Monday, 18 September 2017

Kipushi: Hard-to-reach place


Stuck in the bush after a tyre puncture.  Picture by Brian Malama.

JACK ZIMBA, Kipushi
RECENTLY, photojournalist Brian Malama and I undertook an expedition to Kipushi which lies at the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our principle objective was to get to the source of the Kafue River.
Kipushi lies north of Solwezi in the newly-created Mushindamo district in North-Western Province.

The place derives its name from the mining town across the border, which bears the same name, but does not mirror its civilisation.

The road to Kipushi is treacherous gravel and although it is only 120 kilometres from Solwezi, it takes about four hours to cover that distance with a four-wheel drive vehicle.
The route is far less enchanting, lined with forests, broken only by small unremarkable settlements.
In many parts of the road, the soil has been pounded into a fine powder by the many heavy trucks that traverse this route, to the extent that even a motor bike will leave behind a cloud of dust.
During the rainy season, however, much of the road becomes a mud pool. Trucks have been known to get stuck for weeks on the road.
There are many telltale signs on the road of trucks that once got stuck. There are metre-deep fallows created by stuck heavy trucks months ago.
Mostly it is the Tanzanian trucks that ply this route, carrying various cargo destined for the DRC. They offload their cargo on the Zambian side and it is then loaded onto Congolese trucks for onward shipment to Lubumbashi, which is about 30km from the border.
One government official at the border told me our customs office collects about US$26,000 every month from this border.
Arriving at the border that afternoon, the first thing that came into our view were the many blue containerised trucks parked near the border crossing.
The state of the road is a major discussion point when you engage with the locals.
“How was the road?” was the frequently asked question.
The impassability of the road, especially in the rainy season, makes hard lives here much harder.
Sometimes, locals prefer using motorbike transport to travel to Solwezi, or they venture into the DRC for their groceries.
The settlement on the Zambian side is one of the drabbest border points I have ever seen anywhere in the country.
Here, the only decent buildings belong to the Immigration Department.
The rest of the buildings are made of mud bricks without plaster.
If you decide to spend a night at Kipushi, you may need to sleep on the other side of the border. This is because there are no decent lodges on the Zambian side.
There are two so-called guesthouses a few metres from the border crossing. One of them offers accommodation for as little as K10 per night. But you have to be ready to sleep on a floor bed with not-so-clean beddings. The building itself is derelict and forbidding, with metal doors that leave gaps underneath large enough to let in a big house cat.
We spent a night at Aunty Rose’s guesthouse, which offers accommodation for K50 per night – the most expensive here. The guesthouse was recommended to us by one of the locals.
Aunty Rose’s guesthouse offers Spartan accommodation with no running water or flushable toilet. The only consolation were the fresh beddings we were given.
And at least the room was fitted with a solar-powered lamp. Electricity only recently reached this far-end of the country, and many buildings are yet to get connected to the grid.
Water is a major challenge for settlement dwellers and at every moment during the day, especially in the mornings and evenings, young men and boys can be seen pushing rickety bicycles laden with containers of water across the border.
We slept that night to the constant humming sound from the heavy machinery at the mine across the border.
The zinc and copper underground mine is owned by the Canadian project developer Ivanhoe Mines and the state-owned Gecamines.
The mine lies within a kilometre of the border crossing point. From the Zambian Immigration office, tall structures at the mine can clearly be seen jutting into the sky.
Many here believe the underground tunnels at the mine run deep into Zambian territory. There is no evidence of that.
There are no proper restaurants on the Zambian side of the border, just makeshift stands.
One popular makeshift bar and restaurant serves boiled goat meat and Congolese lagers – Simba or Tembo. But many Zambians prefer going across the border for drinks.
Twice we ventured across the border for lunch, each time remembering to switch lanes immediately after we crossed the border. Unlike Zambia, the DRC is a keep-right country.
The ladies at the Plaza Hotel restaurant, where we went for our lunches, always served their meals hot and fresh.
The men walking into the restaurant were courteous, greeting us in either Swahili or French.
“Jambo,” the men, who wore heavily-scented perfumes, would usually say as they walked passed our table.
“Jambo,” we would reply.
Swahili is the most commonly spoken language at the border, and many Zambians have learned to speak it, which makes it hard to tell the two nationalities apart.
At the restaurant, we gorged ourselves on nshima served with samaki (fish), plus traditional vegetables. We sat under the gaze of the country’s leader Joseph Kabila, whose portrait hang the wall.
Like many borders around the country, the border crossing at Kipushi is very porous and residents from both sides enter at will, but for two prying journalists, it would have to take a lot of bidding and a good amount of money to bribe border officials.
On a hot August morning, Embu Mbuyamba, my daring motorbike rider and his colleague whisked us across the border. We rode past some neat houses – some double storey.
The old mining town bears signs of the good old days when the mine was flourishing.
“This place used to be very beautiful,” said Embu, who speaks good Bemba.
Embu was born in Kipushi town. He makes his living transporting people on his motorbike.
Up a hill, we swept past a large cemetery in one corner of the town, about a kilometre from the Zambian border.
But even in this seeming peaceful environment, there was a chilling reminder of the DRC’s checkered past of having to deal with insurgency at various points of the country’s history.
Embu told me the Banyamulenge were once very active in this area and carried out a number of atrocities. When their bloody episode came to an end, some of them were conscripted into the regular army.
My heart skipped a beat when one turn into a dust road that demarcates the two countries brought us face-to-face with a Congolese soldier on foot patrol. But he took no interest in us.
I had a great sense of relief once we crossed back to the Zambian side of Kipushi, its drabness notwithstanding.

 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Gabriel Ellison: the woman who kept us posted

Gabriel Ellison


JACK ZIMBA

 GABRIEL Ellison, who died last Tuesday, aged 87, was one of Zambia’s pioneering artists with some of the most famous designs associated with every-day life.
And yet Mrs Ellison, herself, remained a little-known figure, and perhaps not appreciated as much.

