April 28, 2015 offers an opportunity to celebrate first President Kenneth Kaunda’s 91st birthday and a chance to explore different ways in which eminent and unsung freedom fighters made contributions towards Zambia’s development.
It should be remembered that had the late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, the country’s second Vice President, who served from 1967 to 1970, not died on January 26, 1980, he would have turned 93 on April 12, 2015.
Among unsung freedom fighters is the 91-year-old Leo Mwamba Chitibembe, the man who suffered an injury when British mobile police officers threw a teargas canister on him shortly after Dr Kaunda and others formed the Zambia Africa National Congress (ZANC) on October 24, 1958.
Mr Chitibembe was also present when the first Kariba Dam wall collapsed in the 1950s, having been employed as a brick layer by Richard Costain, one of the construction companies that had been offered work at the time the hydro-power facility was being erected.
Many have heard that government has secured funds to repair the Kariba Dam, which has developed a crack, but are not aware that the first dam wall collapsed, with the rubble of concrete plunging into the Zambezi River.
“The faint-hearted ran away, leaving Ifitupa (passes) after the dam wall collapsed,” Mr Chitibembe said.
“Some of us gathered our strength and contributed to the construction of the second dam wall.
We have electricity because of our contribution to national building.”
Mr Chitibembe, who is resident in Ndola’s Mushili Township, continued his work as a brick layer under Richard Constain in Ndola, where the British mobile police officers threw a teargas canister at him immediately after Dr Kaunda and others formed ZANC.
He was coming from work when he met his fate in Cairo in Ndola’s Masala Township on the day on which the leader of the defunct African National Congress (ANC), the late Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, was supposed to have addressed a meeting in Ndola.
He said people in Ndola were agitated by the remark from Mr Nkumbula that Africans were not educated enough to rule themselves.
As a result of that remark, the riled youths who belonged to the more militant ZANC, intended to set ablaze a motor vehicle company in Ndola’s industrial area, but British mobile police officers who were then stationed at Bwana Mkubwa heard about the intention by the would-be rioters.
It was then that the British mobile police officers fired teargas canisters to drive away Africans from the industrial area and that happened while Mr Chitibembe cycled back home.
“I alighted from the bicycle when I saw protestors scampering in different directions,” he explained.
“Before I realised what was happening, a teargas canister landed on me and exploded on my right buttock.”
In fact, this author bumped into Mr Chitibembe at Ndola Central Hospital, where the old man was being examined over his 1958 injury that has affected bones in his right hip joint.
The teargas injury has caused him to use a walking stick and the right leg looks shorter than the left one.
“I still go to the hospital because of the injury I suffered on 1958, “the 91-year-old man said after he was given x-ray results. “I could not go to the hospital immediately after I was injured because I feared that I could be mistaken for the protestors by British administrators.”
Mr Chitibembe’s story forms part of an extract of the manuscript Zambian People and Places, this author’s manuscript that has been accepted for publication by a London-based publisher.
The unsung hero also contributed to the construction of several houses when he worked for Richard Costain.
Richard Costain built low-cost houses from Livingstone to Chililabombwe including House No. 394 in Chilenje Township, where Dr Kaunda used to live before he went to State House.
While we now enjoy travelling by bus, train or aircraft, Mr Chitibembe came to the Copperbelt through Luapula on foot from Kasama, where he was born on August 11, 1924.
He was first employed in Kasama as a teacher at Shikabonga Primary School on August 5, 1946 because his posting was disrupted by World War II that lasted from 1939 to 1945.
Zambian People and Places is a book that has a mixture of interviews with eminent politicians like Dr Kaunda, wives of freedom fighters like Mrs Kapwepwe and the unsung heroes regardless of their sex or standing in society.
The manuscript has pieces on places where eminent freedom fighters like Mr Kapwepwe, the late Dauti Yamba and the late Donald Siwale grew up or made valuable contributions.
Research material took the author to Chinsali, where Dr Kaunda and Mr Kapwepwe were born, Mwenzo, where the first welfare association was formed, Ilendela near Nakonde where Mr Siwale rests in a family grave and Nsama, the village where Mr Yamba lived as a young man.
Whilst in Chinsali, I paid a courtesy call on Mrs Kapwepwe, the widow of the first Zambian journalist to ascend to the position of Vice President, at the house her husband built on a hill near the road leading to the central business district.
