CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
FOR many, if not all of Lunga district’s poor former freedom fighters in Luapula Province, the social cash transfer is the only hope of survival.
Bereft of any credible source of livelihood they welcomed the Government’s decision to include them on the Social Cash Transfer Scheme.
It came as a lifeline.
Most of the former freedom fighters are past the age of 80. They sacrificed a lot for Zambia’s independence.
Among them are 77-year-old Bumi Andrew Kaoti, 73-year-old Sampa Chisandi, 87-year-old Benandeta Kalasa and John Mwansa of Nsamba Main Island in Chief Nsamba’s chiefdom.
Mr Kaoti and Mr Mwansa were among the 15 activists who were rounded up by a 21-member detachment of the then feared Mobile Police Unit from Bwana Mkubwa in Ndola in September 1961.
They were detained at various prisons in Mansa, Kasama and Lusaka for five months for burning poll tax identity cards (ifitupa) and schools.
Mr Kaoti shared his experiences in a recent article published by the Daily Mail.
His colleague, Mr Chisandi, was 18 years old when he joined the youth wing of the Kenneth Kaunda-led militant United National Independence Party (UNIP), which had been formed by young Turks from Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula’s African National Congress (ANC), who were thirsty for change.
UNIP spread like wild fire, taking the younger generation by storm.
In 1958 the party sent people to Lunga to form branches and recruit new members.
Mr Chisandi was one of the recruits at Totwe branch.
He and other ‘UNIP workers’ were mainly used as scouts to run clandestine errands for the big boys.
“In 1961, during Chachacha, we were sent to Bwalya Mponda [50km away] to deliver a letter. UNIP leaders there told us that soldiers were on their way to Nsamba to arrest freedom fighters,” he recalled.
“They sent us back to Nsamba to and alert the people there. We arrived at Totwe around 24:00 hours and told Mr Zacharia Lungu what was happening.”
In the middle of the night of September 21, 1961, a tug boat named Mastiff arrived with a barge modified to carry prisoners.
There were 21 mobile police officers on board.
“They rounded up 15 of our leaders and took them to Samfya, Mansa, Kasama and Lusaka. Five months later they brought them back. We continued fighting for our independence,” Mr Chisandi narrated.
“We used to chant ‘UNIP mulilo, uwaikatako apya [UNIP is fire; you touch it you get burnt]!”
On the night of October 23, 1964 Mr Chisandi was at Samfya Boma.
“As the Zambian flag rose slowly, the British flag was coming down while we cheered,” he recalls.
Benandeta Kalasa, of Chilungu village, was one of the female freedom fighters.
They played a mainly supportive role.
“We wanted to get back our land from our colonisers. I was one of the women who joined UNIP. Our job was to carry and deliver letters to and from our leaders in Samfya,” Ms Kalasa said.
The letters contained instructions and important announcements.
Asked why she decided to join such a risky campaign the 87-year-old woman cited the poll tax cards (ifitupa).
“The colonial government used ifitupa to collect tax from villagers. If you failed to pay for a certain year you were arrested and sent to prison,” Ms Kalasa said.
“That is what had angered me and motivated me to join UNIP.”
She recalls how men and young male UNIP workers went round villages on the island collecting ifitupa.
The women were, of course, scared but they were “encouraged by the bravery of our men”.
Ms Kalasa recalled that they rarely slept in their houses for fear of being arrested.
Her old eyes gleaming with nostalgia, she shares, “One day the mobile police came in boats and arrested a number of the men. They arrested only men. We, the women, remained.
“Those men who were not arrested looked after the wives of those who were arrested until they returned after five months. We were united.”
For 84-year-old John Mwansa, memories of the five months he spent in Milima Prison in Kasama are as fresh as if it was last year.
“I was the vice-secretary at Totwe branch. Our chairman was Jakat Sata while Zacharia Jalani was our secretary. There was also Francis Mota,” Mr Mwansa recalled.
He said as the struggle for political independence escalated, he and other UNIP militants went round collecting the hated ifitupa on instructions from Samfya, which they surrendered to constituency officials.
“After we burnt ifitupa we were arrested by the police. I was taken to Mansa and later transferred to Mansa and Milima prisons. On 4 January, 1961 they released us and brought us back,” the old man said.
“But we did not stop. We continued fighting the government. In fact, we became even more active until Zambia became independent in 1964.”
The former freedom fighters have a common appeal.
“Government must find a way of supporting us. I only depend on the social cash transfer, which I have not received this year. I don’t know what will happen to us,” Mr Mwansa said.
Ms Kalasa has the same appeal: “I am just pleading with the government to find a way of appreciating us. We need support. We have not received social cash transfer since January.”
And Mr Chisambi said, “Government should remember us. We need some form of recognition. Even the social cash we depended on has stopped coming.”
“There are only four us remaining here at Nsamba,” added Mr Kaoti.
The former freedom fighters were only given a blanket each in 2014 at Samfya when Zambia was celebrating its 50th independence anniversary.
The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services piloted Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer programme from 2010 to 2013 with the support of organisations such as the Department of International Development (DfID) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
It targeted to benefit 60,000 households.
Government has been rolling it out since 2014 after it showed strong evidence of impacting positively on the beneficiaries, the most vulnerable members of communities.
Hundreds of thousands of the aged, disabled, female and child heads of households are beneficiaries today.
Strategy 2 of the Seventh National Development Plan focuses on improving coverage and targeting of social protection programmes, including strengthening the SCT scheme, to support the most vulnerable.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka