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.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Living down and out

Living down and out

Keeping warm by a fire. Pictures by JACK ZIMBA.

Beauty says she wants to own her own shop.

A boy displays a V symbol.

Still can smile.

The kids play soccer.

THE morning rush-hour traffic is heavy and slow on the fly-over on Church Road, Lusaka, as people get to their daily work.
But under this same bridge, it is a different day for homeless children who have made this sordid place, reeking with urine, their home.
I find about 25 kids, some as young as 10-years-old, including girls, huddled together under the bridge.
Almost everyone has a small bottle of bostik held to their mouth or concealed under their clothing. They sniff on the clear liquid for a kick.
The feeling is like sniffing petrol.
When they are high, the kids become zombies. Their speech becomes slurred, their eyes squint and lips become dry and parched.
Others seem completely out of sync with life itself, whether due to substance abuse or the trauma life on the streets offers, who can tell?
When I ask for the leader of the group, one girl introduces me to Brutal, a young man with a missing front tooth and a rough look.
But Brutal is gentle and the big brother who looks out for everyone here.
Brutal’s real name is Joseph Mwamba.
When he was given the nickname, he did not even know what the word meant, but now he knows and it worries him.
Now 23, Brutal has lived on the streets for the past 17 years.
He has already been to prison once, but he says it was for a crime that he never committed.
One day in 2015, his friends stole from a vehicle in Norththmead, but police found Brutal on the scene and arrested him.
He served one year six months in prison.
Brutal is now scared to patronise the streets in Northmead.
“It’s dangerous there,” he says.
But that does not make this place any better. Life is harsh under the bridge.
The kids depend on handouts from organisations and individuals.
And today is their lucky day. Some missionaries have brought them loaves of bread and juice, which they all share and eat.
Later, the boys play football on an impossibly small open space littered with broken glass. Two used tyres serve as goal posts.
With the football World Cup under way in Russia, there seems to be more eagerness to play the Beautiful Game from the players.
There is hard tackling and diving from the goalkeepers and a lot of dust. The game attracts a small number of spectators, among them pedestrians on the bridge.
The boys play for over two hours, until the small ball of waste plastics and strings comes apart from the hard kicking.
There is a deep sense of camaraderie within the group, something which seems quite odd considering everyone’s rough appearance and crude language.
A little boy called John cozies up to Brutal, playfully leaning onto him, placing his head in his lap.
Brutal pets him like his own kid brother.
“We live like brothers and sisters here,” says Samson Chilufya, an older boy who has spent many years on the streets.
Beauty Lubinda is 19-years-old and clearly the godmother of the group. When there is food, she is the one to share, helped by the other girls.
There are seven girls in the group.
Beauty came from Livingstone after the death of her parents, but ended up on the streets after she faced abuse.
She has been on the streets since she was nine.
All the kids I meet mention abuse as the main reason for choosing life on the street.
Beauty only went up to Grade Seven and has no interest in school anymore.
“I can’t go back to school,” I just want money to start a business,” she says.
Beauty is very enterprising. A few weeks ago, she started a business, selling cigarettes, energy drinks and spirits right under the bridge.
“I want to open up my own shop,” she tells me.
In the afternoon, I sit with Brutal on disused rail wheels, for an interview.
We are joined by Dalitso Tembo, a young man who walks with a stagger.
Dalitso was only about four when he started living on the streets. He has been on the streets for 20 years now.
He came from Mufulira in the Copperbelt and now says he wants to go back to his family.
As we chat, Dalitso suddenly passes out, slips from the wheel and slams his head onto the ballast on the side of the railway line. For a moment, he seems unconscious, irresponsive to the calling of his mates.
Brutal walks over to check him out, seemingly worried.
After a few seconds, the young man suddenly sits up as if nothing happened.
He does not grimace or even touch the area of impact in the fall.
Soon, as if someone turned a switch in his brain, he gets engaged in our conversation.
The young men want jobs to take them off the streets.
Brutal dreams of having his own home and family.
In 2005, Brutal and Dalitso were enrolled in a skills training programme by the Zambia National Service where they learnt carpentry.
But when they came back, there were no jobs (besides both were under the employment age) and so they returned to the streets.
But others were more fortunate, they got employed by the military wing.
“We usually see one of the guys we were with in uniform driving a nice car,” says Dalitso.
That government programme was discontinued years ago.
When night falls, so do the temperatures. But not everyone has a blanket here.
“We were given blankets by the church people, but some of them were stolen,” says Beauty.
Those who do not have blankets keep warm at a fire then sleep during the day.
Harsh as the conditions are here, Dalitso says the streets now are safer than they were when he was a young boy.
“Back in the days, life on the street was really hard and dangerous. Older men used to beat us up and grab our things,” says Dalitso.
Brutal reckons there are about 150 children living on the streets in this vicinity, each group keeping to their own turf.
It is past 19:00 hours when I meet Precious outside Levy Park Mall.
She is only 14, spritely and confident, even though she tells me she has not been on the streets for a long time.
Precious is walking back to the bridge to join the group. She is worried because she is not sure she will eat tonight.
“I had gone to buy scones, but the little shop is closed,” she tells me.
Precious only has K2 in her pocket, not enough to get her anything from the big mall.
She is delighted when I offer to buy her fries and chicken from a famous outlet at the mall.
As she stands at the counter in the fast food outlet, she is clearly the odd one out – dirty clothes and unkempt hair.
She also has a bottle of bostik hidden under her dark coat.
Her food pack secured, she disappears back to her dingy dwelling 300m away. At least tonight she will eat something delicious. Who cares about tomorrow, it has its own uncertainties, whether rich or poor.
On a frigid Friday morning, with temperatures falling to 11 degrees Celsius in the city, I find the boys and girls warming up to a fire.
Three small boys engage in a game of cards while they sniff on the bostik.
Beauty is already standing by her merchandise, eager to sell.
Dalitso is still sleeping under the bridge, his whole body covered with a bed sheet.
I hope he is fine.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The people’s cathedral

