Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The last catch

Fishing rigs venture out on Lake Kariba. Pictures by Jack Zimba

Musa makes a fire on deck.

Clever prepares the net before setting out.

Preparing for the catch.

A White-winged Tern in flight.
Clever packs his catch in a crate.
 The last catch

Overfishing affects Lake Kariba’s stocks




IT IS past 16:00 hours and one by one, the fishing rigs come alive with the familiar tak-tak sound, and leave the harbour, ploughing deeper into Lake Kariba. They will remain on the man-made lake till morning.

Today the fishermen are going for their last catch of the sardines, or kapenta, before the lake is closed for fishing. It will open again on January 28. The moon ban, as it is known, only lasts 10 days.

There were 20 rigs moored at the harbour when I arrived, but now only a few are remaining.

One of those is operated by Clever Siantema. He does not own the rig, but operates it for a certain businessman.

Clever is the captain of the fishing rig, and is assisted by two young men – Musa Sensela and Bright Mwengo.

Clever’s rig is newer, with a bigger motor than most of the rigs that are found at this harbour in Siavonga.

The rigs are manufactured locally and cost around K70,000.

Clever started fishing when he was a small boy. Now in his 40s, he has become an expert at the trade.

At exactly 17:40 hours, he cranks the engine of the rig, firing it up and sending puffs of black smoke into the crisp air.

Musa and Bright then winch the rig’s anchor – a large rock - out of the water, and we drift away.

Lovemore Mweemba, who manages the rig on behalf of his uncle, waves us off with a thumbs-up. I’m sure he will be praying for a good catch tonight.

There are a number of rigs already ahead of us, droning away across the shimmering silver lake. From a distance, the fishing rigs look like small oil rigs.

For the fishermen, it is like a race to the best fishing grounds, but it is hard to tell where the biggest catch of sardines lies tonight.

At 18:42 hours, the sun sinks into the horizon, and at exactly 18:45 hours, Clever signals to Musa, who turns off the rig’s engine.

“We will try to fish here,” says Clever as he scans the surrounding waters.

Bright, who is the youngest of the crew, says a little prayer as the men let down the anchor.

“God bless our catch,” he says.

With the rig firmly held in position, Clever and Musa dive into the lake, splashing and laughing like small boys at play.

But recreation time does not last long, soon the men get back on deck, lower the big net into the lake and then turn on another motor that powers the four halogen lights that lure the fish into the net.

We all anxiously peer into the dark water to check any sign of the kapenta. There is hardly any.

After two hours, Clever signals and we all begin to winch the net out of the water.

Even with the four of us applying great effort, it is a huge task that leaves us panting.

The net is heavy, not from the fish but from the weight of the water.

Our first catch is about 20kg of kapenta (about half a crate).

“You see how hard this work is, but we get very little money,” says Clever.

The captain gets only K12 for every 20kg that he catches, while Musa and Bright get K10 each.

Clever now wants a job in Lusaka.

At 20:45 hours, we let down the net for our second catch.

By now, our rig is swarmed by white-winged terns, probably a hundred of them.

This migratory bird comes all the way from Europe, escaping the bitter cold winters.

The birds fly around us like moths before a light, restless and relentless, skating the water, picking the dead fish that fall off the deck, and plucking small insects from the sky.

Against the bright light of our rig, the birds look like ghostly creatures.

I make myself comfortable on an old tyre tied to the side metal railing of the rig.

At first, sleep is hard to come, exposed to the elements. Luckily the heavens did not open up with rain that night and the lake was calm.

Eventually, I’m able to fall asleep, but only in short intervals.

Every two hours, Clever whistles, summoning us to the winch.

Clever works hard, constantly pouring water into the small diesel generator droning throughout the night to keep the four lights on.

For me, spending the night on the rig is curious adventure, but for Clever, Bright and Musa, it is a livelihood. If they do not have a good catch, it means they don’t have income.

At 22:45 hours, we winch in our second catch. It is much less than the first one.

There is disappointment on the fishermen’s faces, but they lower the net with optimism again and again.

At 05:10 hours we haul in our last catch. It is even less than the previous one.

But this one also lands in a tiger fish on the deck. The three men are excited at the sight of the medium-sized fish.

By now the ghostly birds have disappeared to wherever they came from. During day time, this lake is patrolled by different kinds of fowls, including the African fish eagle and the kingfisher.

At 05:25 hours, we head back to shore.

After toiling for 11 hours, we only harvest about 30kg of kapenta.

Musa makes a fire on the deck and puts a pot of nshima, while Clever guts the tiger and prepares it for a meal.

Before we reach the shore, Clever beckons to a man in a motorised banana boat zigzagging on the lake from rig to rig.

The man is buying fish from the fishermen before they reach the harbour.

It is one way the fishermen make extra money, but the rig owners must not know.

As the sun rises, one by one, the rigs return with the same tak-tak sound, but for the next 10 days they will lie silent.

At the harbour, Lovemore is waiting to receive us, but discouragement registers on his face when he sees the catch.

Women carrying big dishes hover from rig to rig and then haggle over prices with the fishermen.

One of the women waiting for our rig is Linda Hanyolo. She is a fishmonger who supplies kapenta to Lusaka and sometimes to the Copperbelt.

Linda buys 20kg of our fish and takes it to her house on a hill and spreads the small fish on a suspended net to dry.

Within a few hours the fish is dry and ready for the market.

Our catch will eventually find itself on a dinner table in some home in Lusaka.

But this expanse of water, like many water bodies across the country, is suffering from over-fishing and is yielding less and less fish.

Lake Kariba is over 223 kilometres long and up to 40 kilometres in width and covers an area of 5,580 square kilometres, shared by Zambia and its neighbour Zimbabwe.

