Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Maina Soko: The mystery, intrigue, conspiracy

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

A street in Ndola City named after Maina Soko.

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




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



Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Could this be the oldest man alive?

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

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

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

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


Could this be the oldest man alive?


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

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