Fr. Thomas is dean of the cathedral.

The people’s cathedral

Thousands have passed through its door, dead or alive


VERY few places in Lusaka have such a unifying force as the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and perhaps none comes close to its architectural magnificence.
Many times, I have come here for the sad reasons – a funeral service.
I have seen so many tears in this place. I have seen many caskets carried into the cathedral and carried out for the final journey to the other side. I have heard numerous poignant eulogies by heart-broken relatives and friends.
I have heard many fervent prayers in this place, many beautiful sermons and boring ones too.
I have heard singing like the singing of angels and awful singing too.
Sometimes, I worry at the rate I have to return here for a funeral service for a government official or other prominent people.
Last week, I was here for Minster of Gender Victoria Kalima’s memorial, and last month, it was the Lusaka Mayor Wilson Kalumba’s.
In the past two years, I have come here to see off three of my workmates, including an officemate.
But each time I have come here, my eyes have always wandered around at the magnificence of this cathedral and its symbolisms.
My eyes have always gazed at its high concrete ceiling, 18 metres above the floor, and wondered why they had to build the roof so high.
“The heights of cathedrals are partly acoustic, of course, it is a statement, an imposing one, but it is also internally acoustic because many cathedrals have the priority of music,” says Father Charley Thomas, who is the dean of the cathedral.
“The height was meant so that the music and the singing and the chanting is heard,” he adds.
The stained glass of varying bright colours high up in the building forms a giant mosaic.
A spiral staircase at the back of the cathedral leads to a balcony where sits an organ as big as a small house. It is a complex and strange looking piece of instrument - like a time machine, if I ever saw one.
The organ is 120 years old and was shipped from England in pieces and assembled inside the cathedral. It comes alive every Sunday.
Everything within and outside is symmetrical, right down to the paving blocks outside, which are arranged like the squares in the ceiling.
The building is made in such a way that its beauty can be seen from every angle.
From the skies, the angels don’t see a concrete building on a hill, they see a giant copper cross.
This is because the cathedral is shaped like the cross and its concrete roof is overlaid with copper plates.
But despite its elaborate design, this cathedral still lacks one structure. It is supposed to have a cross protruding through its roof, but the plan to build the structure was halted because the building lies in the flight path of planes landing at the Old City Airport, about two kilometres away.
Nevertheless, the cathedral has three beautiful crosses. One is placed right at its entrance, the other above the altar.
Outside the cathedral stands a big wooden cross which is illuminated in the night. But this one was only recently installed.
The original cross made out of teak wood which was concreted in 1956, now lies broken a few metres from where it once stood, like the Old Rugged Cross the song writer George Bennard sung about.
The magnificent design of the cathedral was the work of Ian Reeler, Hope, Reeler and Morris.
The engineering company for the project was Ove Arup and Partners. It is the same company that was involved in the construction of Australia’s iconic structure – the Sydney Opera House.
The design was commissioned in 1956 and the foundation stone laid in 1957.
Construction began in July 1960 by a local company called HK Mitchell Ltd and took about two years.
Yet when this cathedral was being built in the 1960s, there was no heavy-lift crane, workers had only a simple electric pulley and bamboo scaffolding.
Before the cathedral was built here, this place is said to have accommodated a filling station and a cinema.
The cathedral sits on a 10-acre plot on Cathedral Hill, which extends up to the Hotel InterContinental Lusaka.
Like any cathedral in Britain or elsewhere, this building was built not just to serve its purpose as a place of worship, but also as an imposing statement both politically and otherwise.
It was also built to fulfill a legal requirement; Lusaka needed a cathedral for it to be granted city status and so the colonial administration approached the Catholic Church and Anglican Church to meet the need.
The Anglicans jumped on the offer and took up the land given by the government.
One of the first donations to build the cathedral came from the royal family in Britain, about £500 at the time. The bishop then is said to have had some connection to the royal family.
Many local companies and individuals also donated towards the building.
The mining companies made huge donations.
The huge wooden doors at the front were donated by Sir Evelyn Hone, who was the last governor of Northern Rhodesia.
The cement came from Chilanga Cement, some of it as a donation.
In 1964, the cathedral hosted the first independence service, and the national flag that was used in that service is still hung on a pole inside the cathedral.
Since then, thousands of people have passed through its doors that are five metres high. Some have walked in here others were borne in expensive caskets.