On my night-out, I counted 93 rigs in our vicinity, and yet there were still more beyond the horizon, including across the border in Zimbabwe.

According to one government official, there are supposed to be 500 rigs on the lake – 275 from Zambia and 225 from Zimbabwe - but Siavonga alone has 320 registered rigs.

Further west, Sinazongwe has an even larger number of rigs. Chipepo also has its own share.

“The lake is still the same, but the number of fishing rigs has increased,” says Miyanda Maiba, who is in charge of the department of fisheries in the district.

He says the number of rigs is no longer sustainable.

“We have gone far beyond the number recommended by researchers,” he says.

Mr Maiba says the increase can be blamed on political interference in the past.

Previously, this business was dominated by the white settlers in this region, then the government decided to open it up to indigenous fishers.

Some rig owners are now giving up this business due to poor catches, venturing into fish farming instead.

Mr Maiba says the only solution is to reduce the number of rigs.

Others suggest closing the lake for longer periods could help revamp the fish stocks.

The fishermen say when there was a ban on fishing because of the cholera outbreak last year, which lasted six months, the catches were very good.

For now, the fishermen have to do with small catches.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A place called Kikonkomene

A place called Kikonkomene


RECENTLY I returned to a place I had first visited 17 years ago in Kasempa, North-Western Province. It is a place with an unforgettable name and unforgettable misery.
After negotiating our vehicle between nondescript brick-and-mud houses, we burst into a small compound on a hillside with rolls of small brick houses.
Coming to a stop, our vehicle was soon surrounded by curious faces, children in tatty clothes peering inside the vehicle, while the adults sat idly outside their houses.
A one-legged man sat quietly on the door-step of his house, his chin cupped in his hand, while an elderly woman with crooked legs hobbled across the compound, supporting her body on a long stick.
Outside a nearby house sat a half-blind woman with her daughter and grandchildren, while at the next house sat a man and his wife.
The man had stumps for his feet and his right hand was bound in a dirty piece of cloth.
I had come back to Kikonkomene, one of the few remaining leprosy centres in the country.
I was accompanied by Bernard Kameko, a dedicated government social worker who works closely with the community.
Twenty lepers live in the secluded compound, which was opened in 1968 to take in leprosy patients that were being treated at the nearby Mukinge Mission Hospital.
But with the disease now rarely occurring, Kikonkomene is now a diminishing community.
In 2003, when Mr Kameko came to work here, there were 38 lepers living in this compound, now there are 20.
Three died last year, and one died at the beginning of the year, mostly due to complications that come with old age.
Some of the inmates are now old and frail.
Inside one of the small houses lay an old woman.
Upon hearing our voices, she dragged her frail body to the doorway, revealing her toeless feet.
It was 96-year-old Elesa Muselepete.
“She is going towards the end. Her condition has been worsening; the doctor did whatever he could do,” said the social worker.
Since her condition began to decline, two of her daughters came to stay with her in the compound, helping her perhaps to just have a dignified final moment.
Inside another house, an old woman, Enika Chilende, lay in a foetal position on a mattress. Half her legs were missing, eaten away from her knees down by leprosy.
Her wounds were fresh, filling her poorly ventilated room with the characteristic smell of open flesh.
It was a tear-jerking sight.
“My whole body pains,” the old woman said in a whimpering voice.
According to Mr Kameko, during the hot season, the lepers’ wounds usually become septic.
To a first-time visitor, Kikonkomene is a place of depravation, pain and suffering on a Biblical scale.
And with little support from Government, Kikonkomene offers little to alleviate the suffering of its residents, many of whom also suffer psychologically.
The list of needs here seems endless.
For the past 10 years, the residents have survived on the goodwill of Dr David Friend, a New Zealander who works at Mukinge Mission Hospital.
Once in a week, Dr Friend comes to the centre to attend to the residents, giving them medicines and health checks.
Mostly he treats their wounds.
According to Dr Friend, the lepers usually suffer from injuries because they have lost sensitivity in the areas previously affected by leprosy.
“The ongoing damage occurs from injuries they might receive, but they don’t realise because they don’t feel pain, so they keep damaging them. It is not the leprosy that is eating on their limbs,” he said.
But Dr Friend brings more than just medical assistance, he gives the residents food and other supplies, as well as rehabilitating their living quarters.
The doctor recently helped to build kitchens for each of the 20 houses.
He also assists in burials.
His name is on the lips of all the residents of the community.
Mr Kameko now worries what will happen when the doctor goes back to his native country.
“Government does not support the centre, there is no deliberate grant for the lepers from Government,” Mr Kameko said.
Although all the inmates are on social welfare and receive K360 once in two months, they complain the money is not enough. They usually borrow in-between and pay back once they are paid by the government.
The residents also live on rationed water – 60 litres of water per household from a communal tap – because the water company charges a fee for the commodity. The community has to keep the monthly bill at not more than K120 per month.
Dr Friend foots the water bill, and sometimes a local church comes to the rescue.
Those that need more water have to walk down to the stream, a few hundred metres away.
There are a few communal pit-latrines for the residents that are not easily accessible, especially to some of those that have lost their limbs.
“It is hard for them to get there, but they just have to crawl,” said Mr Kameko.
This place also offers little hope for the lepers’ children and grandchildren.
The children don’t usually advance in their education.
“We have never recorded a success story from there,” complained the social worker.
Decades after leprosy was eradicated in most parts of the world and hardly ever makes headlines, one would expect the community around Kikonkomene to be less discriminating of its residents, but no.
The residents of this secluded community still face discrimination from the society outside.
The name Kikonkomene itself is a derogatory Kaonde word meaning ‘bent’ or ‘crooked’, referring to the nature of the people found here.
“There are some cases which we tried to integrate into the communities, but they were totally rejected by their own families. They refused to take them,” said Mr Kameko.
When I asked the chairman of the community, Misheck Miyanda, how he felt about the discrimination, he gave a depressing answer.
“It brings me a lot of sorrow. It is even better to die,” he said.
There are still some in the outside community who believe leprosy is caused by a curse or ndemone (demon).
But some are more accepting of the lepers.
For instance, Mr Miyanda married his wife from the outside society 18 years ago.
“When I was single, I used to have a lot of challenges collecting firewood, water and cooking, so I decided to look for a helper,” said Mr Miyanda, who is poorly-sighted.
“We are a happy family and I’m a very happily married woman,” the chairman’s wife, Migress Kabele, told me.
According to Dr Friend, the inmates of this compound have been cured of the leprosy and pose no danger to the outside community.
But he thinks leprosy has not been completely eradicated in Zambia.
Once in a while, Dr Friend comes across new cases of the disease at Mukinge Mission Hospital.
The problem is that it is hard to detect, he said.
“We don’t have experience these days to detect the disease because it is now very rare,” he said.
Recently, when the doctors at the mission hospital came across a case, they did not know what it was and so they sent images around the world to enquire about the strange disease. It was later confirmed to be leprosy at a laboratory in Lusaka.
But despite the hardships it offers to its residents, Kikonkomene is still a place of refuge and some even refuse to leave, maybe because they fear the discrimination outside.
I asked Noris Lumbwe, a young woman who had come to visit her aunt, why she can’t live with her at her home nearby.
“I’m ready to take her out of the centre and keep her in my house, but she will not accept. She likes being in the centre,” she said.
The old woman, Langster Makabakano, who is about 90 years old, lives alone in her dingy little house.
“I don’t like the conditions in which she is living, Noris told me. “I feel very bad, but she won’t accept to live with me.”
The following day, the lepers were visited by officials from the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disability (ZAPD), a government wing.
The residents used the opportunity to present their problems to the government.
They want water, farming inputs and a hammer mill as a priority.
Julian Mwape, who is acting director of the agency, promised to meet the needs soon.
“I wish we could do more,” she said.
The humanity and dignity of the residents have been brought to zero, she said.
She described the conditions at Kikonkomene as a “sad state of affairs”.
Maybe finally there is Government hope for the residents of Kikonkomene.