History has it that Mr Kapwepwe learnt journalism in India after he obtained a scholarship in 1950.
“Your grandfather the late Mr Ibrahim Brian Nkonde (a journalist]) was a good friend of my husband,” Mrs Kapwepwe remarked at her residence in Chinsali.
“He was also fond of your other grandfather Mr Stephen Mpashi because they used to share notes on writing projects in Chilenje.”
One aspect about people who are born in April is that they like writing, not mentioning Mr Kapwepwe, Dr Kaunda, deceased second President Frederick Chiluba and William Shakespeare.
After having a taste of Chinsali, I was on the way to Mwenzo to see the genesis of Zambian politics at Mwenzo Mission, where coincidentally Mr Kapwepwe did part of his education before he went back to Chinsali.
It was at Mwenzo that the first welfare association for Africans in what is known as Zambia was formed in 1912 by David Kaunda, the late father of the first President and Mr Siwale, the great grandparent of the Nkondes including Professor Glasswell Nkonde at the Copperbelt University and this author.
Many books mention that David Kaunda worked at Chinsali’s Lubwa Mission, but do not mention he started from Mwenzo, where Dr Kaunda’s elder sister Belita Kaunda who was born in April 1914 rests in a grave near the church that was established more than 100 years ago.
As result of the mines and the connection of the Copperbelt by rail, more welfare associations were formed by 1940s in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
The late Mr Yamba, who moved from one town to the other sensitising Africans about their rights in welfare halls, emerged from the Luanshya Social Welfare of which he served as chairperson.
He was elected president of the Federation of Welfare Societies at Broken Hill (now Kabwe) in 1946.
I had chance to see the house in which Mr Siwale lived near Nakonde and the assembly hall Mr Yamba built in Nsama for the Tabwa Native Authority, which like many others, served as a council before Northern Rhodesia’s independence in 1964.
The assembly hall now serves as the council chamber for the Nsama District Council following the establishment of Nsama as a separate district from Kaputa by the late fifth President Michael Sata.
The Federation of Social Welfare Societies was later transformed into the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress and was led by Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika in 1948.
It did not operate as a political party, for it only held round table meetings with the British colonial government regarding the welfare of Africans.
Later the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress was transformed into the African National Congress (ANC) and was under the leadership of Mr Nkumbula in 1951.
Like other elite Africans duringthe struggle for independence including Mr Nkumbula and Mr Siwale, Mr Yamba remained in ANC following the formation of ZANC by Dr Kaunda and others on October 24, 1958.
Mr Yamba was defeated in the 1962 elections to a seat in the Legislative Council (now the National Assembly) by Mr Kapwepwe, an election that was the genesis of self government by Africans in Northern Rhodesia.
Earlier, Mr Nkumbula accepted the Benson Constitution (under Governor Arthur Benson) that demanded that in order for Africans to vote in the 1958 elections, they needed to have attained a certain level of education.
That acceptance by Mr Nkumbula when most of the Africans had little education was the reason some radical members of ANC decided to split, resulting in the formation of ZANC in 1958.
Dr Kaunda in an interview repeated to this author what he said immediately before the break away at a meeting that was addressed by Mr Nkumbula in Kabwata, “I told Mr Nkumbula that I am leaving and I left.”
Dr Kaunda’s government was commended for having provided free education and it was also remarked at the time the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) was formed that the loudest noise came from those who benefited from free education that was offered by UNIP.
But what was the genesis of free education?
The story that was obtained from the Kaunda family was that young Kenneth Kaunda was asked to pay school fees at Lubwa Mission after his father died in 1932.
That was notwithstanding what David Kaunda had contributed to the establishment of Lubwa Mission and it could not be understood why the administrators insisted on fees from Hellen Kaunda at the time the would-be first President was aged eight.
As a result of the problems Dr Kaunda faced during his childhood, he offered free education when he became President. That was the explanation by the Kaunda family regarding the policy that the UNIP government adopted.
Dr Kaunda turns 91 today at the time the Zambian People and Places has been approved for publishing after rigorous editing and verification of information from archives in Harare, Lusaka, Oxford and London. Zambian Insight Feature Syndication.
Source-Times of Zambia