Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:19:12 +0000

By Philip Chirwa

ONCE upon a time, during the Second Republic when UNIP reigned supreme under a one-party state set up, backbenchers in Parliament played an important role in providing checks and balances to the government of the day.

Although they belonged to the same party, they were able to use their privileged position to expose corruption and other vices in high places and to put the government to task on any acts or omissions they deemed to be of national interest.

We had outspoken MPs like Mr. Valentine Kayope (Bahati), Mr. Saul Chipwayambokoma (Chisamba), Mr. Maxwell Sibongo (Kabwata), Mr. Whitson Banda (Malambo) and Mr. Dingiswayo Banda (Mandevu), to name but only a few.

A typical example of how backbenchers helped in keeping the government in check occurred early 1980 when veteran politician, the late Mr. Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, fell ill.

Mr. Nkumbula had been sick for some time. He was in and out of hospital. The then president, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, would often find time to visit him each time he was admitted to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH).

What the public was not being told, however, was why the old man was not being evacuated to get specialist treatment overseas since it appeared in the eyes of the layman that local doctors were unable to treat him.

Then came the information that the reason Mr. Nkumbula was not able to travel overseas for treatment was that the government had frozen his bank account for undisclosed reasons.

This information apparently shocked and infuriated backbenchers in Parliament and they demanded that the government unfreeze the account “immediately” to save the old man’s life. This was on February 12, 1980.

Mr. Whitson Banda (Malambo) appealed to government to help Mr. Nkumbula, adding that Mr. Nkumbula was on the point of becoming a “beggar.”

Mr. Dingiswayo Banda (Mandevu) said: “I would like to have an explanation from the Prime Minister why an old freedom fighter, Mr. Nkumbula, is languishing.”

Mr. Maxwell Sibongo (Kabwata) asked: “Is it in order for the government to neglect a personality like him? What can a common man expect from the government if Mr. Nkumbula is neglected?”

As expected, the wide publicity given to the issue by the public media attracted immediate reaction – this time from prominent Lusaka businessman, Mr. Michael Sata. On 13 February, 1980, he addressed a press conference at which he disclosed that he and a number of fellow businessmen had teamed up to sponsor Mr. Nkumbula’s specialised treatment overseas.

And Mr. Nkumbula, who had been discharged from hospital the previous day, told the Zambia Daily Mail at his Libala Stage One home: “It is great. I am very grateful indeed. It’s a good thing to know that one has got friends. I need every assistance I can get.”

Mr. Sata said that Mr. Nkumbula had not requested for assistance, adding: “We just feel that it is important to help this senior statesman.”

But he declined to name other businessmen involved, pointing out that the handful of them were confident to raise enough money for Mr. Nkumbula’s air ticket, treatment and stay in England.

As you probably might have correctly guessed, the “Michael Sata” I am talking about was later to join politics, get elected as councillor   for Bauleni Ward, become Lusaka Urban district governor and an assistant Minister in Dr Kaunda’s government and a full cabinet Minister and MMD National Secretary in the Chiluba regime before he ditched MMD and formed PF that eventually enabled him to be elected Republican President in 2011.

President Sata died in office on 28 October, 2014, while undergoing medical treatment abroad.

Meanwhile, the announced intention of Mr. Sata and his colleagues to come to Mr. Nkumbula’s rescue might have jerked the government into action. On Friday, 15 February, 1980, the Prime Minister at the time, the late Mr. Daniel Lisulo, issued a policy statement in Parliament denying that the government had frozen Mr. Nkumbula’s account.

The Prime Minister also informed the House that the Ministry of Health had decided to send Mr. Nkumbula overseas for specialised treatment any time he was ready.

Mr. Lisulo, however, explained that the findings of a panel of consultants who assessed Mr. Nkumbula clinically to determine his suitability for overseas treatment did not reveal any special need for such treatment. He said Mr. Nkumbula would be sent overseas on purely psychological grounds.

The clinical examination revealed that Mr. Nkumbula was suffering from high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis – the thickening and loss of elasticity of blood vessels – and osteo – arthritis of hips and ankles. He would leave for overseas as soon as his blood pressure stabilised and the weather favourable.

On Mr. Nkumbula’s bank account, Mr. Lisulo said the government was not aware that it was frozen. He said, however, that government was aware that sometime in October, 1978, one of Mr. Nkumbula’s partners in business made an application to the High Court for the issue of an injunction restraining Mr. Nkumbula and his company from drawing some money from the company account.

“I understand that proceedings still continue in the High Court,” he said.

Asked by Mr. Dingiswayo Banda (Mandevu) why the government did not move in and allow Mr. Nkumbula to get his money, the Prime Minister said: “Once a matter is between two individuals, it is not fair for the government to move in and use a big stick. This would be a very dangerous precedent and it is against the constitution. It would be a very serious breach and I would not want to be part and parcel of this.”