This may be largely because Gabriel Ellison was not one to blow her own trumpet or to walk in the limelight.
“She was a very private person,” says Cynthia Zukas, who was a friend of Mrs Ellison’s.
A private person, yet her works scream from the walls of many public as well as private buildings; from the hallways of State House and the sacred walls of the Cathedral of the Child Jesus.
One of her biggest mosaics can be found on the front wall of Protea Hotel on Cairo Road.
But without doubt, her most common art pieces are the national flag and the Coat of Arms.
When Northern Rhodesia was granted independence in 1964, the administration asked Mrs Ellison to design the national flag to replace the Union Jack. She also designed the Coat of Arms and other national emblems.
In the Parliament Building, Mrs Ellison designed the mace, the rod that symbolises the Speaker’s authority, as well as the Speaker’s seat.
And yet, it seems, it was the little designs that Mrs Ellison is most well-known for – the postage stamps.
For about three decades, Mrs Ellison designed Zambia’s postage stamps. To the dot.com generation, that is a small adhesive piece of paper of specified value issued by a national post office to be affixed to a letter or parcel to indicate the amount of postage paid.
Yes, back when the mail box was not an icon on an electronic screen, Mrs Ellison was the group admin who kept us connected, and her little art works – stamps – found themselves in virtually every home.
Mrs Ellison’s stamp designs usually depicted life, especially in rural Zambia, although it is said that some of her human forms actually depicted life around her, even her own maids and gardeners.
Wildlife was also a common theme among her designs – birds, beetles and flowers.
Some of the designs were commemorative, marking important events.
Her stamps became well-sought-after by stamp-collectors or philatelists world over.
“I think internationally it was her stamps that made her famous,” says Mrs Zukas, herself a great artist. “Stamp collectors all over the world used to literally queue up on the day that Zambia produced a new stamp, I mean they were beautiful and quite unique.”
So powerful were her stamp designs that they inspired one village boy who came across them to become an artist.
Now an accomplished artist himself, Victor Makashi counts Mrs Ellison among his mentors in art.
Mr Makashi also says the stamps became tools of communication because of what they depicted.
Among the people who admired her art works was first republican president Kaunda. Actually it is said that soon after independence, Dr Kaunda had requested Mrs Ellison to give him lessons in painting and that he (Kaunda) affectionately called her “teacher”.
Mrs Ellison also authored a number of books and did illustrations for children’s books.
EARLY LIFE
Gabriel Ellison was born Gabriel Ryan in Lusaka in 1930. Her parents met on an apple farm in Canada and later moved to Mexico, where they owned a cattle ranch. During the revolution in Mexico, her Canadian mother was threatened by the regime and the family escaped to England with only two mules and a dog.
In 1910, the family moved to then Northern Rhodesia, her father being part of the public administration.
Gabriel spent her childhood living on various farms and mining areas. During school holidays, she often travelled back to Britain to take up private studies in art.
She later worked in the graphics department in the Ministry of Information.
Ron Found had worked with Mrs Ellison in that department and the two would travel to many countries to mount exhibitions on behalf of the government.
Mr Found though says Mrs Ellison wasn’t much of a traveller.
From 1960 to 1972, Mrs Ellison headed the Visual Art and Exhibitions Section and travelled around the world to international trade fairs and exhibitions. Their work won them a number of awards, including two gold medals in Leipzig, Germany.
Mrs Ellison’s husband, Tony Ellison, was a policeman in the colonial administration.
Mr Found, who had been acquainted with the couple, describes Tony as “very English”.
Tony Ellison had been in the British army during the Second World War and when the war ended in 1945, he came to Zambia. He first served in the mounted police unit at Lilayi before working for the Ministry of Finance.
He later became director of the Zambia State Lottery, perhaps because Mr Ellison himself was a fun of gambling.
According to Cynthia Zukas, Tony Ellison was a great fan of his wife’s works.
The couple never had any children, but Mrs Ellison was very fond of children. She is also said to have been very fond of her servants.
“If there were people who were very close and who she loved, it was her servants and the people in the townships,” says Roy Kausa, who was her friend, although he also remembers her as a moody person.
“But she had a lot of time for her house servants,” adds Mr Kausa.
Mrs Ellison also loved animals, especially dogs and horses. For years, she served as chairperson of the canine club and won awards as a dog trainer.
Mrs Ellison was not just a good artist, she was also a brilliant cook, says Mrs Zukas.
“Whatever she did, she did with perfection,” she says.
Mr Found still speaks about the elaborate birthday cake Mrs Ellison once baked for his daughter.
“When it came to catering, no-one would fault her,” he says.
HONOUR
Mrs Ellison was honoured by both the British and Zambian governments for her contribution to the arts. She was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen of England, while the Zambian government awarded her the Grand Officer of Distinguished Service.
But Mr Kausa thinks she was still not given the honour that she deserved for her service to the country she loved.
Yes, Mrs Ellison did not just design symbols to give Zambia its identity, she identified herself with it, and her love for the country of her birth was unquestionable.
“You could never say a bad word about Zambia. She was always 100 percent Zambian. She was truly a Zambian and she thought Zambia was the best place in the world,” says Mr Found.
After the death of her husband in the 1990s, Mrs Ellison lived for years alone in her house in Kabulonga.
But she later requested to live with Mr Found and his family and sold her house.
“I think the house was becoming too much for her,” says Mr Found.
But it seems moving in with a family did not help her much either.
“She was getting more and more infirm and not able to look after herself very well. My wife would send food to her and more often than not she would give it to her servants, so she wasn’t eating well either,” says Mr Found.
After staying with the Founds for a couple of years, Mrs Ellison decided to go and live with her sister in Johannesburg, South Africa, but it is said that her sister’s upstairs home was not ideal for her and so she ended up in an old people’s home until her death.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Local potato farmers in turf war