On one of the cathedral walls is a black-and-white picture of the Emperor Haile Selassie, on another is Queen Elizabeth with President Kenneth Kaunda.
Oliver Tambo was once a member of the church when he lived in Zambia during the apartheid regime in South Africa.
This cathedral has served its purpose as a people’s cathedral.
“Cathedrals are a place where anybody should be able to come, irrespective of denomination,” says Fr. Thomas. “Cathedrals are a place where you come when you want to cry, when you want to laugh, or when you want to celebrate or when you want to simply pray. It is supposed to be a unifying place.”
“Sometimes I personally – when there is a function – stand at the door and receive people, and it is because I want them to belong, to know that they are not coming to an Anglican church they are coming the cathedral,” he says.
The cathedral has also become a political shrine for the nation. Here, even the most avowed political enemies have met and shaken hands.
“Sometimes I do it deliberately, sometimes it just happens, where you create an environment for people to meet, so that if there is any animosity, any tension, you release it,” explains Fr. Thomas. “And I think one of my jobs as dean is to create that environment whenever possible.”
But he has also been misunderstood by some people.
“Sometimes people don’t understand why I do it, why I allow various political parties to meet here at the cathedral, to have functions, funerals and some have wondered whether I’m being political or not. But my understand is that if there is a tension in the country and I give space – space that will not be abused – to any group of people to come and pray, I’m reducing the tension in the country,” says Fr Thomas, who has been dean here for 16 years.
But any building that opens its doors so wide to the public as the cathedral does cannot escape abuse.
“Some funerals have really being challenging,” says Fr. Thomas.
He recounts one particular state funeral which brought a horde of political cadres into a scuffle right at the porch of the cathedral.
The dean stood his ground, telling the youths they had to go through him in order to enter the cathedral and beat up their political enemies. The youths backed off.
The priest is unmoved by political pressure, much less that incident.
“That incident only increased my resolve to make sure that this place is available for such functions,” he says.
“We believe when people come in here, as they walk through that door, there is a transformation that will take place, and they will attend a church service in humility and walk out. And we pray that the transformation will continue outside the door, but sometimes as soon as they go out they become themselves,” he says.
But having a building of this magnitude has its own challenges, such as high maintenance costs.
Fr Thomas says about K3.5 million is needed for running the cathedral yearly, with about K150,000 on maintenance of the building.
The funds come from church members here, numbering about a thousand, as well as donations from well-wishers and rentals it charges for funerals, weddings and other meetings.
The government pays K5,000 for state functions.
“But many times, you find they pay K5,000 and we pay half of that replacing things that are broken because of the crowd, the cars driving on the lawns breaking the sprinklers,” says Fr. Thomas.
However, the building also poses a challenge when it comes to maintenance. Some parts are just hard to reach.
A few years ago, the cathedral administration had to hire a fire truck to clean sections of its outside walls.
Currently, the cathedral administration is trying to replace some of the broken windows, but many companies are unable to do the job because they lack special equipment to do the job.
And although it is steeped in history and Anglican tradition, this cathedral has still embraced modernity.
The cathedral has nine high-tech curved screen TV sets mounted on its pillars that project what is happening in front. Although I must say they look rather incongruous to the building itself.
But they still serve their purpose.
Fr Thomas says there have been numerous suggestions on ways to modify the building, such as building balconies inside the building in order to increase its capacity, or building commercial buildings on the vast open space within the cathedral grounds.
The dean is, however, careful with making any changes to the building, not wanting to distort the appearance or obstruct its beauty.
“I’m torn between modernity and tradition,” he says.
“Of course if you ask me will you build a cathedral like this today, I won’t. I think there are better ways of spending money,” he adds.
He says he would rather build something that is cost-efficient.
The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross has a special place in many people’s hearts and keeps countless memories for countless individuals, some sad, some joyous, and others simply historical.
For me, the cathedral keeps a romantic memory. It was here 10 years ago one wintry night during an all-night prayer meeting that I wrote a small note to my girlfriend asking her to marry me, and she scribbled the word “yes” and handed it back to me.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Iconic E.W. Tarry building gets facelift