Adamson Mushala: As told by his wife

Rejoice Mushala: I liked the way he walked and he had a beautiful smile.

Adamson Mushala in 1975.

Mushala's body is paraded in Solwezi in November 1982.
Adamson Mushala: As told by his wife


ONE day in December 1972, Adamson Mushala bundled his wife and five children, including a two-weeks-old baby, into a brand new Land Rover 109 station wagon and drove off from his home in Mufumbwe.
He had told his wife that they were going to attend a friend’s wedding in Mongu, Western Province, but they soon found themselves crossing the border into Angola.
That was Mushala’s escape out of the country to begin his armed rebellion against the Kaunda government that would last from 1976 to 1982.
Before he was finally killed by government soldiers, Mushala had morphed into an enigma who inspired both fear and admiration.

Thirty-six years after his death, his widow, Rejoice, remembers a smartly dressed gentleman with a beautiful smile.
On the wall of her living room hangs a black-and-white studio photo of her husband.
“He took that picture when we were in Angola,” she says calmly after noticing my curiosity as we sat in her living room.
Rejoice lives in a small settlement called Kivuku in Kasempa, North-Western Province.
Her house is just a few hundred metres from where she first met her husband – at Mukinge Mission School, back in the 1950s.
When Mushala completed his Standard Six Upper, he went to train as a game ranger, while Rejoice went to live in Chizela (now Mufumbwe), where she worked as a community school teacher.
It was here that the two former school-mates ran into each other again and fell in love.
Rejoice says she had a number of suitors before Mushala, including Emmanuel Mulemena, who later became a kalindula music maestro.
“There are many people who proposed to marry me, but I think God arranged for Adamson to be my husband,” she says, a slight glint in her eyes.
She adds: “I don’t know what attracted me to him. Of course he was tall and very smart. He really looked nice in his suits, but I think it was just God who brought us together.”
“I liked the way he walked and he had a beautiful smile. I also liked his complexion,” says Rejoice.
She still refers to Mushala as “my black-shine”.
In 1959, Mushala and Rejoice got married at Chizela Bible School in Mufumbwe.
According to Rejoice, the European missionaries at the Bible college had helped to sponsor and arrange the wedding.
“Many people came to witness our wedding because it was the first of its kind in Mufumbwe,” says Rejoice.
“It was a wonderful wedding held in Christian tradition,” she adds.
Rejoice describes her marriage as “wonderful”.
“He really loved me,” she says.
On January 16, 1960, the couple had their first child called Bert.
But by this time, Mushala had become completely disillusioned with the British colonial government.
“He was not happy with the white colonialists and he really wanted to join the fight for independence,” says Rejoice.
Shortly after, Mushala quit his job and joined the independence struggle.
Both Mushala and Rejoice had been actively involved in the fight for Zambia’s independence under the United National Independence Party (UNIP) led by Kenneth Kaunda.
In fact, Rejoice says she was present in 1961 when Julia Chikamoneka and other women protested topless in the capital against colonial rule.
Mushala, himself, was sent to organise party activities in North-Western Province.
“He was really involved in the fight,” says Rejoice.
Then in 1962, at the height of the struggle for independence, Mushala and several young men were sent to China for training in guerrilla warfare.
Rejoice recalls seeing off her husband at the airport in Lusaka.
At the time, Rejoice was expecting the couple’s second child.
While in China, Mushala had met Mao Zedong, better known as Chairman Mao, who is the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.
Actually, there is a romantic story to their meeting.
When Chairman Mao learned that Mushala’s wife was expecting a child, he gave him a parcel for the baby, with a special request – to name the baby after him.
When Mushala returned home in 1963, Rejoice had given birth to a baby girl. Mushala named the girl “Mao”.
Rejoice says the parcel from Chairman Mao contained baby clothes and toys.
When the country attained independence on October 24, 1964, Mushala was living in Kamwala, Lusaka.
Rejoice remembers the day clearly.
“We all wore suits and went to celebrate,” she says.
But for Mushala, that celebration was short-lived. He was soon discontented with the Kaunda government.
He was particularly unhappy for being passed for appointments.
Mushala wanted to be in charge of wildlife.
Rejoice thinks people close to Kaunda had warned him against appointing her husband to head the department of wildlife, saying he would use the position to rise against government.
“But he just loved the job of a game ranger, his plan was not to turn against Kaunda,” says Rejoice.
When he could not bear his frustrations any longer, Mushala turned his back on Kaunda and UNIP and got involved with a new opposition party called United Party led by Nalumino Mundia.
But his activities would soon get him into trouble, and he ended up spending months in detention in Chinsali.
Rejoice says she was never told where her husband was during that period, and she herself had been placed under house arrest in Mufumbwe.
According to Rejoice, when Mushala came back, he was bitter, and started having clandestine meetings with some people.
“He never shared his plans with me. Whenever I asked him, he used to tell me that women are not supposed to know everything that a man was doing,” she says.
In December 1972, the country was declared a one-party state.
Rejoice says Mushala hated the one-party state.
“He used to say to me ‘why should a man stand against a frog, does it mean a frog represents us the people?’” she recalls.
Under the one-party state, citizens only had two options on the ballot – YES or NO, Kaunda or a frog.
One of Mushala’s close friends at the time was Mulondwe Muzungu.
According to Mr Muzungu, in December 1972, shortly following the declaration of one-party state, Mushala had walked into his office on Cairo Road to pay his premium on his life insurance policy under the Old Mutual financial company.
