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ZAMBIA: A CONTRADICTION OF INDEPENDENCE

By DARLINGTON CHILUBA

AS a country, we have been socialised to celebrate our national independence of October 24, 1964 with such necessary reverence and pride.

It is embedded so deep in the national psyche – the education and administrative systems to always remember this day so that we never forget that we were once ruled over by those that denied us our place as people deserving respect.

To us, October 24 is as sacrosanct as those who fought to liberate our nation from the dehumanisation of colonialism.  

It is critical to state that the independence of Zambia was necessary and important for the continent and much more the citizens of this country.

Zambia is one of those countries that, from the beginning, found it practical not to prioritise the violent option for liberation, to a larger scale than the administrative one.

This was in spite of freedom fighters here facing similar heartless abuses to those fighting for independence in other African nations. Our freedom fighters’ quickness of mind to undermine the colonial authorities and avoid their interception of the liberation movement has been detailed in many accounts.

So too, the brilliant and authoritative mental quality of leading freedom fighters, Mr. Simon Kapwepwe, Mr. Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, Mr. Munukuyumbwa Sipalo, Mr. Sikota Wina, Mr. Titus Mukupo, Mr. Robinson Nabulyato, Dauti Yamba and many others that must not be forgotten. 

The clarity of thought to explain why independence was important did not fail to enforce the principle of human dignity, of self-determination, or that there was not a hierarchy of people wherein the African was at the bottom pile of the human race.

Consequently, more than subsequently, we won independence after a transition government in 1963 which culminated in that October 24, 1964 independence with a constitution to anchor and guide the new nation.

The transition was important because no administrative government of that nature had existed before and neither had there been a nation called Zambia, hitherto.

With this experience, Zambia in later years exported its government officials into some newly independent countries like Namibia and others to foster administrative management of those nations. As it turned out, managing national resources needs deliberate, guided and complementary action. In economics, these national resources or factors of production are simplified as land, labour and capital. 

Hence the purpose of colonialism was, to a large extent, economic dispossession which took over indigenous land and all natural resources.

The prevailing laws, now called traditional or customary, were either upended, ignored, circumvented or downright stopped. Local labour was used to earn tax for foreign, nay colonial governments. Indigenous peoples were rented in their own nations and they became tenants in their own countries.   

In this respect, independence would be pointless if the newly independent citizens continued renting capital in their own country. If the only change after independence was replacing colonisers with Africans, but without consequential change to the material and mental state of the citizens, then that independence would be artificial. For Zambia, history records that it progressively educated its citizens from primary to tertiary education and built the necessary infrastructure to ensure the country became a nation. 

In time, after just nine years, the inherited constitution of 1964 was changed in 1972 in Lusaka so that reflective, consultative and representative politics were all barred. Contestation, for the presidency in particular, became a privilege beyond all normal citizens save for the then President Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

Economically, private enterprise was barred and private companies were nationalised. Social and civil rights were all, but absent. Indeed, even this subject has copious literature and we will not rewrite or exaggerate what was, in any case, an agonising period. Suffice to state, there was no political, economic or social freedoms at all. 

What has not been well documented, however, with equal reverence is the struggle for social, political and economic independence which went on for 17 years until 1991. The struggle for democracy, or the battle for the internal liberation of citizens is barely mentioned.

What is not celebrated is the restoration of citizens’ rights in the place of their birth. Firstly, through the reinstatement of Article IV of the constitution to allow plural politics, elections and representation going beyond the United National Independence Party (UNIP) momentarily, something forced by the trade unions, the Church and students, particularly from the University of Zambia. 

Secondly, and more principally, the actual changes in the law to allow permanent political contestation beyond just elections. To restore true reflective representation of the nation in the legislature, Judiciary and other areas of government.  

Furthermore, the deliberate policy shift to overhaul the entire economic system of the country which had been at play since 1972 so that national resources work for the citizens in reality.

To wield the country from a restrictive government of handouts to an economy of entrepreneurs and landlords, masters of our own capital. 

Thirdly, and far more important, to ensure that all leadership functions are replicated in civil society and represent the human dignity of Zambians. For example, it seems a small thing now to have human faces on presidential ballot papers; but at one point, there was either an animal (even a frog) or garden tool meant to reflect all opposition willing to contest that office; and only one human face for the incumbent.  

Without dwelling on the politics of the time with subjective disdain, it is essential to recall and celebrate that in addition to political independence, there was a struggle for democracy which cost lives and livelihoods.

An independent nation is not a country if it takes away the independence of its own people. The nation cannot be holier than or separate from its people.

It is the people who make a nation. It is unkind to our own conscience to celebrate the independence of a nation and not celebrate the independence of the people who make the nation.  

Suffice to say, the liberty and freedom earned following the constitutional change that allowed for the rebirth of democracy in Zambia through the Third Republic must receive equal measure of acclaim and celebration as that of October 24.

We should celebrate freedom and liberty brought about by the stalwarts of democracy in 1991 in the same measure that we celebrate the 1964 independence if we are to remain true to the cause of a peaceful, just and inclusive Zambia.

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