CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
THE story of Kitwe gangster Twigee Lee, who ruled Chamboli and Wusakile mine townships at knife point in the 1980s, ends today.Twigee Lee and his gang preyed mainly on miners especially on the first day of the month (pa wanu), which was their payday.
It was the most awaited day of the month in all mine townships on the Copperbelt then.
The miners were particularly vulnerable because they used to receive their salaries in form of cash.
Scores of them, in underground work gear and personal attire, would be in and around long queues at the pay points in Wusakile and Mindolo, which were controlled by the mine police (bakanyangu) with their big, vicious German shepherd dogs.
Businessmen and women of every scale and description would ‘descend’ on the area near the gate.
There would be the tenacious Zimbabweans known as Amakorekore and Amazezulu, who used to sell a wide range of household goods to the miners on credit.
There would also be wives of truant miners waiting in ambush for their slippery husbands who had the habit of disappearing with the entire salary, to reappear days later with only loose change in their pockets.
Shylocks (moneylenders), known as ifibanda (demons), who had perfected the art of enslaving miners, turning them into perpetual borrowers by lending them money at ridiculously high interest rates, were not to be outdone.
You could see them like hyenas for their ‘victims’ patiently waiting.
This carnival atmosphere turned the pay points into a favourite hunting ground for Twigee Lee and his ruthless thugs.
The miners were easy prey.
Stanley Muswema, an employee of the Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) who lived in Kitwe those days and still lives in the city, saw it all.
“The Amakorekore and Amazezulus, salaula [second-hand clothes] traders, fishmongers, hawkers and mishanga [cigarette] sellers would display their wares at strategic points to attract the miners.
A ‘loaded’ miner would be seen haggling for a good bargain here and there.
Twigee Lee and his band of thugs would also spread pieces of chitenge fabric or empty grain sacks on the ground and display heaps of stones for sale. Imagine, just stones! [Mr Muswema laughs]
Out of fear, miners would reluctantly walk over and buy the stones, for which they had absolutely no use at all.
It was just a diplomatic way of robbing the miners of their hard-earned money in broad daylight.
A hapless ‘customer’ would be forced to buy a useless stone at an exorbitant price. You were expected to carry the stone until you were completely out of their sight.
Anyone seen throwing a stone away after ‘buying’ it would attract a severe beating.
Sometimes they would drag a miner to their stand and force him to buy one stone.
Out of fear, he would oblige.
The thugs would the next day drink their heads off in the bars and taverns of Chamboli and Wusakile, dressed in latest clothes such as stonewashed jeans, then called kawasha,” Mr Muswema recalled.
This writer, who lived in Chachacha township then, also once witnessed such a scene outside Mindola Shaft pay point in Mindolo.
A week earlier, many miners had received long-service awards from the ZCCM Nkana Division management.
The awards came with expensive customised Rolex wrist watches with the name of the recipient as an expression of gratitude for their long service, known as mwabombeni in mine townships.
It was another payday. A former classmate at Nchelenge Secondary School and fellow school-leaver, Jonathan Kapungwe, now living in Mkushi, was working as a casual worker for Mpelembe Drilling Company Limited underground.
He had invited this writer to wait for him outside the pay point to get “something for a drink”.
As this writer waited for Mr Kapungwe, watching with interest the brisk business taking place around him, a group of about 20 mean-looking men and youths arrived and started spreading pieces of chitenge material on the ground.
A number of traders hastily packed their merchandise and left the place.
“This is Twigee Lee and his team,” a miner who was on leave but had come to recover the money he had lent some workmates announced in a low tone.
“He usually operates in Wusakile and Chamboli, but I don’t know why he has come to Mindolo today.”
Shortly, some miners were seen taking off their precious Rolex wrist watches and carefully placing them on the spread chitenge and sacks under the watchful eyes of Twigee Lee and his minions.
After surrendering a watch, a miner would pick up one stone and walk away.
“They are forcing them to buy the stones with their expensive watches. Wicked criminals!” the miner whispered through his teeth.
Those who did not have watches were ordered to ‘buy’ at least one stone with money.
There were even price tags on the stones.
But like other thugs before him, Twigee Lee’s days were numbered.
He sealed his own downfall when he raped a pregnant woman in Wusakile and callously ripped her belly open with a knife, reportedly to check the sex of the baby she was carrying.
This particular atrocity sparked outrage across the mining community. Some wives of miners staged a small protest at the Central Offices in Nkana West demanding protection.
Sensing trouble, Twigee Lee and his gang melted into hiding, but police mounted a relentless manhunt for him.
He was later spotted at Chichi tavern in Mindolo, where he was drinking beer with some members of his gang and prostitutes.
Alert residents quickly tipped Mindolo Police station and the once invincible Twigee Lee was cornered in no time.
In a foolish show of bravado he lunged at the police when they confronted him and ordered him to surrender.
A constable from Mindolo Police Station popularly known as Rambo shot him at close range with a 303 Northern Rhodesia-era rifle (icituli), killing him instantly.
That episode marked the end of Twigee Lee.
Read more about Copperbelt thugs and their bad ending in the next article.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka