Thursday, 4 May 2017

My Dad, Kenneth Kaunda

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

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

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

When one wife is not enough

Mr Phiri with his four wives.

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

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

I could have killed my husband

Mutinta pictured at her home.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I felt ashamed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Mutinta was also naïve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was mad, and I was shocked.”

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

Her husband then became absent from home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman was later arrested for assault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*Name has been changed.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Shambalakale: The forgotten mansion


The mansion viewed from the observation post. Pictures by Jack Zimba

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Learn to walk while you can

Chipasha: The worst thing that he ever did was stripping me naked and beating me up
 while all my  neighbours were watching.


CHIPASHA Iliamupu takes a deep breath and fans her face with her hand before she starts to narrate her story. It is a story she has definitely recounted a number of times before, but she still has to gather her inner strength to relive it.

There is a deep sense of sadness in her voice, but she manages to mask it with her amiable face and a warm smile.

The 23-year-old third-year linguistic student at the University of Zambia considers herself a survivor after enduring almost two-and-half years in an abusive marriage she describes as “modern-day slavery”. After breaking out of her abusive marriage eight years ago, Chipasha now wants to use her story to help other women to learn to walk before it is too late.

Chipasha’s story began when she came of age at 14, in her village in Kaoma district, Western Province.

She, like many other girls in her village, was taken to a sikenge, to be initiated into womanhood.

In the Lozi tradition, a sikenge is an initiation school for any girl who comes of age, which is usually when they start their menses.

And when she was 15, Chipasha’s father married her off to a soldier who was 20 years her senior. He paid K300 as bride price for the young virgin.


Chipasha says her father was too poor to support his family of nine children, hence the decision to marry her off.

“I come from a very deprived background. My father and mother had never been in formal employment,” she says, her voice almost breaking as she remembers the start of her path into hell.

And so Chipasha was forced out of school and became a wife and a step-mother to the three children her new husband had fathered with three different women. The oldest of the children was only two years younger than Chipasha.

The young wife soon realised that her marriage was very different from what she was taught at the sikenge.

Chipasha says the abuse from her husband started almost immediately she moved in with her husband, and took various forms, but most traumatising of sexual nature.

“Every time he had sex with me, right from the beginning, he never prepared me for it, he just forced himself on me, which was a very painful experience, contrary to what I was taught that sex was supposed to be an act of love that was enjoyed,” she says.

Before she could celebrate her sixteenth birthday, Chipasha had become a mother to a baby girl, but her frail condition did nothing to stop the insults, blows or assault.

“Sometimes you would find that he beats me and I’m swollen, but he still wants to have sex with me and in a very rough manner,” she says.

Chipasha believes she would have either died from her injuries or even killed had she stayed longer in her marriage.

“I was almost ending up being killed. If I never opened my eyes, or if YWCA (Young Women Christian Association) did not come to my rescue by empowering me with the knowledge that I needed, I would have been ‘late’ by now because it was getting out of hand,” she says.

Like many women in abusive relationships, Chipasha felt some affection towards her husband and hoped that he would stop hurting her. But the abuse only grew worse.

“The worst thing that he ever did was stripping me naked and beating me up while all my neighbours were watching,” she says. 

Although she was insulted, belittled, slapped, punched and kicked she says it is the sexual abuse that has had a lasting impact on her.

“The sexual abuse is still engraved in me, because it hurt me deep inside my flesh and my mind,” she says.

But whatever she went through, Chipasha says: “I didn’t know how terrible it was until I had moved out.”

She thinks her husband’s abusive nature stemmed from his own background – his own father was a polygamist who abused his wives.

But he may also have taken advantage of Chipasha’s vulnerable background as he often boasted: “I can kill you and pay your father”.

Although Chipasha’s father later came to learn about the constant abuse, he could not allow her daughter to seek divorce as he couldn’t afford to pay back the bride price, as required by traditional law.

Her father died while she was still in the early years of her marriage but Chipasha says she never hated him for marrying her off so young.

She thinks he was merely following a tradition passed down from previous generations and believes that some of the time-honoured traditions have led to continued and rising GBV cases.

While she is not against some cultural practices she does have reservations about girls’ initiation ceremonies.

She says initiation practices, which teaches girls as young as 12 how to please a man sexually, and to submit to their husbands unconditionally, leads to women being vulnerable to abuse.

Chipasha blames her silent suffering on the lesson she received at the sikenge.

“When I was secluded [for initiation] I was taught to keep everything that happens in my matrimonial home to myself and that I mustn’t share problem, so it took me time to come out and share what I was going through,” she says.

