Dialogue and Reconciliation are always possible in human relations if we put aside our egos, pride, fear and oneupmanship. This applies both at the individual, national and international levels. This article will concentrate on the individual level involving my one directional dialogue and reconciliation with the first President of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda (herein referred to as KK).
Such information is personal (but political) and I could have chosen to keep it to myself, after all I am the Author of the book THOUGHTS ARE FREE and believe that such personal stories if told can be vehicles for “teachable moments”, “learnable moments” etc with broader lessons. Everybody has similar stories to mine.
The story of how KK and I entered into a gigantic dispute which needed dialogue and reconciliation is fully told in my book “Thoughts Are Free” so I won’t repeat it here save for a few highlights. Others who were also involved in that episode in issue have had their own dialogues and reconciliations with KK so I won’t drag them into this story.
On June 24, 2018, I learnt that my uncle Mr. Mark Chona was still in communicable reach with KK. I asked of my uncle, “Uncle, can you please take me to KK, I desperately want to meet him as I have an unfinished business with him. I have a one-sided dialogue and reconciliation to engage in”. On June 26, 2018, my uncle and I arrived at State Lodge and I was ushered in to see the Great Old Man KK by his son, Kaweche Kaunda. My uncle had already done the magic advance work that made him famous as Political Assistant to KK many years before. My uncle introduced me to the old man and the old man and I shook and held hands for a long time while I explained that I needed to see and talk to him, that I am very proud of how he engendered peace in Zambia and Zambia is still intact as a nation because of him. As he touched my face with his famous White Handkerchief, he engaged me in perfect Tonga and thanking me for coming to see him. He expressed the view that my greeting was unusual as it was warm and firm. I sat on the coffee table beside him while holding him with both of my hands. Kaweche was snapping away photos. My uncle was seated in a sofa a few inches away. I don’t need to tell you since you all know that KK is a presence of Greatness. I felt it and I am grateful for it. In my position, such an opportunity only comes once in a lifetime.
The old man pointed to two pictures on the whole in front of him. “You see those two pictures, they are on the left that of my wife, Betty and on the right, my mother. They are both gone now. I am remaining alone. Those women meant a lot to me”. “They are gone”. Being a Tonga Bull, I didn’t want to show any signs of emotion, but I was crying loudly inside. For me it was an emotional moment. I had yearned for this scenario and meeting for years. Here is an old man in his 90s, still completely connected in a deeper human way to his wife and mother who are long gone. Deep down we are still all babies, lost in the world and wanting to touch something softer and gentler and comforting, something bigger and stronger than ourselves. I felt tremendous release holding hands with KK during those minutes and emotions. For me those were moments of great dialogue and reconciliation. My mission was simply to shake hands with KK and transfer my goodwill and wishes to him as a form of Dialogue and Reconciliation and in return acquire peace and tranquility that I needed because of the trauma I experienced which I now relay herein below.
I can’t describe it but KK’s and my soul touched hands in those moments. I had never shaken hands with KK or been closer to him in my entire life but he had a great impact on my life. He literally changed my life and I was very bitter about it. It was something that never went away until that personal dialogue and reconciliation on June 26, 2018 and I am telling this story for the first time. I am talking about why I one sidedly needed this dialogue and reconciliation. I can claim I am whole again.
KK had driven me out of Zambia years before. I lived in Tanzania, Canada and the US for 40 years because of KK. In the meantime I lost a lot of what was my Zambian connection and roots. My emotions were completely unsettled all those years. I didn’t need any diagnosis, I knew it. I felt that as young student leaders at UNZA, (I as Vice President of UNZASU at the time) we had a right to freedom of expression on anything and that the expression of that constitutional right in which we never used any violence did not merit detention at Mumbwa Prison for 7 months without a criminal charge or trial. I felt that 6 of us including myself should not have been expelled from university a few months after being released from jail despite the fact that we continued to exercise our constitutional rights. After expulsion the 6 of us were banned from getting any jobs or attending any educational institutions. There was only one university at the time. My father and mother wanted me to go further in education. The detention and expulsion broke their hearts, as it did mine. I was forced to go abroad. The story is not one-sided of course. The Government had their reasons for their actions. The late Daniel Munkombwe brought the issue of our expulsion up in Parliament. He supported the students. Bless his soul.
I never got true respite abroad because of the manner in which I had left my country, involuntarily. For years I had nightmares at night, one dream recurring often during the entire time I was abroad. I knew its source and I knew its meaning.
I tried to exorcise the demons that engulfed my being by engaging in the therapy of writing. I recreated my book which had been confiscated upon release about my prison experience. The book is “Thoughts Are Free”. I got tremendous healing by writing that book. I still get tremendous boost when I reread that book. It heals me. I then wrote CLASS STRUGGLES IN ZAMBIA, 1889-1989 AND THE FALL OF KENNETH KAUNDA, 1989-1991. That book helped me also in healing. The whole nation needed healing from KK’s one party state.
My trauma at the hands of KK continued while I lived abroad. In Tanzania, I was told that I couldn’t enrol in the law school at the University of Dar Es Salaam because KK was a friend of Nyerere and the optics would be poisonous. But I attended all law classes that I wanted to attend and learnt a great deal from great law teachers and professors like Dan Wadada Nabudere, Issa Shivji, Omwony Ojok, Mbilinyi, Costa Mahalu, and others. I got no certificate but I left Tanzania with tremendous knowledge of the law. At the time there was no place like the University of Dar Es Salaam in terms of academic stimulation and live debates. I met Fidel Castro, Ndabaningi Sithole and many other dynamic leaders of liberation movements who passed through Dar Es Salaam.