WORKERS sort potatoes at Chartonel farm in Lusaka. PICTURE:JACK ZIMBA

JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA and South Africa may be perfectly at peace, but farmers on either side of the Limpopo River may be engaged in a trade war.
Around a table in the boardroom at the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) offices in Lusaka, there is some tough talking from some local commercial and small-scale farmers. Top on their discussion menu is potatoes, and a bit of onions and tomatoes.
This is a fruits and vegetable working group, formulated to lobby Government to protect the interests of local farmers from cheaper vegetable imports.
What is currently worrying the farmers is cheaper imports of potatoes from South Africa that have flooded the local market.
According to the farmers, South African potato markets are currently over supplied due to a bumper harvest in the Eastern Freestate on the back of good rains.
“I have investigated the issues as these potatoes are spilling over into our markets and the market information is that this will continue until the end of August. The Zambian growers cannot compete at these levels and are already selling at below cost of production. The South African farmers are also selling below their costs at the moment,” says Antony Barker, who is director for Buya Bamba Limited.
But over-production and over-supply is South Africa’s problem not Zambia’s problem, argue the farmers.
“The request to regulate imports into the country is of utmost importance, as the Zambian market is a lot smaller than the markets from which imported potatoes are being brought, hence the Zambian market is extremely sensitive to oversupply,” says Mr Barker.
The farmers want Government to regulate the importation of potatoes the same way it has done for crops such as wheat.
“Fruits and vegetables, with a specific reference to potatoes, onions and tomatoes, are part of the staple diet of the Zambian people and there should be no reason why parallels cannot be drawn between the potato industry with the likes of wheat with regards to regulating imports,” argues Mr Barker.
Buy-local campaigners such as BuyZed Campaign have also joined in the lobbying for regulation of potato imports.
Evans Ngoma is the management consultant for BuyZed. He says if Government wants an agriculture-based economy, it should ensure that crop marketing favours the farmers.
Mr Ngoma says Government should not allow what has happened in the soya bean sector to happen in the potato industry.
Prices in the soya bean sector have crashed due to over-supply on the local market.
The farmers also want Government to compel local food chains to stock local produce where it is available.
A representative from Shoprite, which is one of the biggest traders in potatoes, says the store is now buying its potatoes from local suppliers such as Buya Bamba.
Buya Bamba Limited, which operates on an out-grower scheme basis, has grown to become one of the major players in the potato sector. Actually, Mr Barker started as a small potato trader at Soweto market a few years ago.
Mr Barker says the potato sector can grow into a major employer.
“Government has issued many press releases that the economy needs to diversify from being reliant on copper and expand into agriculture in order to help with job creation and to empower the farmers to avoid the mass urbanisation that is taking place. We estimate that one hectare of potato production employs directly or indirectly four people. Therefore, the potato industry alone is employing an estimated 5,000 people,” he says.
One of the biggest potato growers in the country is Graham Rae, who owns Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Limited (ZRC). The company employs 800 people to work on its tobacco and potato fields.
With his crop almost ready for harvest, Mr Rae is concerned that the already flooded market may affect his US$6 million investment.
“ZRC is about to start harvesting our 2017 crop and I am extremely concerned at the quantity of imported table potatoes on the Zambian market,” he says.
But Mr Rae has even a bigger worry about the imports – biosecurity.
“I investigated the criteria that is involved in importing table potatoes into Zambia and compared them with that of South Africa, and I am completely shocked at the lack of phytosanitary requirements to import table tomatoes into Zambia and surprised at the complexity of the requirements to export into South Africa,” he says.
While phytosanitary regulations allowing importation of potatoes from South Africa are summed up in two paragraphs, Zambian farmers exporting potatoes into South Africa are subjected to a two-page checklist.
“In 2015, Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Limited attempted to export processing potatoes into South Africa but were blocked on the basis of the South African phytosanitary regulations,” says Mr Rae.
“How can the Zambian farmer be competing with the South African farmer in his own ‘back yard’? It must also be noted that Zambian farmers are not allowed to export either to Zimbabwe or to South Africa yet our borders are open to all,” says Mr Barker.
And Mr Rae’s fears about biosecurity are not unfounded. Two years ago, South Africa reported an outbreak of bacterial wilt in the Sandveld region. Bacterial wilt is considered one of the most destructive bacterial plant diseases in the world.
In 2005, the bacteria caused damage in the potato industry amounting to US$950 million globally.
What makes the bacteria even more notorious is the fact that it has many hosts, including soil.
“I request an immediate suspension of the issuing of an import permits for table potatoes until more stringent Zambian import requirements are put in place,” he says.
The other major concern for the farmers is that while it is easier for neighbouring countries to export into Zambia, local producers find it hard to export into markets across its borders.
And it is not only the southern border that the farmers are concerned about, Tanzania also is a major source of potatoes. And the border with Tanzania at Nakonde is one of the most porous in the country. Actually most of the potatoes that are said to come from Nakonde come from across the border.
And with Tanzanian potatoes, they are imported as unwashed potatoes, raising further concern about possible transfer of disease.
Zambian regulations do not allow importation of crops that have soil samples.
Mr Barker wants a phytosanitary laboratory to be set up at strategic places such as Kapiri Mposhi to check agriculture produce entering the country through the Nakonde border.
NO DATA
But critically missing from the discussion table is data. No one can tell the quantity of potatoes the country consumes for any given period of time, neither is it known exactly how much potato tonnage the country produces.
According to Mr Barker, the hactares planted for harvest and subsequent supply into the market from June to March 2018 is estimated at 1,200. This hectareage translates into 65,000 metric tonnes of potatoes.
“I can only know my levels when the borders are closed,” says Mr Barker.
And that uncertainty in the local supply chain is why Government is pussy-footing on regulation, according to one official from the Ministry of Agriculture.
He explains that Government fears creating a gap in the market once it imposes import restrictions, a gap that might cause prices to escalate.
But a representative from the fruit and vegetable association Duncan Chirwa says the traders sell about 1,800 tonnes of potatoes in a year, mostly imported from South Africa.
“At the moment we are getting most of our supplies from SA, which as a Zambian I feel is not good,”
“Our view is that our own agro industry must grow. We import just to meet the short fall,” says Mr Chirwa.
And one thing that the farmers in the group are all agreed upon is that there must not be an absolute ban on the importation of potatoes, but regulation.
Meanwhile, at Soweto market, the traders do not seem to mind which flag is printed on the bags of potatoes on their stands – whether Zambian or South African. It is business as usual.