Mr. Lisulo said the delay in producing the facts was due to government trying to get all the correct facts so that they could prove “all the MPs who were making statements on Mr. Nkumbula to boost their popularity wrong. It is now up to the public to judge.”

He said the government had never frozen Mr. Nkumbula’s personal account as had been reported in the press but that it was the action of his business partner.

The Prime Minister added: “It is really a matter of extreme regret that the personal life of this great son of Zambia and the doyen of Zambian politics should be discussed in a manner which tends to lower his gigantic status in the eyes of those people who hold him in the highest esteem.”

But who was Mr. Nkumbula? For the benefit of our young readers, Mr. Nkumbula was born in 1916 (exact date not known) at Maala Village in Namwala.  Popularly known simply as “Old Harry.”

According to available historical records, Mr. Nkumbula received his early formal education at Methodist mission schools in the Southern Province, completing his Standard V1 at the Kafue Training Centre in 1934. He then taught in Namwala for several years.

In 1938, Mr. Nkumbula joined the Northern Rhodesian government’s teaching service and later worked in Kitwe and Mufulira on the Copperbelt. During World War 11 he became involved in African nationalist politics, like many other educated Africans of the day. For example, he held the position of secretary of the Mufulira Welfare Association and co-founded the Kitwe African Society.

Meanwhile, he went to Chalimbana Training School in 1946, after which he proceeded to Kampala’s Makerere University College in Uganda.

This was made possible by the support of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, a pro-black British settler politician who made Shiwang’andu his home.

From Makerere, Mr. Nkumbula went on to study for and received a diploma from the Institute of Education, University of London. In London, Mr. Nkumbula had an opportunity to meet other African nationalists who were galvanised after attending the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England.

In 1949 he worked with Nyasaland’s now Malawi) Kamuzu Banda in drafting a document that expressed African opposition to the introduction of the proposed Central African Federation. This collaboration prepared the two men for their subsequent struggles with the colonialists in their home countries.

After his Makerere diploma Mr. Nkumbula enrolled at the London School of Economics to study economics.

He did not stay long there and returned to Northern Rhodesia without a degree early 1950.

As an uncompromising opponent of the Federation, Mr. Nkumbula was elected president of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress in 1951. The party was soon renamed African National Congress (ANC). In 1953, Dr Kenneth Kaunda became secretary-general of the ANC.

When Mr. Nkumbula called for a national strike – disguised as a “national day of prayer”- in opposition to the Federation, the African population did not respond. This was due to the opposition of the president of the African Mineworkers Union, Lawrence Katilungu, who campaigned against the strike on the Copperbelt.

In 1953, the white colonial settlers established the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland against the wishes of the black African majority. In the early months of 1954, Mr. Nkumbula and Dr Kaunda organised a partially successful boycott of European-owned butcheries in Lusaka. However, Mr. Nkumbula, Dr Kaunda and the ANC found it difficult to mobilise their people against the Federation.

In 1955, Mr. Nkumbula and Dr Kaunda were imprisoned together for two months (with hard labour) for distributing “subversive” literature. Such imprisonment and other forms of harassment were normal rites of passage for African nationalist leaders. The experience of imprisonment had a moderating influence on Mr. Nkumbula, but it had a radicalising effect on Dr Kaunda.

Opposition to Mr. Nkumbula’s “weak” leadership led to a split, wth Dr Kaunda forming the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) in October, 1958. ZANC was banned in March, 1959, and in June Dr Kaunda was imprisoned for nine months with hard labour.

While Dr Kaunda was still in prison, UNIP was formed late in 1959. Once he came out of prison, Dr Kaunda took over the leadership of UNIP, which became better organised and more militant than Mr. Nkumbula’s ANC. Due to this, UNIP rapidly took the leadership position in the struggle for independence, eclipsing ANC.

During the 1962 elections, the ANC won seven seats and held the balance of power between UNIP and the UFP.

Eventually Mr. Nkumbula chose to form a coalition with UNIP and he was given the post of Minister of African Education.  The UNIP-ANC alliance lasted until the pre-independence elections of January, 1964, when UNIP won 55 seats to the ANC’s ten seats. Mr. Nkumbula became leader of the opposition.

When Kaunda moved to convert Zambia into a one-party state, Mr. Nkumbula consented to signing a document called the Choma Declaration on 27 June 1973 and announced he was joining UNIP. The ANC ceased to exist after the dissolution of Parliament in October 1973

The “Old Lion of Zambia” died at the University Teaching Hospital on October 8, 1983 aged 67.

The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant, recipient of the 1978 Best News Reporter of the Year Award and a former diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827/0967146485 or email: pchirwa2009@yahoo.com.

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