She says there was a lot of emphasis on secrecy in the marriage during her initiation.

Chipasha also says the lessons that teach a woman how to please a man in bed should only be given when she is ready to get married.

She wants the lessons in the sikenge to just focus on hygiene when girls are having their menses.

“I will never take my girl to a sikenge, that I have vowed. If it means fighting, I will fight it with the last drop of my blood,” she says.


Ilyamupu’s husband abused her even more when she demanded to be taken back to school.

But determined to continue her education, Chipasha sold drinking water to pupils in order to raise money to pay for her grade nine examination fees, and bought booklets so she could study at home.

She passed her exams, and when she went to another school, she found help with the YWCA, and she gathered more courage to leave.

“One day I decided I was going to walk out no matter what,” she says.

Some people, however, tried to persuade Chipasha to stay, but she had seen enough.

“I thought I had seen all the pages of his book and it was up to me to stick around him and die or to leave and lead a better life without him,” she says.

“They knew his public life, but I moved in his private life,” she says.

Today, Chipasha is now less trusting of men and almost vows never to get married again.

“Anytime I think of being in a relationship, all that comes is what I went through,” she says.

She thinks women in abusive relationships should break the silence and speak about their sufferings.

“I think we should be breaking out more,” says Chipasha.

YWCA programmes manager Mirriam Mwiinga, says: “When the situation is bad, walk out.”

Ms Mwiinga says many women her organisation deals with are afraid of walking out of abusive marriages for economic reasons, while other fear losing their status.

“We have also noticed over years that some people get used to GBV,” she says.

The YWCA runs seven temporally protective shelters around the country, helping abused women, sometimes with economic empowerment.

Zambia has in the past year recorded a slight increase in cases of gender-based violence, according to recent data by the Zambia Police Service, with a worrying trend of spousal killings.

According to statistics released by police last week, 18,540 cases of gender violence were recorded last year, compared to 18,088 for 2015.

The statistics also show that the country recorded 77 murders related to gender-based violence. Of these, 36 murder victims were male, while 30 were female, seven were girls, plus four boys. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

60 years of ‘Sister Act’

Sister Maria Regina. Picture by Jack Zimba


 AS A little girl Regina Kuhlmann dreamt of travelling to Africa and serving as a Catholic nun.

And so in 1952, when she was only about 18 years old, Regina, who would later be known by her Christian name “Maria”, decided to follow her dream. She left Germany for Africa to begin her new way of life.

Although her parents were devout Catholics, Maria, who is the oldest of five children, says it was very hard for her family to let her go, but they never tried to stop her.

Perhaps what made it even harder for the Kuhlmanns to let their daughter leave the family and travel to Africa was the fact that they, like millions of Germans at the time, were still trying to rebuild their lives after World War II.

Now aged 85, Maria still has fresh memories of the war.

“When the sirens went off, we had to get out of bed and look for a safe place. Before the war ended in 1945, we had lost everything,” she says.

Maria’s father, who was serving in the German army at the time was captured by Russian soldiers and kept as a prisoner of war for years.

“It was an anxious waiting. We were not sure if he was alive or not,” says Maria.

But in 1950, the captured soldier did return home.

However, by then, Maria had become even more determined to leave her country for the missionary field – Africa.

Maria first arrived in South Africa in 1952 where she trained to be a nun, and then later did her training to become a nurse.

In 1956, Maria began working in a hospital in South Africa until 1962 when she was posted to Zambia (Northern Rhodesia then) and begun working at a small missionary outpost in Lukulu.

She speaks about Lukulu with some fondness.

“We were not rich that we could get all the medicine and food, but it was nice to help the people; and the people were happy, and we were happy. What else could we want?” she says. 

In the evenings, Maria and her fellow nuns sat down together singing and working on handicrafts.

Years later, Maria was posted to Lewanika General Hospital in Mongu where she worked in the theatre.

In 2007, Maria was posted to Lusaka, where she has devoted her time in establishing a school in Chalala.

And on January 7, this year, Maria Regina Kuhlmann, who belongs to the Congregation of Holy Cross, celebrated 60 years of a life given to poverty, chastity and obedience, but is very unpretentious about her long service, attributing everything to prayer.

“If you pray in the morning and put your day in God’s hands and say ‘Lord, what comes, comes, I will take it. If it is nice, I will be happy, and if it is hard, I will offer it up,’ then you can make it,” she says.


There has been a push within and outside the Catholic Church to change the celibacy law to allow priests and possibly nuns to marry, but for Maria that is unthinkable.