The first top picture shows the E.W. Tarry building in the 1950s and, below, the building now undergoing reconstruction.
Iconic E.W. Tarry building gets facelift 


BEFORE there were glitzy banks, multi-storey office blocks, popular restaurants and shops on Lusaka’s Cairo Road, there was E.W. Tarry.
Built in the 1920s as a farm stall selling agriculture machinery and fertilisers, this single-storey building was the first shop on Cairo Road (or at least one of the first), according to Kagosi Mwamulowe, who is regional director for the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHC).
E.W. Tarry Limited Company was established as a machine distributor by Edward Wallace Tarry in South Africa in the late 19th century.
Years later, the company had grown and extended its tentacles northwards, opening shops in Bulawayo and Salisbury (Harare) in then Southern Rhodesia, and then the newly established settlement at Lusaka in 1927.
The company had become the largest importer of machinery on the mining fields in South Africa, and boasted of having entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes on its board of directors.
In 1881, Mr Tarry was listed as one of the richest merchants with a net worth of £150,000, according to Robert Vicat Turrell in a book titled “Capital and Labour on the Kimberley Diamond Fields, 1871-1890”.
Nine decades later, the building Mr Tarry built on Cairo Road still stands and is a declared heritage site.
According to the National Heritage Act, anything built before January 1, 1924 is considered a heritage site and is protected by law.
There are a few other buildings in its vicinity built within that era that are protected by law, including the railway station, the old Lusaka Boys School on Dedan Kimathi Road, the old Barclays Bank and Lusaka Hotel, which was built in 1914.
Over the years, the building has changed hands. After independence in 1964, it was owned by a company called Zambia National Holdings Limited, which was owned by the United National Independence Party (UNIP).
Then about 15 years ago, it was sold to Paza Trading Limited, a company which was owned by Mohemmed Ginwala.
After Mr Ginwala died in 2014, his nephew Irshad Ginwalla took over the running of the business, including the E.W. Tarry building.
But after so many years, the building had become deplorable and is now undergoing major reconstruction works to preserve it.
Today, this iconic building is hidden behind metal barricades, its roof stripped, exposing the wooden beams that have held the roof for 91 years.
Irshad’s company is spending US$430,000 (about K4.4 million) to restore the building with the works expected to be completed in November.
The company carrying out the reconstruction works is experienced in restoring heritage sites.
A few years ago, Swissco Construction Limited was engaged to restore the house in Lusaka where Oliver Tambo once lived during the apartheid era.
“We want to take a conservative approach, so that the community benefits,” bubbles Irshad. “I want the public, the tourists to be aware of this place.”
Young and trendy-looking with a love for fancy motorbikes, Irshad does not look much of a lover of anything old-fashioned, but he exudes passion as he talks about the old building allthough five years ago, he did not even know the building was a heritage site. 
He says when some of his colleagues saw him breaking down the building, they had suggested that he puts up something different, maybe a double-storey building, but he refused.
“I’m not greedy for money,” he says. “I value this property for what it is from a heritage aspect.” 
He says having the building listed as a heritage site is a bonus.
Irshad now wants to reconstruct the building to its original state complete with its original colours – white walls with a green corrugated roof, plus the small black metal plate bearing the words “Tarry’s Corner”, which over-hangs the corridor and has become pretty much an insignia of the building.
“What we are trying to do here with the help of the National Heritage Conservation Commission is to make the building look the way it did in the 70s,” he says.
Irshad has images of the building taken in the 1950s and 1970s on his smartphone.
He shows me the images as he holds them like a stencil against the building being reconstructed.
When the barricades go down in November, he wants the iconic building to look exactly the way it used to decades ago.
“When the contractor told us that we could maintain some of the things, we were very happy because I’m very passionate about this property which is of heritage value,” he says.
Leon Sauter of Swissco Construction company reckons that about 70 percent of the original structure will be saved.
Much of the wall structure and columns have been left standing.
In fact, Leon thinks the columns were built to accommodate a second storey in future.
He says the size of the columns is abnormal for a single-storey building.
Leon is more impressed with the masonry of the old structure than the one built years later using blocks.
“They went cheaper on this side,” he says, pointing to the other building which now lies in a pile of rubble.
That part of the building will be built up completely, with the new structure matching the old one.
The reconstruction works are closely monitored by the NHC.
According to Mr Mwamulowe, the NHC has three options for conservation rehabilitation, reconstruction and interpretation.
“E.W. Tarry’s is significant to us because it tells the story about the development of Lusaka as a city from the agriculture point of view and from the commercial point of view,” he says.
He calls it sustainable development.
“We have allowed the renovations to take place while at the same time preserving the history of that place. The print of E.W. Tarry is going to be there for many years to come,” he says.
“I know some people will say it is not the original texture, but at least the visual impact will be there,” he says.
For Leon, it is a delicate task trying to reconstruct the building.
“It’s very delicate. I’m also quite passionate about such works. When we originally took the contract, the contract was to demolish the whole building because it was assumed that the entire building was structurally compromised, but then from the demolitions you can see we have taken care to preserve as much of it as we can,” he says.
Even some of the original wooden beams which formed the roof structure will be reused.
Leon says the works are now two weeks behind schedule because of the care going into preserving the old structure.
But this is not just another construction job for the young Swiss.
He has a personal attachment to the building.
Leon’s grandparents came from Switzerland and settled in what was then Northern Rhodesia in the 1950s and they came to buy stuff from this building.
“There is pride in having to be involved in something which your grandparents have some connection to,” he says.
Irshad, too, has connection to the building.
“My grandfather, my great grandfather used to come here. In fact I got some of the old photos from my grandfather and his friends,” he says.
Irshad says a relative of Mr Tarry who lives in Canada recently contacted him wanting to find out about the building.
“But I was out of the country at the time,” he says.
E.W. Tarry building is not just a building; it is a depository of history.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Maina Soko: The mystery, intrigue, conspiracy