Beggar moms using babies as bait



Esther Nyendwa with her two-month-old baby.


JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
ON A cold June morning, Namukale Chella stands on the pavement at a busy junction in Lusaka, her 19-months-old son strapped to her back. She waits until the traffic light turns red, and then goes from car to car, asking for money.

The 24-year-old mother-of-two has memorised one line which she uses to beg for money or food: “Baby hungry, no food to eat,” she says gesturing to the baby on her back.
When she is tired of standing on the pavement, Namukale sits under a Jacaranda tree and breastfeeds her son. Her first-born son called Joshua, who is four years old, playfully tags at her mother, oblivious of the harshness of life the family faces.
Namukale is one of six young nursing mothers begging daily at this junction. Each of the young women has a sad tale to tell about the misfortune that brought them to the streets.
For Namukale, she started begging on the streets after the death of her parents. She has been begging now for six months.
She dropped out of school when she was in grade nine, but still dreams of going back to complete her secondary school education.
“When I was young, I wanted to become a lawyer,” she tells me.
After dropping out of school, Namukale fell pregnant for her first child, and then her second, with a Malawian man. The two never got married and the man was later deported because he did not have the right documentation.
Homeless and without support, Namukale and her children spent one year living rough at Intercity Bus Terminus.
She says she has relatives who could help her, but they have not offered her any help.
Namukale makes between K30 and K50 per day through begging. She uses the money to pay K150 for the small room she rents in John Laing township.
But not everyone sympathises with her plight, or indeed her son’s.
“Some people shout at us and insult us. They say we should go and look for jobs instead of begging on the streets,” she says.
Namukale says she has tried to find a job, but without success, and she has no one to leave her children with.
“Life is hard on the streets,” she tells me, as she dabs tears off her face with her bare hand.
The youngest of the six beggar moms is 17-year-old Seraphina Kalenga. She came to Lusaka some years ago from the Copperbelt, following her father.
Seraphina, who lives in Chibolya, became a mother when she was only 15. At that time, she was homeless and spending nights at the Intercity Bus Terminus.
Seraphina was 13 when she started life on the streets. She started by working as a guide for a blind man. Every day, she would guide the blind man to this same junction to beg. The two would then split whatever amount they raised 50/50.
When the blind man died last year, Seraphina continued to beg, but instead of using disability as a bait, she is now using her two-year-old son.
But Seraphina has also fallen prey to substance abuse.
After narrating her story, she pulls out a small bottle from her bra and holds it to her mouth and inhales. She is sniffing wood glue, a commonly abused substance among street children, with a knock-out effect.
“I need to get high so that I don’t feel shy when begging,” she tells me, as her friends giggle and laugh.
Among the beggar moms, 19-year-old Esther Nyendwa is nursing the youngest child. Her daughter, Blessings, is only two months old.
“I just want to raise money to buy diapers and food for my child,” she says.
But Esther is not happy because she has to compete for sympathy with the blind beggars.
“Today we have so many blind people here. People would rather give to the blind than us,” she complains.
And sometimes, there are turf fights among the women, themselves. Usually, it pits the old timers against the newcomers like Namukale.
Some of the beggar moms, like Neliya Nyirenda, have grown up on the streets.
Neliya, 21, has been on the streets since she was 10, and it shows. She has the roughest character of the five. She also has a tough look. Neliya also has a bottle of glue stashed in her bra.
Neliya does not have a child of her own, after a miscarriage a few years ago, but she keeps her sister’s child, who is almost two years old.
And then there, is 19-year-old Promise Lombe. Her son, Vincent Mwamba, is only 15 months old.
Promise was 11 when she started begging on the streets. She dropped out of school after the death of her mother, although, she says her mother was too poor to support her. In fact, she had moved into an orphanage while her mother was still alive.
But when the orphanage was closed, Promise had no support and so she returned to a hard life on the streets.
Promise now lives with her grandfather who works as security guard. She has never seen the father of her child since she gave birth.
She usually comes to this spot around 10:00 hours and returns home at 19:00 hours.
“I just want to make some money for soap and food for my child,” she says.
Her biggest fear living as a beggar is getting money from evil people or Satanists.
But that the mothers are exposing their babies to health risks on the streets is without doubt.
In fact, the sixth beggar mom, Mary Chilufya, is not out on the streets begging today, because her son Emmanuel was admitted to Kamwala Clinic with suspected pneumonia.
Chilufya is homeless, but spends nights at Intercity Bus Terminus.
When I visited Chilufya later at Kamwala Clinic, I found that she had gone out to look for money so she could pay for X-ray services requested by the clinic.
BEGGING ILLEGAL
The use of children by beggars as sympathy baits is common in many parts of the world.
But child rights activist Henry Kabwe, condemned the practice of using children as tools for begging, saying children are supposed to grow in a safe environment.
He says begging is illegal in Zambia, and law enforcers must stop it.
“The fact that we are seeing those people begging on the streets shows that there is lack of enforcement of the law,” he says.
He says any law enforcer who hears that there is a mother with a two-year child on the streets must respond quickly. He adds that the mothers must also be made to account, and that society should not turn a blind eye to the situation.
Mr Kabwe also says the trend of beggar moms also shows that the country’s social welfare system is not well-organised.
He blames this partly on the lack of proper data, especially on children.
“Birth registration is a challenge. If a car is brought into the country, it is registered within two months, but you can decide whether to register the child or not,” he says.
Mr Kabwe says lack of documentation of children who are born in the country will make it difficult for Government to implement programmes such as the social cash transfer, because it will not have proper records of people who are vulnerable.
He also suggests that that the Ministry of Community Development partners with the private sector to help such mothers.
“Most of the poor in Zambia are supported by companies outside Africa,” says Mr Kabwe.
For Zambia Police Service, the problem needs to involve all those concerned with the welfare of children, as well as the local authority.
Police spokesperson Esther Katongo says police can round up the beggar moms, but has nowhere to take them.
“We need to look at it holistically,” she says. “We may pick them, but where do we take them; have we found them what to do?”
Mrs Katongo says begging, as well as giving alms is illegal in Zambia.
“Begging itself is an offence, but you look at the underlying factors,” she says.
Mrs Katongo says the women are pushed onto the streets because they have nothing to fall on.
She says what is important is that the women cover their children properly and that they are not being abused.
It is late afternoon, and I meet Namukale walking back home, her two children in tow. Life could not be harder for the young mother.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

My Dad, Kenneth Kaunda


 
 My Dad, Kenneth Kaunda
Dr Kenneth Kaunda.
Kaweche Kaunda.
 


