First Ladies, the Unsung Heroines of Zambia …….’The power behind the Power!
First Ladies, the Unsung Heroines of Zambia
…….’The power behind the Power!
By DAVIS MATAKA
EVEN in the wake of Women’s Day commemorations last week, it still remains an ideal time to reminisce and honour our heroines past and present; what with the very high expectations of this new dawn political dispensation.
Their cry ever emphatic and written everywhere, as on voting day, Thursday, 12th August, 2021. In their multitudes, they braved the sweltering heat on long meandering queues in an epic drive to change government.
Today, no national leader worth the ballot paper they were voted on can underestimate the power the women yield. They could attempt that, but at their own peril.
Here, we focus on the wives of our leaders. We delve deep to reveal the oysters that hold the pearls we revere as our Presidents. The women with the real Power behind the Power.
The untold tales of the figures who stand in plain sight but are often ignored, the women that have moulded the men we have entrusted with the leadership of our country.
The gems who from the fringes, somewhat influence the political trends of this nation – The First Ladies of Zambia.
The screams of the State House Peacocks still reverberate, occasionally piercing the serenity of the day, the colourful dazzle of their tinted feathers, a refreshing sight.
The ruffle in the massive trees that dot the grounds, a constant destruction to the keen ear. And if you listen very carefully, you will hear the constant chatter of the Chimpanzees as they effortlessly swing from one branch to another.
In the distant swathe of acre upon acre of well-tended plush greens, a lone Impala gleefully leaps over six feet high as if to show off its defiance over gravity.
Outside the Victorian style posts of the main entrance of this sprawling estate are two armed guards who for hours on end stand motionless like statues. They pose immaculately adorned in ceremonial military garb.
Their presence, a lore that denotes that he or she that wields the instruments of power is in-charge and in the house.
Royal Palm trees line the sides of a paved drive way which leads to a round -about. This is State House.
For 57 years since independence from the British and maybe long before, tenants of State House have come and gone but this picturesque scene rarely changes at Plot No 1 Independence Avenue.
The ascendancy to the Presidency by Hakainde Hichilema has accordingly brought a breath of fresh air to the seat of power.
Walking through those corridors of power, even before the newest first family moves house, a gentle gust of air blows. Could this be the proverbial wind of change howling?
One detail that has eluded many book writers is the allure, the unique character that First Ladies bring to State House when their families have taken occupancy.
It is a statement of fact that also lives in every home where a wife resides; how the whole character of a home and in particular the kitchen takes the persona of ‘she who must be obeyed’
First Lady Mutinta Hichilema is yet to move her crockery into the Nkwazi Kitchen (official home of the President) but we can already pick the aroma of her favourite Tonga traditional recipes. The Lusaka rumourmill is already abuzz with talk of her prowess.
This author has had the honour of reporting State House since the very early 90s, around the period of the ascendancy to power of President Frederick Titus Jacob Chiluba. (MHSRIP)
And in the line of duty, there are times that scribes are required to spend hours on end covering events or just waiting for that important press conference or statement that keeps you lingering in the corridors of power.
One thing for sure is that even as the official duties of scribes begin and end in the confines of the official wing of State House, the warmth and characters of ‘The First Ladies, our hostessess’ radiate from half a mile away at the Nkwazi. They clearly are too apparent to ignore.
The character of State House surely and distinctly takes the form of the occupants.
The influence of our First Ladies on the Presidents over time has arguably so, often changed the trajectory of events in our nation as regards national policy right down to the outright character of the boss.
MRS BETTY KAUNDA
When the Ķaundas moved into State House soon after Independence on 1964, Mrs. Kaunda had already carved her name as an astute disciplinarian whose mantle had been tested to the limit during the liberation struggle.
Her strength of character was emboldened by the way she natured her young family during the long absences of Dr. Kaunda who, if he was not banished to some desolate prison, he was traversing the land organising the Cha-Cha-Cha.
Mrs. Kaunda assumed the title of god- mother as she organised women who like her, their husband’s were waging wars of civil disobedience or were incarcerated for their nationalistic tendencies.
