KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
AFTER completing Standard 6 in May 1952, Daniel Munkombwe was picked to go to Matopo Mission School in Bulawayo, then Southern Rhodesia.During the school holiday in 1953, Mr Munkombwe together with Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Leopold Takawira travelled as a delegation to the African National Congress (ANC) in Northern Rhodesia in Monze.
It is this conference that changed the landscape of Northern Rhodesia as Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula replaced Godwin Mbikusita-Lewanika as president of ANC.
Kenneth Kaunda replaced Robinson Nabulyato as secretary general.
After the conference, they went back to Southern Rhodesia to continue with their studies.
“[But] I became restless and developed a high appetite for politics,” Mr Munkombwe wrote in his autobiography Politics of Influence.
In December 1954, he left Matopo Mission after being expelled for beating up the wife of the principal while he was doing house vacation job.
Mr Munkombwe had decided to form a one-man justice brigade after concluding that the principal’s wife had uttered politically insulting words.
After being expelled, Mr Munkombwe did not go to Macha’s area in Choma, where he was born on May 16, 1932. Instead, he chose to stay with his Uncle Samson Mwaanga, Vernon Johnson Mwaanga’s father in Livingstone, where he was headmaster at Shungu Government School in Livingstone.
“Uncle Mwaanga was a very generous person and he was to a large extent responsible for educating nearly the whole clan. When I told him about my selection to Matopo Mission, where he had studied many years earlier, he was elated that I was following his footsteps. He gave me enough money for school fees and pocket money,” he said.
“My father taught and educated a lot of his nephews and nieces, the most notable of them being Daniel Munkombwe, who became a prominent farmer, businessman, politician and a fearless Choma Member of Parliament during the UNIP one-party system,” VJ says in his autobiography.
“When he left Matopo, he came and lived with us in Livingstone and started a fish business using my father’s vanette – a Dodge – from Mambova in Livingstone to Wankie in Southern Rhodesia.
“The business was quite lucrative but after a while my father decided to give it up because Daniel decided to get married and begin his own life back at Mbole Village in Choma. In his absence, there was no one my father could entrust handling substantial sums of money in cash. “He was my father’s closest nephew and the two of them shared many intimate family and political discussions. When my father died in 1971, Daniel inherited his estate, including a young wife he had married after divorcing my mother.”
After leaving VJ’s father, he went to Choma and married Ellah Moono at Brethren in Christ Church at Macha Mission.
In his book, Mr Munkombwe says the wedding was considered one of the best at that time. “Uncle Mwaanga again gave me some cattle for my lobola and bought a bed for me,” he said.
Mr Munkombwe’s involvement in active politics started in 1955 when he was elected the ANC Livingstone District Secretary. Mr Munkombwe was among the ANC leaders who organised a shop boycott to protest against white mistreatment of black workers. The Livingstone boycott became a big success.
“My political influence had started spreading rapidly like wild fire,” he said.
When Dr Kaunda and others broke away from Mr Nkumbula’s ANC to form ZANC, Mr Munkombwe remained in ANC.
“The ANC became the next big thing to religion in the Southern Province. The people of Southern Province demonized ZANC as a party of aliens and resolved that anybody who joined ZANC was to be ruthlessly denounced,” he said.
“Nkumbula and I toured the Southern Province addressing huge rallies. Nkumbula was an extremely generous man such that he was literally hero-worshipped in Southern Rhodesia.”
But later, a split emerged in ANC within the Southern Province which led to the formation of the People’s Democratic Congress (PDC) with Job Michelo as its leader and Milimo Punabantu as secretary general and Mr Munkombwe as provincial chairman. But towards the end of 1963, they joined ANC.
In the 1964 election, Mr Munkombwe applied for adoption as candidate for Choma Central constituency but was not adopted. In those elections, ANC won all the seats in Southern Province except the one for Livingstone which was won by UNIP through Mainza Chona.
“People like Vernon Mwaanga and Samson Mukando and others were now vindicated because they always argued that ANC was a tribal party whose existence was only in the Southern Province,” he said.
Mr Munkombwe decided to leave ANC for UNIP in 1965. He arranged a meeting with UNIP leaders and gave a list of people he thought should be considered for employment in government and parastatals. Top on the list was Milimo Punabantu.
“Kaunda asked me what I wanted, whether a job in the civil service or foreign service. But I politely declined. I had developed a huge appetite for politics and would be satisfied with a political job,” Mr Munkombwe said.
“My political journey has never been anchored or supported by a dependency syndrome. Since joining politics, I have been pursuing a philosophy of self-reliance. It is interesting to note that although I have been involved in politics since 1955, I have never taken politics as a full-time job. I have always been involved in farming and business, and this has gained me a lot of respect in my political career.”
In the 1968 elections, Mr Munkombwe intended to stand in Mazabuka, where he was intending to use the cosmopolitan nature of the constituency to win the seat for UNIP. However, he was requested to stand in Mbabala, which included his home of Macha. However, he lost the election to Edward Nyanga.
Mr Munkombwe was sent to National Institute for Public Administration (NIPA) for a course. He suspected that he was going to be shunted either in the civil service or foreign service. But this he declined; he considered himself a politician.
He decided to concentrate on farming. He bought a second farm in Choma which he later sold to the Tobacco Board of Zambia and used the proceeds to buy Kabebya Farm Choma East.
During the signing of the Choma Declaration in 1972 in the school hall at Choma Secondary School, Mr Munkombwe sat in-between Dr Kaunda and Mr Nkumbula as an interpreter.
In the 1973 elections, he was elected as MP for Choma Central. Mr Munkombwe, who considered himself more as Josiah Mwangi Kariuki and not the intellectual giant of Kenyan politics Tom Mboya, recalled: “My entry into Parliament in 1973 was dramatic. From the onset, I had known of my intellectual inadequacy but was self-confident because I had read a lot of books.”
Mr Munkombwe remained a backbencher until 1983 when he retained the Choma Central seat for the third time.
“My strategy in Parliament as a backbencher was to make powerful speeches because there were parliamentary privileges guaranteed to me by standing orders and the Republican Constitution,” he said.
“When I became MP for Choma, VJ and Elijah Mudenda were Cabinet ministers. I never understood why Kaunda was reluctant to make me a Cabinet minister. My journey to Parliament had been long and frustrating. Politics is about influence and I commanded a lot of respect among backbenchers and ministers.”
In 1983, Mr Munkombwe was appointed as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development. In the 1988 elections, he stood against Siamukayumbu Siamujaye, who petitioned the election.
“After the judgment was read out by Judge Ernest Sakala stating that I was properly elected, there was jubilation in the high court. I was lifted shoulder-high by chanting supporters who were led by Michael Sata. Sata put me behind his open van while my son drove my Mercedes Benz.”
After the judgment, Mr Munkombwe was appointed Minister of Decentralisation before being transferred to Southern Province as Cabinet Minister and Member of the Central Committee in 1989.
After the return to multi-party politics, he remained in UNIP until 1995, when he joined the MDD after Kebby Musokotwane was ousted as UNIP President. Despite being close to Frederick Chiluba, he felt uncomfortable in MMD and left to be among the founders of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
He served as UPND Southern Province chairman. In UPND, they flirted with the idea of having Levy Mwanawasa but he declined and instead suggested Anderson Mazoka.
But Mr Munkombwe went back to MMD and contested the Choma parliamentary seat in the 2001 elections but lost. He remained MMD provincial chairman until he was appointed Southern Province minister by President Mwanawasa.
When Rupiah Banda succeeded Mr Mwanawasa, he continued serving as a minister. And when Mr Sata won the 2011 elections, he appointed him as provincial minister and later as deputy minister in the Vice-President’s Office
“I did not join the Patriotic Front because of politics of the belly as is being generally suggested by my detractors because I am an economically independent person who has lived off my farm activities and other business interests for many decades,” he said.
“In my life, I developed a great dislike for failures. Hard work has always been my guiding principle. That is why veteran politician and former Minister in the Kaunda administration Peter Matoka referred to me as a beneficiary of child labour.”
Whichever way you look at it, Mr Munkombwe’s career has been one of the most colourful. He will be remembered as a flamboyant, charismatic and out-spoken politician whether in government or opposition.
He told it as it was.