KAWECHE Kaunda is one of Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s nine children. Born in June 1959, he was five years old when his father became the first President of Zambia in 1964. In a special interview with JACK ZIMBA, to mark Dr Kaunda’s 93rd birthday, Kaweche gives his own perspective of the man who was Zambia’s President for 27 years, but whom he calls dad, or cheekily, the old man.
 
BEING A KAUNDA
BEING part of the first family must surely come with many privileges – money, private schools, cars and personal helps and bodyguards. Not really so in the Kaunda household.
According to Kaweche, if there was one great lesson that Dr Kaunda instilled in his children early enough during his presidency, it was that “State House was just a temporary home, and we were made never to forget that.”
He says his dad tried hard to give his children a normal life even within the confines of Plot One.
“He kept telling us: ‘Zambia has one President at a time, and right now, the President is myself, Kenneth Kaunda. There will come a time when another President will come, and you guys are not little presidents running around State House. You are just ordinary children who happen to be children of the man who is at this particular time president.”’
The children generally understood Dad’s lesson about being ordinary.
“That sunk in with us the children. The problem was those who looked after us. It didn’t sink in as much. They treated us in a particular way,” says Kaweche.
During the early days as President, whenever Dr Kaunda was returning home from abroad, State House staff would pick up the children from school and take them to the airport to welcome their dad.
It happened for some time, until Dr Kaunda asked: “How come these guys are always on holiday whenever I arrive?”
That practice was soon stopped.
And the President’s children were driven to school in a black Rose Royce. But Dr Kaunda did not approve of the luxury treat, and the super luxury car was soon replaced by the modest Peugeot 404.
“They looked at us as the President’s children and we had to be pictured and presented in what they imagined a President’s child should be seen, but the old man himself didn’t want that,” says Kaweche.
Dr Kaunda also refused to send his children abroad for school, which was common practice among well-heeled families at the time.
“Most of our friends, who were ministers’ children at the time, when they completed grade seven, their parents would send them to school in England or somewhere else, but my father refused.”
Dr Kaunda’s argument was: “If me as the President I’m sending my children away, what does that say about the schools we are expecting the rest of Zambians to attend?”
So, all the Kaunda children attended local schools, save for Masuzyo, who for a short while went to school in England. And that was because at home, he was perceived as a trouble-maker, bound to embarrass the President.
Kaweche, himself attended Woodlands Primary School, and later went to Kamwala Secondary School.
“He wanted us to be just like the other children out there,” he says.
“I know he knew it was a difficult job, but he tried to play that balancing act, together with the old lady.” By “old lady”, Kaweche is referring to his late mother, Mama Betty Kaunda.
But the Kaunda children were no ordinary children.
“We started noticing as we were growing up certain things that we would be doing, that our friends never did. And as much as the old man and the old lady tried to make sure that we lived a normal life as possible, even within the confines of State House, there were still certain things that happened that told us we were different,” says Kaweche.
“We weren’t allowed to just walk out the gate and go to our friend’s houses, but when our friends came to see us, they would come walking through the gate,” he says.
And at the height of the Northern Rhodesia war in the late 1970s, spilling into the 1980s, Kaweche noticed that on his school trips, it was no longer just the driver and him on the vehicle. A second man would always travel with them.
Each of the Kaunda children now had a bodyguard due to the threat posed by the Rhodesian government which saw Zambia as an enemy.
“When we went to State House, we didn’t have bodyguards,” he says.
He adds: “This is why I tell those who come after us that look, this thing of bodyguards didn’t come to protect us from Zambians, it was the external situation at the time that caused us to have bodyguards. I felt very sad when those who came after us were using bodyguards as a status symbol. It was to me ridiculous. If they knew how it started, they wouldn’t have behaved that way.”
“So, what was it like being the son of most powerful man in the country?” That is a question Kaweche has to answer many times from friends and others.
“At the time we were there, we knew he was President, but in terms of the power that he actually wielded, it didn’t occur to us until we left State House,” he says.
Kaweche says being the President’s son “was on-the-job training. We had no one to learn from when we went there. So whatever it is that we were going through, we had to learn.”
WHERE IS DAD?
But it must have been hard being President Kaunda’s child.
“We hardly saw him. His schedule usually was that he would be in the office before sunrise, like five, six or seven. Then he will be back after midnight. So when he comes home, we are sleeping, when he leaves, we are sleeping. So we hardly saw him,” says Kaweche.
Being an absent father is something that bothered Dr Kaunda too.
In his book ‘Letter to my Children’ Dr Kaunda talks about the price his own family had to pay for freedom.
He wrote: “I don’t regret exchanging the life of a schoolmaster for that of a politician over twenty years ago, though I have paid the price for that choice in all sorts of ways. What worries me more is that your dear mother and yourselves have also had to pay for that decision of mine to enter public life. Maybe you don’t see it that way yet, though you must sometimes wonder why your father is virtually a stranger to you.”
To make up for his absence, twice a year, Dr Kaunda would take his family to Mfuwe in August, and Christmas time would be spent in Chinsali.
“On Christmas Day we were usually at Lubwa Mission in the church which grandfather built,” says Kaweche.
The first family would then go to Kasaba Bay to spend the rest of the holiday there.
“But even there, we used to see planes come bringing ministers for meetings. So, you would say, ‘Dad tomorrow can we go game viewing?’ The next thing there is a plane landing bringing a prime minister from such and such country. So even when we went to these places, he was still working. It wasn’t like for the next two weeks the President is out of touch, leave him alone. It was never like that.”