In State House, her prowess did not just end in the confines of the Nkwazi but transcended right across staff who affectionately regarded her in high esteem as a woman of great traditional cultural discipline seldom tolerating anything less than perfect.
It has been reported rightly or wrongly that during her reign, she brooked no nonsense.
Every member of staff in the establishment knew better to abide by her strict etiquette. And anyway, she had horned her skills after those long years of the struggle.
A Kunda woman who hailed from Chief Jumbe’s area in Mfuwe, present day Mambwe district, Mrs Kaunda was brought up as a God fearing, morally upright and stern woman of valour whose influence not even Dr. Kaunda at the height of his might and power managed to escape.
Mrs. Kaunda also doubled well coping as a mother of nine children, instilling in them discipline and a hard working culture.
Her character was ever more pronounced when often touted as the proverbial housewife with a large cooking spoon chasing after one of her more notorious boys caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
An episode her son Kaweche Kaunda recounts is when her wit took over the better of Dr. Kaunda when, during the 5th Commonwealth Conference which was hosted in Lusaka in 1979 (1st August -7th August), then British Prime Minister Margaret Hilda Thatcher for some disagreement during one of their closed door sessions riled Dr. Kaunda.
He returned home livid, and mumbling as he dressed up, threatening not to attend a Gala dinner he hosted for the over 39 Heads of State and Government. Mrs. Thatcher was to be Chief Guest of course.
Mrs Kaunda laughed teased and mocked him saying in venercular “Kuti umwanakashi umo amichimfya shani nokumukalifya ifi bashi Panji?”
Literally translated: “How can one woman challenge and anger you so much father of Panji?”
Dr. Kaunda calmed down immediately.
Later that evening, all smitten and glowing Dr. Kaunda was captured by world news networks waltzing away with Mrs. Thatcher.
Another incident is during ‘The Night without a President’ fiasco (February 5th 1968) when Dr. Kaunda, for one night “resigned” or threatened to resign as President citing rampant regional and tribal divisions.
Upon arrival at State House, following an acrimonious meeting with his ministers at New Chilenje hall, an infuriated Dr. Kaunda ordered his wife and servants to pack their bags and prepare to leave because he had resigned as President.
No amount of pleas or courage from his then Vice- President the late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe or Minister of Home Affairs the late Alexander Grey Zulu convinced him to rescind his decision.
The crisis also took a spiritual dimension when a senior clergyman, Anglican church Bishop of Zambia, later Bishop of Lusaka the late Right Reverend Bishop Philimon Mataka was summoned to give spiritual guidance to the President.
Ultimately, it landed on Mrs. Kaunda’s laps who quietly sat her husband down reminded him who voted for him as President and to whose allegiance he swore to uphold.
The impasse was over.
Such were some of the heroic and positive acts and influences that Betty Kaunda had on the presidency.
She died of a stroke 2012 in Harare, Zimbabwe during a visit to one of her daughters.
Vera Tembo Chiluba
Perhaps one of the most outgoing First Ladies ever to reside in State House, Mrs. Chiluba’s bubbly nature exceeded a spirit of love and understanding for all.
Her warmth, charm and enchanting smile made you feel at home immediately you encountered her in their home, a State function or anywhere you met her.
Mrs. Chiluba just like her husband President Dr. Frederick Titus Jacob (FTJ) Chiluba the former Second President of Zambia opened up State House removing the mystery and secrecy that had once shrouded Plot 1.
Through her Help Other People Emerge (HOPE) Foundation, she traversed the length and breadth of Zambia reaching out to the most vulnerable, poor and hungry, and as it where, giving hope to many who were disenchanted with the platitudes of life.
The contrast between her warmth and her outgoing character in many ways than one blended so well with the oratory skills that Dr. Chiluba wielded. Together, they made such a ‘lethal’ combination that not many could resist their charm.
If not for her forward positive outlook on life, maybe the post 1991 populist era of the Chiluba legacy would not have gone down so well.
…Continue reading this premium content on ‘The First Ladies, Our Heroines; The Power behind the Power’ in our next edition of The Rainbow Newspaper.