do I remember all this after so many years? one may ask.
The answer is simple: He is the only man – and not my tribesman – to tell me such a thing.
I still remember, too, the fact that as he was travelling light – and to my surprise – he simply got his briefcase from the back seat, thanked me for the ‘favour’, waved goodbye and walked into the Ndola Airport building for departure formalities.
A big boss thanking a junior employee … for what? What a remarkable display of humility.
These are some of the thoughts that always occupy my mind every time I drive or drive Down Kabelenga Avenue.