As a 12-year-old, Kaweche came up with a plan to spend more time with his dad.
“Personally, what I did was I went to the private secretary’s office and look at his diary. And if I find that he has a trip and I’m on holiday I would ask, ‘Dad can I come?’”
“So from the time I was about 12, I would usually travel with him. It didn’t matter where we went, I just wanted to be with dad, because at home, I didn’t see him,” he says.
But one of the memories he treasures very much was to see his father come down from his office upstairs to join the children while they played soccer on the State House lawn.
“Those are memories that I really treasure because it was rare for us to play with our dad,” he says.
Family bonds are usually strengthened during meal times, but for the Kaunda family even those moments did not guarantee dad would take his seat at the table.
“In the beginning we had our own dining room, which we used to call the school room. Then the old man and the old lady used to eat on their own,” says Kaweche.
He thinks the eating tradition was something inherited from the former governor.
“After some years, we started having dinner with the old lady, and I think she started insisting that dad must come home for dinner and then if he wants, he can go back to the office. So that started happening and it helped in building that family set-up,” he says.
As a father, Dr Kaunda was strict. In fact, Kaweche thinks Dr Kaunda was harder with his own children than other people.
“He was strict in terms of how we behaved and you didn’t want to get a lecture from Dad because it was very to the point. You couldn’t argue, not because he was president, but what we were taught is that you don’t argue with your father,” he says.
“It took me to be an adult before I ever argued with him about something,” he says.
Kaweche says his dad would not let the children use government property at will.
He recalls once, when he was about 23 years old and needed transport, but could not be given any vehicle by State House staff. He then decided to get a Mitsubishi car that had been given to his mother as a gift by Mitsubishi Motors, but which bore a GRZ registration.
When the President heard about it, he was angry, but Kaweche argued his point, and that incident could have altered the way transport is managed at State House to this day. From then onwards, it was decided that some vehicles at State House would have private numbers to allow private use by members of the first family.
Kaweche describes his own relationship with his father as “one of being very blunt with my dad.”
“If I see something that I don’t like, I will tell him. Sometimes, he will get angry, but I will stand my ground,” he says.
As the children grew older, they would drop a word with their father on what was happening in the country.
“We had the privilege of what was being said outside the walls of State House. What he heard was either from his trusted lieutenants or those who had an ulterior motive so it was difficult for him to decipher what was really out there, and what the best thing to do was,” he says.
SELFLESS MAN
Kaweche also describes his father as a deeply religious man. “He has always been.”
He reveals one of Dr Kaunda’s religious secrets - alms giving. Every Saturday, whenever he could, he drove out of State House incognito to any place within the city where he could find a poor person. He would then get out of the car and hand them money.
Dr Kaunda continued with the practice even after leaving State House.
Kaweche narrates that one time, years after he had left State House, Dr Kaunda was visiting his daughter in London, and he asked her to drive him around. Upon seeing a homeless person, he asked his daughter to stop the car. He then asked her for some money. Not knowing what her father planned to do with the money, she gave him a £100 bill. He then walked up to the man and handed it to him.
Dr Kaunda is also not known for being materialistic.
“Can you imagine how much money we would have if he was [materialistic]?” asks Kaweche.
“I remember some of my friends, other president’s children, saying to me ‘ah you guys how many hotels you have in Switzerland?”’
“We used to have all these rumours that our father had hotels in Switzerland. Even my own cousins would come and ask me. Now if my own family believed that, what more the ordinary citizens?”
Kaweche says he still comes across some people who think his dad has a lot of wealth hidden outside Zambia.
“I have heard even from my friends in England ‘I hear your dad is one of the richest people in Africa’ I just laugh about it. I’m still waiting to see where that money is.”
“Sometimes, I’m so broke and I have to go to my friend and say ‘boyi ni pempako K20’ and they say ‘but your father was president.’”
“Whatever the old man has is out of goodwill of people or what he has earned as retirement from Government,” says Kaweche.
“Unfortunately, most presidents in Africa do have a lot of personal stuff, but the old man and some of his friends never went down that path,” he says.
“To me, it’s a good thing that he didn’t live that life of acquiring wealth, because what do you do when that stuff is taken away?” he asks.
Kaweche says even when he was President, Dr Kaunda converted even stuff he was given in his personal capacity into state property.
“Every time the old man was given a vehicle, he would hand it over to Government,” he says.
So what does he think of Kaunda the man?
Kaweche paints a picture of his father as an over-trusting, and less suspicious man.
“The old man as a person is very trusting, and I think that to me, to some extent, has led to a bit of problems in his judgment of things. Because when you are honest, you think everybody is honest, and there are many who took advantage of him that way,” he says.
“He trusts very easily, and I think it is a weakness to some extent. It’s a good character to have - to be trusting - but when you are in a position of power like he was, sometimes it can be detrimental,” he says.
“He is not suspicious. It takes him a long time to be suspicious of others,” he says.
But he is also a strong-willed person.
“He’s never been one to be cowed into a situation or to back down from what he believes,” he says
As for birthday celebrations, Dr Kaunda had his first big celebration when he turned 50 in 1974.
According to Kaweche, the family then decided to celebrate it in a big way, and in the end it became a national event.
“He has reached a stage now where every birthday is a treasure. I think it means a lot to him now,” he says.
Dr Kaunda is said to have been looking forward to his 93rd birthday.
 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

When one wife is not enough

Mr Phiri with his four wives.