Mr Muzungu remembers one remarkable detail about his friend that day – he was driving a brand new Land Rover 109 station wagon.
“It must have been grey or beige,” he says.
But it is the words that Mushala said to him as he walked out of his office that struck him most.
“As he was going, he said to me, ‘look after my children, for you will not see me, except on incarnation’. I did not understand those words, so I just laughed,” says Mr Muzungu.
The next time he would hear of his friend was on January 11, 1973.
“At lunch time, there was a news bulletin on Radio Zambia to the effect that William Chipango, Chrispin Mwendabai and magistrate Mwanamwale had been arrested in the Sesheke area, allegedly for ferrying people across the Zambezi into South-West Africa (Namibia) for military training, and that Adamson Mushala had fled the country,” he says.
But before then, Rejoice recalls that when her husband returned to Mufumbwe from Lusaka, he asked her to accompany him to a friend’s wedding in Mongu.
According to Rejoice, Mushala had tried many times before to persuade her to travel abroad with him, but she always refused.
This time, however, he was more persuasive.
“He insisted that we go together because his friend wanted to meet me,” she says.
But Rejoice was still recovering after delivering her fifth child.
“I told him I could not go on a long trip because my baby was just about two weeks old, but he insisted. He told me we would use a shortcut through Kabompo and that he would drive carefully,” she recalls.
Rejoice finally gave in, and around 16:00 hours on that day in December 1972, after saying goodbye to relatives, the family got on the Land Rover and headed westwards, making a stopover in Manyinga district for a week.
Later, on the way, Rejoice noticed soldiers in strange uniform.
“I asked my husband why there were many soldiers,” she says.
That is when Mushala explained that they were actually headed for Luanda, the capital of Angola.
“I didn’t know we were going to Angola,” says Rejoice. “He never shared his plans with me. You know how secretive men can be.”
The family passed through Makondo, Calunda and spent two weeks in Kazombo, before reaching Luanda.
When they arrived in Luanda, Mushala explained his plan to his wife.
“He told me that he was now going to fight against the one-party system,” she says.
Rejoice says while in Luanda, Mushala would usually go away for long periods from home.
“He used to fly from Luanda and go and meet his friends. I don’t know where they used to meet from, but I suspect they used to meet in South Africa,” she says.
After staying in Luanda for three years, Mushala moved his family to South Africa.
And in 1976 – Rejoice does not remember the exact date or month – Mushala said goodbye to his wife and headed back to Zambia.
“He told me if I was not afraid I could return to Zambia, but he also warned me that the authorities would either arrest me or kill me,” she recalls.
That was the last time Rejoice saw her husband, or ever heard from him.
“I remained like a widow,” says Rejoice, who was by this time training to become a doctor.
She says from then onwards, the whites who were taking care of her and her family would regularly update her about her husband and assure her he was okay.
“The whites who kept us used to give us updates about my husband. They would tell me where he was operating from and they told me he was safe,” she says.
But in November 1979, Rejoice decided to return to Zambia.
When I ask why she decided to return, she responds: “Why would I not return to my own country?”
She and her children, plus two other families, were driven to the border between Angola and Namibia by South African soldiers.
They then had to walk through the bush towards Zambia.
“We ran out of food and we had to depend on wild fruits,” she says.
After days, they arrived in Shangombo, which lies on the Namibian border in Western Province, and handed themselves to police.
“I introduced myself as Mrs Mushala. The officer-in-charge was really surprised,” she says.
According to Rejoice, the government wanted to send a plane to pick them up, but she refused.
“I refused to use a plane because there were other freedom fighters’ wives and I didn’t want to leave them behind.”
Later, they were driven to Senanga before being taken to Lilayi, where they were detained for about two months.
In January 1980, she was detained at Lilayi before being taken to Kawambwa and placed under house arrest.
While in detention, she repeatedly wrote letters to Dr Kaunda begging him to release her and the other detainees.
According to Rejoice, on Sunday, November 27, 1982, around 09:00 hours, a man came hurriedly to the detention house and threw a copy of a newspaper inside.
“Mrs Mushala, look at this newspaper,” the man said.
“I got the newspaper and read that Mushala had been killed and that his body had been transported to Solwezi,” says Rejoice.
Rejoice says Mushala had appeared to her in a dream the previous night to say goodbye to her.
“He told me, ‘my wife, I’m gone now remain in peace, may God keep you till you grow old’.”
She says one of her children had heard her talking to someone in the night, and had asked her who she was talking to in the morning.
“I told him your father came and he was saying goodbye to me,” she says.
Rejoice said initially she was told she would be allowed to attend her husband’s burial. Then she was told the body would be transported to Lusaka.
But finally she was told she could not travel to Solwezi for security reasons.
“When they told me that, I collapsed, they had to rush me to hospital,” she says.
Rejoice and two other women would remain in detention two years after Mushala’s death.
The women protested their detention with a hunger strike, which seemed to have gotten the attention of the authorities.
Rejoice says she finally got a chance to talk to Kaunda via phone when she was in Mansa.
“I spoke to Kaunda on the phone when I was in detention in Mansa in 1984,” she says.
She says Dr Kaunda told her that she was now free.
“That was the first time I spoke to Kaunda, and that was the last,” she says.
Rejoice says President Kaunda did not want her to return to Mufumbwe, but to settle in Lusaka.
Rejoice refused and returned to Mufumbwe.
“I didn’t want people to think that I was working with the government against my husband.”

