Dad, who is a hero and who are Zambia’s heroes?

[By Parkie Mbozi]

During this time of lockdown, with no idea whatsoever when non-examination classes will re-open, I have been turned into dad-cum teacher for our Grade 9 son Hamwenda.

So, on Heroes Day, Monday July 6, during our Civics session, Hamweda asked, “Dad, who is a hero and who are Zambia’s heroes? To make sure I was crystal clear, I took a dictionary and read this definition: “a hero is someone who gives of himself, often putting his own life at great risk, for the greater good of others.” I further read a Wiki definition that, “a hero is a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage or strength.”

At this point my son prodded me to explain the significance of the two-day holiday and who we should have in mind when celebrating heroism in Zambia. So, I went on to explain that government set aside the first weekend of July every year to remember and celebrate the achievements of our heroes. The country has produced heroes in almost every facet of life: sports, art, trade unionism, business, religion, farming, health, defense and security and several other sectors. All these deserve recognition and have a place in Zambia’s history.

My son and I agreed that while there are many heroes in other facets of Zambia’s life and history, my answer to his second question should focus on heroes of the country’s liberation struggle. We often refer to the men and women who worked hard to not only free the country from colonial bondage but also set the model of moral and ethical leadership as the founding fathers of our country. So, I went on to explain to my son why these gallant Zambians are not only revered but also commemorated to-date, almost three decades since they left office.

And below is what I said about their qualities.
Were brave pioneers, innovators and pacesetters: the heroes initiated the liberation struggle in the 1930s. The initial goals of the campaign were to prevent the amalgamation of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland to form the British-controlled Central African Federation. They also called for an end to racist discrimination against the black majority within the political, economic, and social spheres of Northern Rhodesia. However, towards the end of the 1950s, radical campaigners began expanding their vision for a more democratic and just future. They called not only for the disbanding of the Federation, but also for the formation of an independent state (Zambia) that would be free from European colonial domination.

They used various innovate strategies to fight for freedom. For instance, in 1957 young Sikota Wina began publishing African Life, the first ever newspaper by an African for Africans. They faced numerous atrocities, including arrests and imprisonment, but they fought on even amid the infamous Public Order Act. They did not have constitutional rights and liberties as we have today but that did not deter them from waging mass protests, strikes, boycotts and pickets.

Young but focused and consistent: the heroes did not wait to get ‘old’ before they could confront the dreadful colonial power and to take up the mantle of leadership. They were young/youths, in their teens, early 20s and 30s. Some of them were forced out of school to fight for the liberation of the country. As a matter of fact, it was the sole-called young Turks that broke away from ANC to form ZANC, the forerunner to UNIP, in 1959, and are credited for accelerating the independence victory.

Their leader – Kenneth Kaunda – was only 40 years old when he became president of Zambia. Vernon Mwaanga, for instance, was 24 in October 1964 when he became Zambia’s first diplomat, as deputy high commissioner in London and 26 in 1966 when he was appointed Zambia’s ambassador to the United Nations. The heroes were also consistent and resisted all forms of infiltration or manipulation.
They united when it mattered most: the heroes faced numerous and enormous forces that threatened their unity of purpose and did differ often over strategies to liberate the country. For instance, in 1959 the more vibrant young Turks, as they called themselves, broke away from the African National Congress (ANC) and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC), the forerunner to the United National Independence Party (UNIP).
However, they were able to unite for a common good. For instance, the country’s first African government, formed in 1962, was a coalition of UNIP and the ANC, without which the colonial government would have won the election. Likewise, in 1972 the ANC and UNIP signed the Unity Accord, commonly known as the Choma Declaration, that ushered in a one-party state and an end to seven years of vitriol tribal politics.