By Jack Zimba
“I DECIDED to marry four wives because one woman could not satisfy my desire as a man,” says Moses Phiri of Mulangeni village in Chief Chanje’s area.
Mr Phiri, 41, married his first wife, Lizyness, in 1993.
But in 1997, Mr Phiri befriended and fell in love with Loveness Banda of neighbouring Bonzo village, whom he met at a village soccer match. Mr Phiri still fancies himself as a good soccer player.
Within only a month, the two were discussing marriage.
“I would lie if I said I found anything wrong with my wife, she was okay,” says Mr Phiri. “I just needed one more woman to satisfy my sexual hunger.”
But when he told Lizyness about getting a second wife, she strongly objected to the idea.
“She was very unhappy, and I understood why; she is a woman and wanted to have a husband all to herself,” says Mr Phiri, who makes a living through subsistence farming.
In order to appease his wife and get his wish granted, Mr Phiri gave Lizyness a chicken, as per Chewa custom.
A few years later, Mr Phiri had added two more women to his harem.
And Lizyness? Well, she seems to have gotten over her unhappiness of having to share her husband with other women, so much so that she now speaks in favour of polygamy.
“The goodness of being in this marriage is that we work together, but also we have a husband who handles his affairs very well, he doesn’t skip the time to spend with each one of us,” she says.
Mr Phiri spends two days with each of his wives.
To enhance his sexual drive, he uses an aphrodisiac called vubwi, which is a wild root ground into a powder.
He says vubwi is so potent, that it even helps in women who have difficulties conceiving.
“When I married my second wife, she had stayed nine years in her previous marriage without a child, but now she has a child, and is expecting another,” he says.
Mr Phiri has nine children, six with his first wife.
He also says he takes the issue of HIV/AIDS seriously, and he and his wives regularly test for the virus.
NO STRIFE
There is no hint of trouble in the Phiri household. The four women do many things together.
“We go to fetch water together, we sit and chat and even groom each other’s hair,” says Lizyness.
All the three women have the same reasons for entering this polygamous union, and they did it with full knowledge.
“I knew he already had three wives, but I just wanted to be his fourth wife because I liked him,” says Esnart Soko.
Esnart says she has seen many benefits of being in a polygamous marriage.
“There was a time when I was away in my parents’ village which is far from here and my son was badly hurt with an axe,” she narrates, “it was my friends who took care of him. So I have seen the benefits of being in a polygamous marriage.”
By “friends” Esnart is referring to the other wives of her husband’s.
And while many women will frown upon this marriage, raising issues of jealousy, these four wives claim they live in harmony.
“When I came here, my friends received me very well, we don’t fight. The two women I found were very kind, and even the fourth one who joined us later was also kind-hearted and so we live happily together,” says Florence Tembo, who is wife number three.
For Florence, this is her second polygamous relationship. Before she got married to Mr Phiri, Florence was married to a man who had three wives. She now boasts of some experience in such affairs.
“Being in a polygamous marriage is not difficult,” she says.
Mr Phiri met Florence at gule (a cultural festival of the Chewa that brings out masked men called Nyau to perform various dances). Mr Phiri says Florence was smitten by his drumming, and the two fell in love almost immediately.
NO MORE ROOM
But while the women seem very tolerant and accommodating of each other, any suggestion of a fifth wife gets even the less vocal of the four raising their voices in protest. It seems five is a crowd.
“We can’t allow a fifth wife because she will just bring trouble. The four of us are enough,” says Lizyness.
But it is Esnart, the fourth wife, who makes the strongest protest.
“He has already divided the field among us and, look, there is not enough space in this compound to build a fifth house. If she comes, we won’t be nice to her,” she says as they all giggle and laugh, like a bunch of sisters.
Mr Phiri’s homestead has four small houses of burnt bricks with thatched roofs. He has also apportioned a field to each of the four wives to cultivate.
But maybe the four women will not have to worry much about a fifth addition to their household.
“Right now I don’t have any lovers outside my home, I have all I need. I’m now satisfied,” says Mr Phiri.
Mr Phiri is not the only one in Chief Chanje’s chiefdom who has married more than one wife. Polygamy is a common practice among the villagers here.
Malamulo Zulu married his first wife in 2000 and in 2013, he married a second wife.
“I decided to marry a second wife because whenever my wife went to visit her parents, I remained alone to take care of the children,” says the 38-year-old peasant of Dongolose village.
Unlike Mr Phiri, Mr Zulu did not face any objection from his wife to marry a second wife.
“I allowed it because it helps a lot. When one is sick, for example, the other is able to help,” says Mr Zulu’s first wife, Misozi Banda.
In fact, Misozi speaks well of the second wife, Clara. “She is a well-mannered woman,” she says of her. Misozi says as long the women are united, there are no feelings of jealousy between them. She says she and her husband’s second wife are now like twins, doing many things together. “Sometimes we even bathe together,” she says.
As for Clara, she says she doesn’t have any feelings of being second wife. “I feel like I’m his only wife,” she says, leaning against her husband.
There is no hint of jealousy in Misozi’s face, who is sitting on the other side. Mr Zulu says he has no plans of marrying another wife, “unless I find a problem with my current two wives.”
But if he marries a third wife, he risks being excommunicated from his church. Mr Zulu and his family are devoted members of the Last Church of God and His Christ, which allows polygamous relationships, but only if one married more than one wife before joining the church.
In fact Mr Phiri is the pastor of that church.
NO ADULTERY
Both Mr Phiri and Mr Zulu say having many wives has helped them to avoid extramarital affairs.
“There are some men who condemn polygamous marriages, but they have many girlfriends and they even have children with those girlfriends. It’s better you bring those children home so that you raise them together with your other children. Even when I die, these children will support each other,” says Mr Phiri.
For Mr Zulu, marrying more than one woman also stops one from spending on girlfriends.
“Many husbands spend a lot of money on girlfriends, but it’s better you marry that woman so that you spend the money within your home,” he says.
But it seems the men here also marry more wives for economic reasons.
“Instead of engaging a worker from elsewhere, it’s better to get another wife so that you work together to develop your farm,” Mr Zulu says.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

I could have killed my husband


 
Mutinta pictured at her home.


JACK ZIMBA


WHAT would you do if your husband’s girlfriend invaded your bedroom in the middle of the night and savagely attacked you while you slept? That is the situation one woman of Lusaka was faced with.

Now divorced for 10 years, Mutinta* talks about the pain of living in an abusive relationship.

A fading bite mark on her wrist is a sad reminder of her deeply troubled marriage. She has similar marks on both thighs, inflicted on her by her husband’s lover.

One night, when she couldn’t take the abuse anymore, Mutinta became like a cornered animal and hit back, savagely beating her husband.