Sayimbwende took over after Mushala was killed.

Sayimbwende: Mushala’s lieutenant

JACK ZIMBA, Mwinilunga

ONE day in 1977, around midday, a tall dark figure with a gun slung over his shoulder, accosted a young man in the mining town of Chambeshi on the Copperbelt and ordered him to follow him into the bush.
Afraid, the young man followed. He would spend the next 13 years in the bush as a rebel fighting the government of President Kenneth Kaunda.
The tall dark figure was Adamson Mushala, the only man to have led an armed insurgency against a Zambian government, and the young man was Alex Sayimbwende, who would later succeed him.
Having begun his campaign in 1976 in Western Province, Mushala had moved into the hinterland of Copperbelt, and like a lion on the prowl, he was secretly recruiting members and spreading his campaign against the one-party state of Kaunda.
Sayimbwende, who was 29 years old at the time, was working for Eureka as an operator in Kitwe; he had previously worked as a manager for Paradise Bar in the same town.
One day, he decided to visit his older brother in Chambeshi, leaving his wife and two children, and that is when he encountered Mushala.
“When I met him, he had a gun and he held me by the shoulder and told me to follow him,” recalls Sayimbwende, who is now 70, and lives in Mwinilunga, North-Western Province, with his two wives.
Sayimbwende says Mushala led him to a camp in the Minsenga area, around Chambeshi.
“There were about 100 men at that camp, and they all had guns,” he says.
He says the men explained that they had come from South Africa, but they were not South Africans.
“They gave me their policy and asked me if I could read. With fear, I read through the policy. Some of the objectives were really good,” he says.
The Mushala gang was more than just a ragtag gang of armed men. It was fashioned as a political movement called Democratic Supreme Council (DSC), with Mushala as its president.
Sayimbwende says after he had read the gang’s policies, he was given two options – to become a member or die.
“I asked them if I could go back to my family and say goodbye to them first, but they refused,” he says.
Sayimbwende was placed under the care of Mushala’s younger brother called Friday Mushala, who was captain of the group, and second in command.
“The first one week was really scary because I didn’t know what would happen to me,” he says.
He says the gang moved on foot from village to village.
“We used to gather people and we would tell them about our mission. We told them the reason we were in the bush was the one-party state. If there was no one-party policy we would have formed our own political party and participated in elections. We wanted democracy,” he says.
After undergoing military training for three months, Sayimbwende was handed a gun – an R1 rifle.
The R1 was the standard rifle of the South African army up to the 1980s.
According to Sayimbwende, Mushala had come with the guns from South Africa, but he says they also collected a number of weapons from the Zambian soldiers they killed.
But the Mushala gang did not just rely on military skill.
Sayimbwende says there was a lot of black magic involved as well.
“We gave our soldiers charms which they put in bathing water. When you are involved in this kind of work, you have to use some charms,” he says.
He claims some of the charms would make the rebels invisible to the enemy.
But he denies stories about Mushala mysteriously visiting Kaunda at State House and having dinner with him in a spirit form.
“It is a lie, it was just propaganda,” he says.
Sayimbwende, however, says sometimes Mushala wrote letters to Kaunda which would reach State House through secret agents.
He also claims that the gang had support from some within Kaunda’s government.
“There were many in government whom we worked with such as Humphrey Mulemba. He used to give us food,” says Sayimbwende.
Mulemba had at one time served as secretary general of the United National Independence Party.
He also claims collusion between the soldiers and rebels at some point. He says some of the bullets were given to them by Zambian soldiers sent to hunt them down.
“Sometimes the soldiers would intentionally leave some bullets after they broke camp, knowing that we would find them. They never left any guns, but they left bullets,” he says.
According to Sayimbwende, the gang also traded in ivory to support their campaign.
By 1979, Sayimbwende had become well entrenched in the gang, and he became Mushala’s deputy.
According to the government narrative of events at the time, the Mushala gang was a murderous group that burned whole villages, abducted women and shot at security forces.
“It is Kaunda’s soldiers who were killing people,” says Sayimbwende.
“There are many who died within our group. I witnessed nine deaths in our group,” he says.
Most of the rebels died in ambushes.
Sayimbwende does admit to forcibly getting women as wives to the rebels.
“We used to get some of them by force, because sometimes the girls’ parents would refuse,” he says.
