Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A place called Kikonkomene

A place called Kikonkomene






JACK ZIMBA


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

 

Adamson Mushala: As told by his wife


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

Adamson Mushala in 1975.


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

JACK ZIMBA

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

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

 
Sayimbwende took over after Mushala was killed.

Sayimbwende: Mushala’s lieutenant


JACK ZIMBA, Mwinilunga


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

Monday, 8 October 2018

SOS for little Vincent


 
Vincent lies in her hospital bed.

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

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

JACK ZIMBA

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

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Unmasking the nyau


Unmasking the nyau


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

Some characters are beautiful.


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

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


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

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.
 
JACK ZIMBA

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

JACK ZIMBA

 
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.
 

Can anything good come out of Chibolya?

  Abraham Tembo wants to have a music label to promote talent in Chibolya. Pictures by Jack Zimba.  Ethel Kasabi dreams of b...