“I’m old fashioned, I couldn’t imagine that,” she says. “If I had a family with four children, how would I go out and do all the work?”

“I have chosen celibacy and I will stick to it,” she says.

When asked if she ever desired to have a family of her own, Maria replies:

“It never really occurred to me that I would like such.”

She instead talks fondly about the children she helped to nurse during her active service.

Maria also dismisses any suggestion that she chose to become a nun because she did not have a social life.

“I did have a good family and I had a good life,” she says.

Maria talks of going out for movies and attending parties as a teenager.

“I never had a real friend from the male side. I had male friends, but we were friends, like friends, open. There was never anything,” she says.

Maria says she was never swayed from the thought of going to Africa and becoming a nun.

“I’m simply different, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” she says with a chuckle.

“If you had to make a decision again today, would you still choose to be a nun?” I ask her.

“Yeah, of course,” she responds immediately, almost as if that answer had been there all the time.

“I don’t regret a minute. No!” she says.

But Maria admits times have changed, and talks implicitly about the social influences today when one is making such a decision.

“In 1951 when I entered [the sisterhood] there was no TV, there was not much social life,” she says.

But Maria almost loses her composure when she talks about the behaviour of young women today.

“I’m ashamed the way some women here behave, the way they dress, the way they show themselves. What about your dignity as a woman? It has been lost,” says Maria.

“It’s their life, but I feel ashamed to be a woman that you can get your dignity and throw it away,” she says.

About twice a year, the convent where Maria belongs in Kabulonga, Lusaka, invites young girls to stay with the nuns as a way of showing them their way of life, after which they can then decide whether to join the sisterhood or not.

Maria says the girls are never talked into joining the sisterhood.

“It is their decision not our decision. We lead them towards it, but we don’t say ‘come and join us’, they come out of their own free will,” she says.


For six decades, Maria has led a Spartan life, completely devoid of luxuries, including cosmetics and jewellery.

“I wouldn’t know how to apply lipstick, but still I’m happy so why should I apply it?” says Maria.

The octogenarian is softly spoken, with a genial face now touched by age.

Among Maria’s treasured possessions is an old photo of her family, a wooden cross, a curved image of the Virgin Mary and some curved images of guardian angels she was given by her family in Germany.

She also treasures a rosary she received from Pope John Paul II when she met him at the Vatican years back.

And when she dies, Maria wants to remain modest. She does not want an expensive coffin.

“I wouldn’t like that,” she says.

Once every three years, Maria goes to Germany to visit her family, but almost scoffs at the idea of her going back to live there. 

“I don’t feel at home any more in Germany. We don’t fit in the life of the people outside the convent. We don’t. Perhaps if I was younger, say 40 or 50 years old, but no,” she says.

Even when she dies, Maria wishes to be buried in Zambia.

“We have no money to fly a body to Germany, and who would look after me in Germany?” she asks.

“I wouldn’t go back, alive or dead,” she says with a chuckle.

Maria wants to reach 100 years, but does not want to become a burden to the people around her when she is too old to do things for herself.

Outside the small convent, Maria shows off her garden with banana trees heavy and bent-over with fruit. It keeps the old nun busy for now.



Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Stockholm: A picture-postcard city

Beautiful Stockholm.




THERE is nothing more comforting than the screeching of tyres on the runway and a little jolt back and forth.

It is that sound and feeling, not the assuring voice of the pilot or flight attendant that confirms you have safely landed on terra firma. 

“Welcome to Sweden,” said the waiting taxi driver with a broad smile on his face.

After 13 hours of flight, I was relieved that I was not going to spend time at Arlanda Airport before my arranged transport arrived to take me to my hotel in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. Airports, no matter how big and posh can be such boring places, and the niggling thought that one is in-between places can be sickening.

Well, at least for me.

I was in the Scandinavian or Nordic country on invitation by the Swedish Institute to look at some of its novel innovations meant to reduce greenhouse emissions and encourage sustainable living.

The taxi driver, a Turkish migrant, was kind enough to point out some important buildings on the way to the hotel, including the Nobel Museum.

I was booked at the First Hotel Reisen, an 18th century hotel situated in Gamla Stan or the Old Town.

The hotel overlooks a picturesque waterfront with white boats of varying sizes and shapes moored along the river.

About 200 metres from the hotel is the Royal Palace, a grand and imposing building with 600 rooms. 

Stockholm is a scenic city surrounded by water. Actually the city is made up of 14 islands connected by bridges, and one can even take a tour of the city by boat.