But KK’s shadow continued to affect my life and happiness or sadness. While living in Washington, DC, I received a call out of the blue from a fellow former Canisius Secondary School student friend by the name of Clement Sunkutu. I asked him how he had gotten my work phone number. He simply said that they had their ways on checking on people. I didn’t pay much attention to that latter statement as it conveyed nothing sinister, until later. He asked me everything about my work, my routine etc and I told him what I did without hesitation, without even a second thought. I was working for a human rights organization near Capital Hill. Life in Washington, DC was fulsome, the centre of the political universe. World leaders were coming in and out. That story is for another day.
Two weeks later after the call from Sunkutu, I heard that KK was coming into Washington, DC and that all Zambians would be invited to a Dinner Party. I was excited. All Zambians in the DC area were excited. Finally I thought I would meet the old man and erase a part of my wounded soul by shaking his hands and reclaim and proclaim my peace.
That was not to be. I was the only Zambian who was not invited to the dinner with KK. That hurt me tremendously. I had never engaged in violence or any conspiracy or unlawful conduct against KK in Zambia or abroad. I left Zambia to pursue my interrupted education. That was prevented in Zambia and Tanzania. Now in the US, I couldn’t even meet KK!
I immediately realized the meaning and importance of the call from Clement Sunkutu. I investigated and found out that he worked for Zambian Intelligence as were many others from Canisius like Philip Mwiinga et al. I have no problem with anybody working for anybody as long as they don’t lie and fabricate stories to advance their careers while damaging the lives of others. They are doing their jobs with dignity if they tell the truth. I contacted Clement Sunkutu and asked him about his call to me at work two weeks previously. Was he spying on me? Did he tell his bosses the truth about me? He replied that they had checked on me and I was completely clean and clear, that I had concentrated on the struggle against Apartheid. Why was I then not invited to the dinner? He said that some people didn’t feel comfortable that I should be there despite the fact that I had never plotted against KK while abroad. Did I plot against KK while in Zambia? He admitted that I hadn’t. It was just out of abundance of caution. We left it at that and I believed him completely.
Years later while living in Canada, Zambians in Canada where invited to welcome KK in Ottawa. KK was passing through on his way to the Caribbean. As a Zambian leader in Canada, I was one of those invited to give a welcoming speech to the visiting KK. The old man had left power by then.
A few days before KK’s arrival in Ottawa, I was disinvited to be in Ottawa to give one of the welcoming speeches. I had prepared a great speech. Naturally my wound was reopened and a lot of salt was again poured onto it. It hurt. I was looking forward to meeting KK and shake his hands and engage into my one-sided dialogue and reconciliation with him in order to enter into a zone of peace within myself. KK was not hurting. I was. The onus was on me to be responsible for my healing. I was the one suffering. KK couldn’t care less. He probably never knew Nyerere refused me to study law at Dar because of him. He probably never knew I was not invited to the dinner with him in DC. He probably never knew I was invited and disinvited to give a welcoming speech in Ottawa. Call me naive.
But I knew all these things because I was the recipient of the treatment. In Tonga we have a saying, “Mwaambi Ulaluba, mwaambilwa talubi”. “The one who tells, forgets but the one who is told never forgets”. There is reasonable doubt as to whether KK knew any of this but others knew of our relationship that led them to prevent me from attending Dar law school, meeting him at dinner in DC and giving a speech to welcome him in Ottawa.
I was one hundred percent sure of what KK knew. KK knew me, KK knew that he detained me at Mumbwa Prison, that he released me from Mumbwa Prison, because he signed the documents, all of which I still have in their original hand and signature, KK knew that I was expelled from UNZA, that I couldn’t attend any educational institution in Zambia, that I couldn’t work in Zambia, and KK knew that I had left for Tanzania and then Canada and US and that I lived in DC, Ottawa and Toronto. That call from Clement Sunkutu was important. I learnt a lot.
The Post Newspaper had interviewed me a number of times and some at The Post had read my “Thoughts Are Free” and sensed that I was hurting. They invited me to unburden by writing a piece on KK on his 90th birthday. What were the positive sides of KK’s stewardship of Zambia, they asked me. I wrote a nice piece I believe. They collected great pieces from a select number of Zambians including my uncle, Mark Chona, VJ, Panji Kaunda, and others. I still have that issue of The Post Newspaper right here with me. A great collection.
Years before when President Chiluba had tried to revoke KK’s citizenship, I had written an article entitled, “Should I Sue KK for Damages for Illegal Rule that Negatively Impacted My Life?”. That was purely an academic exercise that spoke to societal dynamics but contained in it was my continued venting at having lost out on what should have been my most productive life in Zambia. During my absence, a lot of relatives died. I couldn’t just leave and come back, I had planted roots abroad.
But I never gave up on my march towards the one-sided Dialogue and Reconciliation with KK. I have attained the highest level of education in law and visited many continents and great cities and attractions around the world, thanks in part to KK. When they say it is a blessing in disguise or there is a purpose to everything, that is what they mean. This experience. Your experience.
In all this, there was only one part missing to the puzzle. A part of me that KK possessed, a part that needed repair and healing. On June 26, 2018 at State Lodge in New Kasama, KK and I shook hands heartily and I retrieved what belongs to me. I thank my uncle Mark Chona for making this possible and I thank KK for his kind acceptance to meet me and for us to engage in an unstated and one-sided dialogue and reconciliation. I feel real Great again.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa also obtained an MA in International Affairs specializing in Conflict Analysis at The Norman Patterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.