Sayimbwende says Mushala himself had taken two women and fathered three children with them.
He also says the gang killed people who passed information to government soldiers about the rebels’ activities.
“We killed people who betrayed us,” he says.
Mulondwe Muzungu, who had been Mushala’s friend, says two of his close relatives were killed by the Mushala gang.
He says one of his uncles was made to put his neck on a log and then hacked to death after the rebels suspected him of passing information.
On November 26, 1982, the day Mushala was killed, Sayimbwende says he was just a few hundred metres away.
According to Sayimbwende, it happened around 11:30 hours.
He and some women had gone to cultivate in a field near the gang’s camp, somewhere near Kasempa, when he heard a single gunshot, followed by a round of shots and grenade explosions.
Sayimbwende says at that point, he knew something was wrong.
“I sneaked and got closer to the camp, then I saw a lot of soldiers who were shouting Mushala’s name. At that point I knew Mushala had been killed,” he says.
“He was the only one killed in our camp that day.”
According to Sayimbwende, the camp’s position was given away by a woman called Lacy Mukwemba, who had just been divorced by one of the rebels.
“She is the one who led the soldiers to our camp,” he says.
It was the rule of the gang to not allow a woman divorced by a gang member to remain in camp. They would send them back to the village.
“What we feared is that other men within the camp would start sleeping with that woman and that would annoy her ex-husband,” he explains.
After Mushala’s death, Sayimbwende was elected as president to lead the group.
According to Sayimbwende, four men stood for election to succeed Mushala, among them Agray Muma and Anas Gondwe.
“We held elections because we wanted to be democratic,” he says.
Agray Muma was elected to be Sayimbwende’s deputy.
Sayimbwende changed the name of the movement from Democratic Supreme Council to Democratic Revolution Movement or DEREMO.
But the gang was in disarray after the death of Mushala.
Sayimbwende says some gang members suggested disbanding the group and going back to the villages, but were scared thinking they would be killed, so they stayed.
Sayimbwende stayed in the bush until 1990, when he surrendered to government authorities.
“They never caught me, I just surrendered on my own,” he says.
“They would not have managed,” he laughs. “Sometimes they would pass by but would not see me.”
Sayimbwende says he heard an announcement on a South African radio on September 18, 1990 that he should leave the bush.
He finally surrendered and was flown to Lusaka for a few days, lodging at Mulungushi Village.
Sayimbwende says before being flown back to North-Western Province, government promised to give him land, a tractor and money. He got the land, but nothing more.
“IT IS here!” one young man finally shouted from the middle of the cemetery.
I was in a large graveyard called Kimasala in Solwezi town in search of Adamson Mushala’s grave.
Mushala’s granddaughter, who did not want to be identified, and four young men who claimed to know exactly where the grave was situated were leading the way, parting prickly twigs and branches of shrubs as we intruded on the necropolis.
Kimasala Cemetery is a real desolate place. Many of the graves have no gravestones and have either disappeared into the earth or are now completely hidden by the dense undergrowth.
It is also one of the oldest graveyards in Solwezi, and no longer takes in new tenants.
A large part of the cemetery has been reclaimed by the living, who have illegally built shabby houses on top of old graves.
But it is here, 36 years ago , that Adamson Mushala’s body was buried after the rebel leader was killed by government soldiers.
His mutilated body was paraded at Solwezi General Hospital like a trophy, before it was brought here for an unceremonious burial overseen by government and security officials.
Mushala’s body was buried by prisoners in an unmarked grave.
“They buried him like a dog,” remarked his granddaughter as we stood at the grave. “They did not even put him in a coffin; they just wrapped his body in a blanket.”
Today, Mushala’s grave is an unremarkable place, overgrown with shrubs and grass.
A lantana plant has stubbornly grown on top of the grave.
However, two years ago, Mushala’s son, Bert, came and marked the spot by building two rectangular boxes around it, using blocks.
Bert Mushala says he plans to build a mausoleum to honour his father.
But Rejoice Mushala, the wife of Adamson Mushala, has never visited his grave.
When I asked her why, she replied:
“I’m still bitter because I was not allowed to attend my beloved husband’s burial, so why should I visit his grave? What am I going to do there?”
But Alex Sayimbwende, the man who took over from Mushala, doubts if Mushala’s body was buried at Kimasala, he thinks the rebel leader’s body was transported to Lusaka.

Monday, 8 October 2018

SOS for little Vincent

Vincent lies in her hospital bed.

The nursing staff are giving the little boy special attention.
SOS for little Vincent