When ordained to rule they did with honesty: the heroes served government with honesty, integrity and honour. Despite the absence of opposition parties between 1972 and 1991, they served public office without seeking to enrich themselves, their families and friends or becoming tenderpreneurs of government contracts. Neither did they use public office for designer shoes and suits or to out-compete their political rivals in wealth. They wore safari suits made locally. Their children went to the same schools that we, the ordinary people, went to. They went, and still go, to the same local hospitals that we the ordinary people go to. Without exception they used commercial flights and Zambia Airways when air travel was necessary. To demonstrate their resolve to protect public resources, they enacted the famous Leadership Code (for public and civil servants) through Statutory Instrument, 1974, No. 108, Corrupt Practices Act (1980) and formed SITET.

On Dr Kaunda’s 96th birthday on April 30, 2020, Enock Kavindele, a former UNIP member of the central committee (MCC) said: “To be honest with you, I miss the Leadership Code. I wish the leadership code would still be there. What that would have meant would be [that] leaders would not be in businesses competing with real business people, because as it is now if you were to tender for anything, for any work, amongst the people you would be competing with will be leaders who will sit on that committee adjudicating the fate of what you would have put in; so totally unfair.” So well summarised.

Little wonder despite the hullabaloo peddled by then opposition MMD that UNIP leaders stole $6 billion, not a single former public official was convicted, let alone accused of embezzlement of public funds. At the time of leaving office in 1991, Dr Kaunda had no house other than an incomplete structure at his Chinsali farm. For many years he lived in Kalundu in one provided by a good Samaritan.

United the tribes through appointments: the heroes were self-aware about and appreciative of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country. They exercised love and ingenuity by ensuring that all the tribal groupings and provinces of the country were represented in cabinet and senior government posts like permanent secretaries, ambassadorial and in parastatals. It was called ‘tribal balancing’. Likewise, they did not call others ‘tribal’ simply as a smokescreen for their own ‘white-collar’ tribalism. They used the eight slots for nominated MPs to coopt ethnic and special interest groups that were not represented in cabinet and not political cadres.

Ceded power without any attempt to rig the election: the heroes faced two tests of character before they exited office after 27 years. The first was the strong wind of change for multiparty or liberal democracy, which began with the fall of eastern Europe and the entire communist/socialist bloc. In late 1990 they ceded to the demands for a return to multiparty politics and released all political prisoners. They called off the planned referendum and announced dates for multiparty elections in 1991, with two years left to their term.

As for the second test, holding of the elections, all international observers hailed them for allowing for free elections that ushered in the MMD. Two observer groups – the Carter Centre and NDI – for instance reported, “In contrast to its counterparts in Zimbabwe and Kenya, the Zambian ruling party did not take advantage of incumbency to subvert election results.” The Carter report adds, “Vote rigging and violent displacement were not used to remake electoral geography.” The observers further noted that civil servants were sternly warned against interference in the elections (Bratton, 1992) and hailed Dr Kaunda for having “graciously accepted the will of the people.’’ Contrast with what was written about the 2016 election, “The violence witnessed in 2016 included molestation and intimidation, seizure of public property, public disorder, vandalising of party property, lawlessness and aggressive rhetoric” (Mukunto, 2019).

For years, UNIP maintained a powerful youth wing also known as ‘vigilante’. However, these were never armed with pangas, machetes and guns and were restrained from tampering with the electoral process (ZIMT, 1992). Nor were cadres ever used to camp at courts to intimidate judges. And when UNIP and Dr Kaunda lost the 1991 elections, he quoted 1 Kings 3:16-28 – King Solomon and the two women who went to him both claiming to be the mother of the baby. “Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed, “give it to the other woman.’’

They made honest mistakes: the heroes were not saints or angels. They were human like us. They made mistakes but not out of dishonesty but rather (mis)judgment. Some made personal mistakes long after office, such as involvement in illicit drugs or reluctance to hand over power to a new generation within their party. However, we can safely say these errors of judgment had nothing to do with the governance, let alone resources, of the country.

“Thank you, Dad,” said Hamwenda. “Now I understand and see the difference.” We parked our books and headed for lunch.

The author is a media, governance and health communication researcher and scholar with the Institute of Economic and Social Research, University of Zambia. Send comment to: pmbozi5@yahoo.com

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