The city also has a well-developed and integrated transport system combining tramlines, bus lanes and bicycle lanes.

Every morning at breakfast during my short stay, I sat by a large window and watched the Swedes as they traveled to work. Many of them cycled.

The city also has an elaborate subway, and it is not just an underground tunnel, but an art gallery.

Large cruise ships, some as high as six stories can also be seen docked at various harbours in the city. Some vessels are so big that they appear to be part of the city blocks.

Stockholm is devoid of skyscrapers, which is by design, really. Few buildings rise above 10 floors. This provides a panoramic view of the landscape from various vantage points.

The city also has many green spaces, after all this is a country of tree huggers. Swedes place such great value on nature; they go to great lengths in protecting it.

And every citizen has the right to roam. No, I’m not talking about mobile phone connectivity. Rather, it means anyone can set up camp at any open space for a few days. This law is based on the belief that everyone must have access to nature.

Sweden is a land of freedoms and almost everything is subjected to a vote. In fact, Sweden was the first country to legalise same sex marriage in 1944, not surprising for a country that is deeply irreligious, as I was constantly reminded.

It is hard to define Swedes in terms of dress or music – I heard some Bob Marley and even some Paul Simon in the hotel restaurant and lobby. But no doubt, one of Sweden’s most popular contributions to the music industry is ABBA. The quartet were such a sensation, they have a museum dedicated to them.

Life in Stockholm

Life in Stockholm appears very beautiful, but also very uneventful and predictable. Every car stops at the red light, and the night is devoid of the sirens that characterise big cities.

Besides, the Swedes themselves seem very reserved and private people, showing little interest in strangers. It did not matter that I was the only black person in a restaurant; very few eyes rolled my way, which made me feel rather bad.

Discussing Nordic social trust and radical individualism in a journal, Henrik Berggren and Lars Tragardh predict that “…the world might be a more reasonable but also possibly duller place if it were inhabited solely by Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns.”

And I could not agree more.

And for all its beauty and serenity, Stockholm is a super expensive city, a fact that its residents will readily admit.

But that is not a huge problem in a country ranked by the World Bank as having the seventh highest per capita income in the world. The poor are far fewer here. I did come across three or four women begging on the streets and when we visited one of the poor areas, a colleague from Estonia had to ask how “poor” was defined in Sweden.

The Old Town

One remarkable thing about Stockholm is how the old masonry has been preserved and blended with the new.

The Old Town, with its cobbled narrow streets and medieval alleyways between centuries’ old buildings is really a remarkable place and attracts hundreds of tourists every day.

The town, which dates back to the 13th century, is like an open air museum with many curio shops that sell memorabilia of all kind, including Viking helmets and Viking dolls. 

Some buildings in the Old Town are as old as 700 years. Most of them have undergone some form of modernisation such as being fitted with electric door locks for card entry, but their original architecture has been maintained.   

Gamla Stan is such a welcoming place and gives one the feeling of going back in time many centuries.

One frigid evening, we sat in a pizzeria located on the ground floor of a seven centuries old building. The room looked like an old mine tunnel with an exposed woodwork and Spartan furniture.

It is here where I met Safi, a handsome chatty young Afghan man who migrated to Sweden nine years ago, and now works at the pizza shop.

“The Swedish people are good people,” he said after laying a plate of sizzling peperoni pizza before me.

“Maybe out of 5,000, you can find only one Swedish who is racist, but they won’t show it,” he said with a middle eastern accent.

Safi’s statistic may not be accurate, but Sweden has a large number of migrants. A large community of Somalis and Iraqis now call Sweden home, while the current immigrant crisis in Europe has brought many Syrians to the borders of the Nordic country.

Inevitably, the migrant crisis has become topical among Swedes and clearly not everyone is welcoming to the newcomers.

Two days after I met Safi, a school teacher and a pupil were killed in a racially-motivated knife attack.

I wonder if Safi changed his opinion about the Swedes after that.

During my short stay in Stockholm, I added two words to my vocabulary: fika and tack.

The two small words mean a lot to the Swedes. Tack means thank you, while fika, put simply, is a coffee break, although it seems to have more meaning among the Swedes than just sipping on a brew made of roasted bean seeds - brotherhood, perhaps.

 “Tack,” I said to the taxi driver after he dropped me at Arlanda Airport.


* Here is a tip for men when you are flying abroad, put on a tight fitting trousers that does not require a belt to hold your waist. It saves you the trouble and embracement during those annoying but necessary security checks.