·    Boy remains alone in hospital after mother dies in hit-and-run


ON THE night of September 2, a little boy called Vincent was crossing Kafue Road with his mother, who was carrying a baby on her back when, in a flash, screeching of tyres and a bang, his life was changed forever.
The family was hit by a speeding vehicle on the freeway.
Vincent’s mother and his younger sister called Charity died on the spot, but the 4-year-old boy survived the impact.
The driver of the speeding vehicle did not stop to check on the victims, and the only witness to the fatal incident was a man and woman traveling in a vehicle a few metres behind.
In a statement, police timed the accident at 20:39 hours, and named the victims as Albina Mulenga, 35, and her four-month-old baby who died instantly, while Vincent was rushed to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) unconscious.
The little boy had suffered a broken leg and minor bruises on his face.
That night, police had deposited three bodies in the morgue at UTH, including that of a unidentified man.
This led staff at the hospital to think the male body belonged Albina’s husband.
But Police say there was already a body of a man, another accident victim picked elsewhere, in the back of the pick-up when they arrived at the scene to pick up the bodies of Albina and her baby.
Days after the accident, the hit-and-run driver reported himself to the police and was charged.
He is Francis Nkhuwa, a 50-year-old government employee who was driving a Toyota Ipsum registration number ALF 5514 the night of the hit-and-run.
He now faces two counts of causing death by dangerous driving, failing to report an accident, and failing to render assistance to the injured.
He is expected to appear in court soon.
But the case has now become a puzzle for both UTH staff and the police.
Since the incident happened, little Vincent has been lying in hospital alone as no-one has come to claim a missing child, mother or baby.
Apart from the white-robed nurses who attend to him and give him special attention, the only other companion for Vincent is a fluffy Teddy bear.
He has named the bear as Charity, after his dead little sister, and sometimes he talks to the Teddy as though it were really his baby sister.
When I ready my camera to take a picture of Vincent, he clutches the Teddy bear close to his chest, calling it by name.
But the scene of a boy holding a bear named after his dead sister is heart-rending for the nurse taking care of him, she scurries away to the bathroom, covering her teary eyes with her hand.
There is a certain deep sense of sympathy, and perhaps empathy, too, for little Vincent from the nurses in the ward.
And despite his predicament, Vincent is usually bright-eyed and chatty, except when he is in pain.
And sometimes he cries for his mother, unaware of the fate she suffered that night.
But he too is now a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that the nurses and police are trying to piece together.
A lot of questions surround the boy lying in the hospital ward, and his dead mother and sister still lying in the hospital mortuary.
Where was the woman and her children coming from, and where were they going? Where are the relatives or even neighbours?
Inside the woman’s handbag, police had found her mobile phone, which was damaged by the impact, as well as an under-five clinic card for baby Charity, a national identity card belonging to a young woman called Macliven Chitalo.
The under-five clinic card showed that Albina lived in Makeni Kankole.
Also found in the bag was Albina’s electronic anti-retroviral card.
When the card was run through a computer at UTH, it generated more information about the woman, including the phone number for her husband named Robam Mwansa.
But the number is no longer in use.
And when the nurses tried to call the numbers on the dead woman’s phone they drew a blank. They could not get through to the numbers, while some people called denied knowing Albina.
Only one contact in her phone yielded a response.
The number belonged to a woman – a social worker - working as a councillor for a local clinic where Albina used to access her anti-retroviral drugs.
The two met early this year and became acquainted, and would usually talk about many things.
The councillor describes a cheery light-complexioned woman.
“She looked decent,” she says.
The councillor believes Albina had had a broken marriage and was living alone with her children and probably another relative.   
She also suspects Albina had recently relocated to Lusaka from another town and worked as a maid for an Asian family in Kamwala or Madras.
Following the accident, the councillor took things personal and embarked on her own search for the little boy’s relatives around the Ngwenya dam.
She had Vincent’s picture on her phone which she showed to anyone she found near the dam.
But her search never yielded any results.
Vincent mentions two places in his conversations – Ngwenya dam in Misisi township and a school called Legacy Academy.
This made hospital staff to suspect the little boy attended the academy, but when contacted, the school authorities said they did not have any boy by that name in their database. 
If no relatives come forth to claim him, he will be placed in an orphanage.
After hitting a dead end on phone leads, police spokesperson Esther Katongo says police are now waiting for the child to get better so he can help in tracing his home or relatives.
ALBINA and her baby were Monday put to rest at a small ceremony at the Old Leopards Hill cemetery.
Her funeral and that of her four-month-old baby called Charity, was arranged by the social welfare department at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) and other well-wishers because no-one claimed their bodies, five weeks after the accident on Kafue Road.
Mother and daughter were laid side-by-side.
About 10 nurses from UTH, including those taking care of Vincent attended the funeral and laid wreaths at the boy’s grave.
There was no life history and no tributes at her grave, but the nurses sung spiritual songs and a pastor delivered a sermon.
“It was an honourable funeral,” said Sylvia Chibotu, who is nurse-in-charge in the ward where Vincent is admitted.
Lusaka District commissioner Davies Mulenga, who represented Government at the funeral, emphasised the spirit of Ubuntu (good neighbourliness).
He said there is need for neighbours to look out for each other and be concerned for one another.
At the end of the ceremony, the two graves were decked by flowers laid by total strangers.
UTH public relations manager Natalie Mwashikolo said there are now plans to open Vincent an account where people can deposit money to help him.
She said some people have formed Whatsapp groups to help the little boy.
But there is no closure yet for little Vincent as police and hospital staff are still trying to locate his relatives.
And the hit-and-run driver is yet to appear in court.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Unmasking the nyau

Unmasking the nyau

The nyau characters represent various forms, but animal figures are the most common. Pictures by JACK ZIMBA

Some characters are beautiful.

This makanja from Malawi stood about five metres tall.
A nyau performs with a python.

Gule Wamkulu is a prized Chewa culture recognised as intangible heritage by the United Nations agency for cultural preservation, UNESCO, in 2014. It is performed by men who belong to the secret society of the nyau. Our reporter, JACK ZIMBA, who attended the Kulamba ceremony of the Chewa, gives insight into the society and the centuries-old culture.