“He wanted to hit me, and I was upset, I was shaking. I have never felt that angry before. I just reached for a helmet under the bed, closed my eyes and just started hammering,” she says.

“I used to ride a motorbike back then, and I would park the motorbike outside, but I kept the helmet under the bed.

“I think it was a combination of emotions – I love this person, why doesn’t he love me?”

When Mutinta had stopped the attack and opened her eyes, her husband was kneeling on the floor injured.

“There was blood everywhere. There was a lot of blood in the bedroom.

“I think what saved him that night was the fact that the only weapon I had was a helmet. If it was a knife or a gun, I can assure you he would have been dead, because I still can’t remember what I was doing,” she says.

“I really meant to kill. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. I didn’t know that I could get angry to that extent where I could become so violent.”

While she regretted what she did that night, Mutinta says she felt “lighter” afterwards.

“The burden was lifted off me when I hit back at him. I felt like he didn’t understand that I had feelings.”

“That day I felt like I was venting out. I really thought that I had released something and I felt at peace after that.

“I did not do what I did because I hated him. I did not. I loved that guy,” she says.

In the morning, Mutinta says she tied a mutton cloth to a broom to clean the ceiling, which was splattered with blood.

“I felt ashamed.”

“I could have killed my husband,” she says.

Mutinta blames herself for having ignored some vital evidence pointing to her husband’s infidelity, including three used condoms she discovered in his jacket pocket one day when he came home from work.

During the four-day holiday in July 2005 – just three months after they had been married in church - Mutinta went to visit her husband, who lived in Mumbwa then. Mutinta herself lived on the Copperbelt due to work.

“This husband of mine comes home and I’m happy and I remove his jacket and take it to the bedroom, then I decide to remove what was in the pocket and I find used condoms. There were about three.”

Her husband’s explanation for the used condoms, was that his junior officer he had given a lift from work had put them there.

“I forgot about it completely. I loved him. I believed his story, but I really wondered how a junior would put used condoms in the boss’s jacket.

“Sometimes we see the signs, but we ignore them,” she says.

But Mutinta was also naïve.

“I was very innocent, very naïve. He was my very first boyfriend. I was a virgin.

“He is the one who broke my virginity when I was 22, and I became pregnant with our first-born child.”

“I kept on forgiving and forgiving, yet I kept seeing one or two things. But I kept thinking he is going to change.

Mutinta had dated her husband for seven years before they got married.

“I was married to a very good gentleman, very loving,” she says.

“I was not an angel, I also did a lot of wrong things in the marriage.”

In April of 2005, a month after Mutinta married her husband, her friend who worked in the same office as her husband, alerted her about his flirtatious behaviour with his secretary.

But Mutinta brushed the story aside. In fact, each time she would call her husband’s office on the landline, she would talk to the secretary.

“I remember in 2005 we didn’t have cellular phones in certain parts of the country. And I was in that part of the country where Zamtel had not yet reached. I remember I was using the land phone and each time I had to travel, I would call and would talk to the secretary. “Hi how are you, could you please tell him that I’m coming.”

“What used to happen apparently was whenever I leave, she used to stay in my house. When I call to say I’m coming to visit, that is when she would move out. I would actually alert her to move out,” she says.

On October 4, 2005, Mutinta managed to get a transfer to stay with him in Mumbwa, but her transfer displeased her husband.

“I remember he came around 01:00 hours and the first thing he asked me was: ‘What are you doing here?’”

“He was mad, and I was shocked.”

“He was like ‘I have peace when you are not here.’”

Her husband then became absent from home.

“He would come at 05:00 hours, bath, have breakfast and leave.”

“There was no intimacy. I remember going for nine months without anything. I would sleep on the bed and he would sleep on the floor.”

When the abuse got worse, “he would call me a ghost. He would call me a dirty woman. He would call me a woman who was not taught.”

“One time he beat me so hard I started hallucinating. When I went to the hospital, the people thought I had been in a road accident. I had many blood clots and swellings.”

Then her husband’s lover, the secretary, started calling her.

“She called me and insulted me. I was upset,” she says.

“In May 2006, he came home with the girlfriend, around 02:00 hours.

“I just heard a bang, and I felt pain on my wrist. It was a bite from his girlfriend – in my sleep, in my house. It was like a dream. She bit my thighs and I screamed. I have two bite marks between my legs, on my thighs,” she says.

Startled, Mutinta reacted by hitting her assailant with an umbrella, and running out to call her neighbour for help.

“We locked her up in my bedroom and I reported her to the police,” she says.

The woman was later arrested for assault.

“The case went to court, and I won the case.”

She was imprisoned for six months, but only served four.

But that only made her husband even angrier with her. “During the court case and before she was sentenced, my husband was an animal.”

Her husband blamed her for his girlfriend’s imprisonment and loss of employment.

“He told me that I should support the woman since she had lost her job and that when she came out she would come and live with us,” she says.

By the time his girlfriend came out of prison, Mutinta had divorced her husband and moved to Isoka in Muchinga Province.

About three weeks after the divorce, on November 30, his girlfriend was released from prison and she joined Mutinta’s ex-husband.

“After I left, the anger started building up again, especially when I was told that when his girlfriend was released on November 30, my ex-husband went to prison with a bunch of roses.”

“I developed a headache for six months. I would stand in the rain. I was bitter with him and the girl. When I looked at the children, I hated them because each time they smiled they looked like him.”

One of Mutinta’s biggest regrets is that “when I got married I thought ‘this is the ultimate, I’m going to live in a happy marriage’, and when things were not happening accordingly, I was really affected.”

“It feels nice to be called ‘Mrs Somebody’, you feel respected, you feel responsible. And this is something I lost.”

“My children are there for me, but there is still this void, especially when you attend functions, or when it is Valentine’s Day.”

Mutinta, who is now 40, has never married again after her divorce, and she now devotes her time trying to help other women and children in abusive relationships as well as raising her two children.

About three years after they divorced, her husband wrote her a four-page letter, apologising for his action.

 

*Name has been changed.