Maina Soko's granddaughter, Maina Soko, wants to know where her grandmother was buried.

A street in Ndola City named after Maina Soko.

Brig-Gen. Malyangu says there are no written records about Maina Soko.




SINCE independence, one name has stood out, yet not much is known about the person behind that name.
Maina Soko’s legacy is immortalised in a military hospital named after her.
Maina Soko Military Hospital was initially a maternity annex for the University Teaching Hospital, built in the 1960s.
Then in 1979, it was converted into a military hospital to take care of military casualties of the liberation war.
When the army were looking for a name to name the hospital, Maina Soko was suggested.
To many today, Maina Soko is nothing more than a military hospital located on Ash Road in Woodlands in Lusaka.
This is largely because little is known about Maina Soko; who she really was and what she did has for four decades been shrouded in intrigue.
After her death decades ago, Maina Soko’s story simply faded and whenever it is told, it lacks distinction, with so many grey areas. What remains are questions about her true identity and the role she played in the liberation struggle.
There are different conspiracy theories surrounding Maina Soko.
And perhaps that is what makes her story intriguing.
The Zambia Army portrays Maina Soko as a hero of the liberation war simply because of the way she died.
According to Brigadier-General Evans Malyangu, who is the commandant of Maina Soko Hospital, Maina Soko was a woman who lived in Chiawa in the 1970s.
And on a date unknown, but around the mid-1970s, Maina Soko fell ill and decided to travel from Chiawa to Chirundu to seek medical care.
She was travelling by canoe down the Zambezi River. The canoe was peddled by a male.
But when Southern Rhodesian soldiers spotted the canoe on the river, they fired on it.
“The Rhodesian troops were suspicious of these two people on the river, and therefore they decided to open fire and Maina Soko was hit, but she did not die on the spot,” says Gen. Malyangu.
The male she was with was unhurt and he peddled on until they reached Chirundu.
“Maina Soko was taken to a clinic in Chirundu where she was treated. The incident was reported to the Zambia Army troops who were operating along the border,” he says.
Maina Soko was later repatriated to UTH, where she died of her wounds and was buried at Chingwere cemetery.
But even the general has to admit there is little known about Maina Soko.
“We don’t know much about her because I suppose there was not much written about her, and over the years, we started losing details about Maina Soko,” he says.
“There are quite a number of versions concerning Maina Soko,” adds the general.
The Army version of the story, according to the general, is based on information passed from Maina Soko’s cousin about two years ago.
The general says Maina Soko was considered a war hero because of the way she died.
“The government recognised the contribution she made, she was killed because of the liberation war in Southern Africa, therefore she was in actual fact a war hero,” says Gen. Malyangu.
But there are many civilians who were killed as a result of the liberation war for Southern Rhodesia, why Maina Soko was singled out by the government and military for such honours raises questions about who she really was and what she possibly did.
One man who has tried to discover Maina Soko is film-maker Abdon Yezi.
“What led us to start getting interested into this [Maina Soko story], is that apart from the military hospital, there is a lot of symbolism around her,” he says.
A major road in the city of Ndola, a road in Livingstone and Chipata and a council ward in Mufulira are also named after her.
“Whoever was behind raising the name from a civilian to a military establishment had the desire that this name should not go down,” says Mr Yezi.
He raises a fundamental question: “If Maina Soko was a civilian, how does she become much related to a military establishment, particularly the hospital?”
A few years ago, Mr Yezi began researching into Maina Soko, with the aim of making a film titled “The Intrigue of Maina Soko”.