THEY strolled into the arena, howling and barking like wild animals, their bodies smeared with mud and their faces covered with masks, to perform before an enchanted audience during the Kulamba traditional ceremony.
The Kulamba brings together the Chewa from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia at Mkaika in Katete, where Chewa chiefs – 292 of them, representing over 10 million people – pay homage to Kalonga Gawa Undi, king of the Chewa people.
Without doubt, the highlight of the ceremony is the nyau, who perform Gule Wamkulu (or the great dance) in various costumes and masks. There is a certain reverence for the masked men among the Chewa.
In fact, to the Chewa the nyau are not human beings at all, but creatures – creatures of the underworld representing spirits of the dead.
As they paraded in the arena, the masked men portrayed all sorts of characters, from a dumb-looking cop to a pretty girl with long legs (stilts), a pair of oxen and even a motorbike-and-rider, all in one. Some characters were funny-looking others surreal, but they were all otherworldly.
Some performed dare-devil stunts on poles high above the ground, while others toyed with large angry snakes, pulling and lifting them by the tail and placing them around their necks, much to the astonishment of the crowd.
There were gasps in the crowd as one man repeatedly slammed a sledge hammer to break a large stone placed on the head of one of the creatures.
As if that was not painful enough to watch, the creature got another big stone and, lying down, placed it on its chest and the man with the sledge hammer swung into action, crushing it.
But the star of the moment was the graceful makanja, a five-metre tall creature from Malawi, who strolled into the arena and sat atop the roof of one of the shelters. He was so tall he could have plucked the flag from the flag pole without any effort.
Some from the crowd offered the tall creature money in appreciation. After the performance, the creatures disappeared to their secret place and would emerge again as ordinary men.
But whoever the men behind the masks were, nobody could tell. This is because the nyau is a secret society, and those who belong to the society do not talk about it.
However, one man hesitantly agreed to talk, but only with assurance his identity would not be disclosed.
“I’m scared because I don’t know what will happen to me,” he had told me.
I can only refer to the man by a pseudonym, so I called him Gabby.
I met Gabby with a small band of performers from Chadiza district. He was somewhat sad because his gule had not been selected to perform on the big day.
Gabby was initiated into the secret society when he was 15 years old. He is now 35.
“I decided to go to dambwe (the school that initiates young boys into the nyau) and become a nyau because it is part of our culture as Chewas, and because my fore-fathers were into it,” he said.
Gabby was inspired to become a nyau by his own father, who also belonged to the secret society. He said his mother also encouraged him to go.
“I used to admire him a lot,” Gabby said of his father, who is now late.
As a small boy, Gabby also used to feel left out on Sunday evenings when his friends went to perform in the village, dancing while the women sang.
But he was scared to go to dambwe.
“I was scared because I didn’t know what happened there,” he said.
But then he said the attraction to join the nyau was so strong that he could not resist. And so the herdsboy, who had dropped out of school, finally gathered courage and joined.
There were five other boys in Gabby’s group, all of them of the same age group.
He said he found a lot of young men and boys already initiated into the nyau, who welcomed him.
The boys were taught various life skills and how to respect elders. But they were also inducted into Gule Wamkulu.
Gabby’s desire was to become a makanja, the nyau on stilts.
“I admired makanja very much and that is the only nyau I wanted to become,” he said.
But he would soon learn that becoming a makanja was not easy.
After trying hard and failing, Gabby sought juju (black magic) to help him.
“There was a man from Mozambique who was a very big nyau and good with medicine, so I went to see him one night and he gave me some charms. It was very far, but I went and had to kneel and beg him for it,” he said.
Gabby believes one cannot be a makanja or gologolo (the pole dancer) without using black magic.
He said because of competition between various groups, some resort to sorcery to sabotage their opponents.
According to Gabby, sometimes makanja or gologolo has fallen while performing because of juju from their opponents.
“That happens a lot,” he said.
Gabby said the charms he got were for protection from his opponents.
But then, the charms had a bad “side-effect” on him.
“Whenever I slept and there was gule somewhere, even in a faraway village, I would dream about it. I would hear the drums in my sleep and I would wake up and go and perform, it did not matter whether it was in the middle of the night and it was raining,” he said.
The use of black magic scared Gabby.
“I was scared because I thought it might teach me sorcery,” he said.
He discarded the charms, burning them. And that was the end of his dream to become makanja.
Today, Gabby only plays drums for others performing gule wamkulu, but he still goes to dambwe.
“If possible, every Chewa boy or man should go to dambwe and enter the society of the nyau,” he said.
But there is now a lot of emphasis on formal education for the young ones in the Chewa kingdom. There are now strict rules from Gawa Undi not to admit school-going children into dambwe, and the nyau are not allowed to perform near schools,
Will education erode this culture?
“No, it won’t,” said Jason Kamanga, who is publicity secretary of the Kulamba traditional ceremony.
“We have not digressed from what our ancestors taught us from one generation to the other,” he said.
And according to Mr Kamanga, there are still many Chewa boys and young men who desire to join the nyau.
“This culture is not dying but growing,” he said.
Nowhere is Gule Wamkulu bigger than in Malawi.
“Nyau is like eating nshima in Malawi,” senior Chief Lukwa from Kasungu district told me.
“There is something about the nyau that is very attractive, that is why even other tribes are now coping from us,” he said.
But there, too, the culture is undergoing reforms. Children under 15 years are not admitted into the dambwe.
“Before, young ones from 10 years used to be forced to join nyau, but now because of education, we don’t allow that,” the chief told me.
Chief Lukwa said the practice was affecting education for boys.
The chief denies the use of juju by the nyau.
“It is just art,” he said.
Gule Wamkulu has been around for centuries, but despite changing times and modernity and the influence of Christianity, in the rural areas it is still attractive among the young ones.
About 40km from Katete, near the mountainous border with Mozambique is a village called Chingaipe, in Chief Kawaza’s area.
Here, I found adults talking excitedly about the new initiates – 19 boys were having their first experience at dambwe.
Drums could be heard from a distant, secluded place at the end of the village.
Parents gave their sons two chickens each and mealie-meal to eat during the initiation.
After two weeks, the boys will come out as men, and will perform Gule Wamkulu, carrying on a treasured culture of the Chewa people.

The last catch

Fishing rigs venture out on Lake Kariba. Pictures by Jack Zimba   Musa makes a fire on deck.   Clever ...