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How Edna Kamanga became Vice-President’s wife at 18

IN 1965, she went to visit Israel where she was supposed to undertake a short course. Although she was accepted for the course, she could not pursue it after the Israeli government realised she was expecting, with her pregnancy already in an advanced stage. But she met the iron lady of Israeli politics Golda Meir.
“I saw her talking to her secretary in Hebrew, asking when the Second Lady of Zambia will be coming. It was evident that she was expecting someone old. When they whispered to her that the Second Lady was already there, she turned and greeted me,” Mrs Kamanga, the wife of Zambia’s first Vice-President Reuben Chitandika Kamanga, recalls.
Mrs Kamanga was 18 years old when she became Zambia’s Second Lady following the country’s independence in 1964. She had married Mr Kamanga, Zambia’s first political prisoner, two years earlier, when she was only 16 while the husband had just turned 35 when he became Vice-President.
Mr Kamanga, perhaps Zambia’s first prisoner when he was arrested in the early 50s in Livingstone and Simon Zukas had to drive all the way from to bail him out, is the man who introduced the famous toga in Zambia when he brought three of them from Egypt. He gave one to Kenneth Kaunda and the other to Simon Kapwepwe. But he was discouraged from wearing it by his wife because, being short, he was always dwarfed by the other two whenever they were together wearing the toga. The toga, however, is still around in Mrs Kamanga’s Makeni home where she uses it as a bed cover.
At the time they married, Mr Kamanga was the Minister of Labour and Mines in the 1962 coalition government. Their wedding was attended by the likes of Kenneth Kaunda, Elijah Mudenda, John Mwanakatwe and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, who were all in the coalition government.
“We met by accident, it was in the afternoon, when dad was knocking off from work at the American Consulate in Lusaka where he was working. He had to drop off some documents for him [Reuben Kamanga] at his home,” she says.
“We had remained with my sister in the car. It was when my father was bidding goodbye that he noticed us and greeted us. from there the relationship developed, and the marriage materialised. But my dad wasn’t happy; he wanted me to continue with my education.”
Mrs Kamanga’s father came from Luapula province, and sponsored himself to the United States where he studied theology and photography. So, in a way, you would say he was one of the elites of the time, which explains why he was working for the American Consulate at the time. He is the man who actually brought the Watch Tower movement to Zambia after moving from Southern Rhodesia where the authorities were not happy with his evangelism missions.
“I can go to all the four corners of this country, and I would be welcomed. If I tell them, I’m hungry, they will be able to give me nshima because of the work my father did,” she says.
But her father was so much unhappy with her marriage such that when Mr Kamanga’s people went to discuss the marriage with him, he could not believe it, he even collapsed.
“He was very unhappy. I was dad’s girl. Unfortunately, he died three months after my marriage in a road accident. He never saw me as the Second Lady,” she says.
“It was a blow to lose a parent at that age although every death is a blow anyway. I used to look forward to him visiting us in Lusaka. By that time, he had moved to Rhokana Mines in Kitwe for greener pastures. But when he visited us, he would stay in the Ridgeway Hotel, which together with Lusaka Hotel and Grand Hotel, were the top class hotels in Lusaka.”
As the Second Family, the Kamangas would have moved to State House where another house was constructed beside that of the First Family.
“I was told to go and inspect it. It was a nice house, but when I got home, I told my husband that I didn’t want to move. That time, we were on Maybin [now Ngumbo] road in Longacres where most ministers lived that time.
“They built another house [Government House] opposite the golf course. But we never moved there because UNIP had elections in 1967 in which Kapwepwe won the position of UNIP vice president. The UNIP vice-president was automatically the country’s vice-president,” she says.
In 1969, the Kamangas bought a farm in Lusaka’s Makeni, and the following year, they moved there.
The decision to buy the house in Makeni, which has played host to many international figures, was an astute decision, one which was to serve them well when Mr Kamanga retired from politics in 1991, having served in various capacities including that of Minister of Transport and Communications, Minister of Legal Affairs, Minister of Foreign affairs, Minister of Agriculture and Member of the Central Committee (MCC).
This was at a time of the leadership code, when national leaders, particularly ministers and their wives, were not allowed to engage in private business.
“We [Mrs Grey Zulu, Mrs Lameck Goma and Mrs Elijah Mudenda] decided to be defiant, and ventured into farming. The salaries our husbands were earning were not enough unlike now, and we used to host dignitaries at our own cost unlike now. So we said, let’s make our lives a little more comfortable,” she says.
“We went into the growing of wheat and soya beans. We also had poultry. We had 12,000 layers and harvested 200 trays of eggs every day. Later, we went into commercial growing of roses for export to Europe. I’m a keen gardener, so this blended in well.
“So, when my husband retired, we didn’t feel the pinch of retirement. The only thing we lost was the government vehicle, but we had our own also. When my husband retired, he looked at me and said ‘I like your foresight, if you had not done this, where would we be’.  Yet, when I started, I was young and was doing it more like for fun.”
But as the Second Lady, and even as a Cabinet minister’s wife, it was an eventful period, it meant hosting different guests and also meeting other international figures. The house itself tells the story; the prints of the likes of Saddam Hussein, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev, Josep Tito, Indira Ghandi, Rajiv Ghandi, Winnie Mandela, Hosni Mubarak, William Tolbert, Thabo Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, and Patrice Lumumba can all be found there in one form or another.
Mrs Kamanga remembers going for a private holiday to Tanzania for 10 days, a visit that was captured in the Times of Zambia.
“It was very humid there. It was my first time going there. We stayed at State House where we were hosted by President Nyerere and the wife Mama Maria. I kept on rushing to and from the bathroom because of the humid condition. Mama Maria Nyerere told me, you won’t manage going to the bathroom all the time,” she says.
“It is thanks to my husband that I was able to meet the giants of the world, and even hosting them here [at her Makeni home].”
When her husband died on September 20, 1996, she was very bored, and decided to go back to school. The month of September is kind of queer for her; it is the month in which she married and it is the month in which her husband died.
“When I told my children, one of them said you’re moving in reverse but also said he’ll pay for me. But I said I’ll pay for myself. For me, this is way of encouraging the Zambian youth who have a lot of money but are just blowing it,” Mrs Kamanga, a mother of six, including two daughters who are settled in Kenya and France, says.
She has a degree in development studies and a master’s in sociology. She has been encouraged to go for her doctorate but she is reluctant as she thinks the levels of concentration may not be up there.
“[But] I feel I’m a good example to the youth, and they can emulate. The sky is the limit when it comes to education.”
In March, she will turn 70; and in the meantime, she is teaching etiquette in various institutions and organisation including banking institutions and churches. It is something she loves and enjoys.
“Etiquette is important, whether it’s how to hold a tea cup or a coffee cup… it’s about manners,” she says.
Indeed, she is a woman of etiquette, and perhaps it is only fitting that she served as the Second Lady at Independence at the tender age of 18.

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