At the beginning of his quest, which took him to Chiawa and Luangwa district, he did not even know whether Maina Soko was male or female.
The film-maker’s version also talks about a shooting incident on the river, corroborating the army version.
“What I didn’t get is whether she died immediately after being shot,” he says.
What he thinks he knows as a fact is that Maina Soko was a middle-aged female who had a disability caused by leprosy.
She possibly walked with a limp.
The presence of a disabled woman traveling in a canoe down the river would have hardly alarmed the Rhodesian troops.
He also questions whether Maina Soko was taken advantage of because of her disability and used as a human shield.
There are hardly any written records about Maina Soko, even in the newspapers of that period.
“Unfortunately enough when we get into our archives trying to get a bit more of information, it doesn’t seem to come out. I spent quite some time in the National Archives to try and see whether the Daily Mail or Times or any other media had captured the story, unfortunately I couldn’t trace that,” he says.
Mr Yezi says the only reference he came across was by journalist Robby Makai who had covered the story when he worked for the Times of Zambia in the 1970s.
Lastly, I contacted Maina Soko’s granddaughter, who bears the same name as her grandmother, but she was reluctant to make any comment.
When we finally met, the young lady introduced me to a man called Martin Chipakata, and the story of Maina Soko took a new twist.
Martin Chipakata claims to be the custodian of the Maina Soko story.
He has researched into her story and has written a soon-to-be-published book titled “Maina Soko in the Shadow of Kenneth David Kaunda, Belligerence Intelligence”. 
According to Mr Chipakata, Maina Soko was a spy who passed information from the British colonial government to Dr Kenneth Kaunda and the freedom fighters before independence.
Mr Chipakata describes Maina Soko as “an invisible spy” who was very good in espionage.
Maina Soko Kaliza was born in Chiawa and got married to a man called Paul Chipalupalu, who worked as a cook for a man called Peter Cliff.
Mr Cliff is described as a right-hand man to Sir Evelyn Hone, the last governor under the colonial government.
Maina Soko is thus believed to have had access to secret information about the colonial government, which she passed on to the freedom fighters.
“She could give them precise information which she obtained from her husband and it was very helpful,” he says.
After independence, Maina Soko’s husband was offered a job as a driver by Mr Cliff who had resettled in Southern Rhodesia.
Maina Soko should have joined her husband later, but by then she had also become a target for the colonialists in Southern Rhodesia.
“They knew that if she joined her husband, she would continue passing information,” he says.
Sometime in 1965, Maina Soko is said to have suffered from leprosy and decided to seek medical care at a clinic called Mtendere in Chirundu.
“She went very early in the morning with a kid sometime in April. She was in a boat trying to get to the other side when bullets landed,” says Mr Chipakata.
Maina Soko died shortly after of her wounds and President Kaunda is said to have sent a plane to fetch her body.
Mr Chipakata says Maina Soko was 67 years old when she died.
He thinks her death helped to spark the second Chimurenga war, an insurrection against white rule in Southern Rhodesia.
Mr Yezi says the theories of Maina Soko being involved in covert military activities cannot completely be dismissed.
“Maina Soko would be a very good symbol, even with the little information that is there around the role women played particularly in the liberation struggle,” he says.
“We need to start building around that symbolism, whether she was involved in covert activities or not, look at it in terms of what role she played,” he says.
He says since the army has patented the name, they need to raise it up a bit by documenting the story of Maina Soko.
Her granddaughter thinks her grandmother has not been honoured enough for what she did.
And she wants to know where she is buried.
Actually she thinks she is the reincarnation of her grandmother who sees things in the spirit.



Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Could this be the oldest man alive?

White Tembo retired in 1955 and has been living at his farm in Rufunsa since 1956. Pictures by Jack Zimba.

Juliana died on April 18, 2018. She is believed to have been 108 years old.

White Tembo thinks he still has a few more years to live.

Mr Tembo's third daughter Justina (right) is 82 years old.


Could this be the oldest man alive?


 WHEN White Nyamfukudza Tembo comes out of the small house, he is borne like a toddler in the arms of his teenage grandson, and then his fragile frame is carefully placed in a chair.
His grandchildren and great grandchildren gather around and gaze at him like a relic in a museum. Well, at 114 years old, he is a living relic.
“Get me something warm, it’s cold out here,” demands the old man.
His voice is still strong, but he is hard of hearing and one has to shout when speaking to him.
He can hardly see, but he was able to detect the flashlight from my camera.
“Are they taking pictures of me?” he asks his son, Brian.
Sitting beside the old man is his third child, Justina. At 82, she is the oldest living child of the old man.
And next to her is Materesi Phiri, the old man’s sister-in-law. She is believed to be close to a hundred years old.
They are all here because a few weeks ago, the old man lost his wife, Juliana. She was believed to be 108 years old.
Juliana had a history of hypertension and had suffered a stroke in 1956, then the second stroke hit her on April 10.
Her frail body could not take it. She died on April 18.
The old man is still devastated by Juliana’s death. The two are said to have been inseparable.
“They were like two pigeons,” says Brian.
It is a remarkable love affair that spanned over 80 years.
The old man speaks about Juliana with deep fondness.
“As you see me today, I’m mourning. Where is the woman I have lived with?” he asks, tears running down his wrinkled face.
He wants his Juliana back.
“My God, bring back my wife,” he says. “She left me sleeping on the bed. I felt for her with my hand, but she was not there. Where is my friend?” he laments.
When Juliana died, the family could not immediately break the news to the old man, fearing for his fragile heart.
When the old man asked for his wife, they laid his grandchild next to him instead.
Two days later, they could not keep the secret anymore. The old man could not take the news. He wanted to take his own life.
“He asked for poison to end his own life,” says Brian.
The old man did not attend Juliana’s burial, but the family arranged for him to say goodbye to her at home, a little touch of her face as she lay in her coffin.
The family is now trying to use psychosocial counselling to help the old man cope with the loss of his Juliana.
“It is only now that he is beginning to understand that death is there,” says Brian.
The old man seems to find a lot of comfort in his four surviving children, especially his two sons, Brian and Peter. He is only able to recognise them by their voices.
“You are my only family now,” he tells Brian.
The old man still calls his sons with the prefix “ka”, as if they were little boys.
Brian is the eighth-born child of the old man, born in 1962, and then his younger brother, Peter, was born in 1966.
Juliana was in her 50s when she had her last two children.
“The two of us are products of menopause,” says Brian. “Mum was already in her 50s when we were born. We were lucky to be born.”
Brian says he sucked from his mother’s breast until he was five.
“I remember sometimes I would come back from looking after the animals and then I would ask my mother to kneel so I could suck,” he says.
As for his father, he has always known him as an old man.
“I have never seen him young, I have always known him as an old man,” he says.
The old man is chatty and loves to sing. And although his memory seems to be failing him now, especially after the death of his wife, he sounds very reasonable and likes to express his opinion.
“I hear that when a man impregnates a girl in Lusaka, he is punished, to me that is wrong,” he says, almost out of the blue. “Because when that child is born, do you throw it away?”
He is also inquisitive, asking a lot of questions, some too hard to answer.
“Who is my God?” he demands.
The old man is also amused at the prospect he could be the oldest man alive.
“Someone two days ago told me there is no-one in this country who is as old as me. I was surprised. The whole of this country has no-one as old as me?” he asks.
For a centenarian, the old man has the zest for life.
In fact, he thinks he has a few more years to live.
“I’m still here, you will get tired of giving me Coca Cola,” he tells his sons.
The old man likes to drink Coca Cola, but tea is his favourite.
As we speak, a cup of juice is placed in the old man’s hands. He makes the symbol of the cross the Catholic-way and then gulps the liquid.
The old man has a big appetite, so much so that the people around him have nicknamed him Tembo ku nyopola, which translates “Tembo the glutton”.
The old man likes fish and okra, because he only has three teeth remaining in his mouth.
When asked about his secret to long life, the old man becomes animated.
“Ehee! You want to know my secret? If a person is crooked in his dealings, death is never far away,” he says.
“If you kill people, you cannot live long,” he adds.
The old man also talks about his faith as a Christian.
“I was baptised together with my wife and it is God who keeps me,” he says.
Brian says the old man has also led an active life, except the past two years when his legs could not carry him any longer.
A photo taken five years ago shows the old man standing in gumboots.
Juliana is also said to have been active, making tea for her husband even when she clocked 108 years.
In fact, the family thought the old man would die first because he seemed much more frail.
When he was a young man, the old man had a bad lifestyle. He used to drink alcohol a lot.
“It is something I witnessed. Dad used to drink a lot,” says Brian.
The old man was also a big smoker.
But in the late 60s, the old man was diagnosed with a condition and doctors advised him to stop drinking and smoking. He did.
Now, is old White Tembo really 114 years old?
Without any birth records, it is hard to prove the old man’s age. Even his national registration card is blank on his date of birth.
But the account of the old man’s life by his son Brian is very corroborative.
According to Brian, White Tembo was born in 1904 in Luangwa. The old man’s father was a mail runner, who delivered mail between Salisbury (Harare) in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Feira in Luangwa district.
He married a granddaughter of Chief Mburuma of the Nsenga people in Luangwa district, although he already had three wives in Southern Rhodesia. He would marry two more women in Luangwa district to make a harem of seven.
Between 1910 and 1920, the young White Tembo travelled with his uncle to Lusaka where he worked on a big farm in Kabulongo (present-day Kabulonga).
The farm belonged to a German called Mr Schulz and the young boy’s job was to chase birds from the wheat fields.
But when copper was discovered on the Copperbelt, it opened new prospects for jobs. And White trekked up north to seek employment at the newly-opened Nkana mine. The mine was opened in 1928.
He got a job as a caddie at the golf course belonging to the mine.
And then in 1930, he returned to Luangwa, picked up his wife and went to Southern Rhodesia, where he worked on the mines.
White and Juliana are said to have been engaged long before they were married. They were first cousins. In 1932, they had their first child.
In 1954, Mr Tembo returned to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and worked for J.J. Lowe, a construction company. But he worked for only a year and was retired, probably after attaining the age of 50.
He never wanted to settle in Luangwa, so he bought a large piece of land in Rufunsa, where he settled in 1956, rearing cattle. At one time he had a herd of 2,000 animals.
In 1993 when Chief Mburuma died, the old man should have ascended to the throne, but he refused.
The account of Mr Tembo and his family, his links to the Mburuma chieftaincy are a subject of a book, but the manuscript is still on the shelf of a university in Lusaka.
If White Tembo’s age is proved correct, he may enter the records as the oldest man alive.
On April 10‚ a 112-year-old Masazo Nonaka of Japan was named as the oldest man alive. The record holder for the oldest person ever (male) was also Japanese. Jiroemon Kimura was born on April 19, 1897 and died aged 116 years 54 days, on June 12, 2013.
Last week, there was another contender for the world’s oldest man. He is Fredie Blom of Cape Town in South Africa, who celebrated his 114th birthday on May 8.
However, the all-time record for the oldest person ever is held by Jeanne Louise Calment from France, who lived to an unprecedented 122 years 164 days, from 1875 to 1997.

Unmasking the nyau

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