ERECTED in the heart of the central business district, Kitwe’s Mposa Mabwe statue epitomises the struggle, resolve and determination by those who put their lives on the line to wrestle for Zambia’s independence 55 years ago.
The life-size effigy which was sculptured by Francis Chinyemba portrays a muscular topless middle-aged man in loose handcuffs on his left wrist, holding a stone while aiming another in the western direction using his right hand.
Ironically, the statue faces west, in the direction of the Kitwe Central Police Station, probably to symbolise that the stones were aimed at the police.
Arguably one of the most prominent public art pieces done by a local artist in the country, the Mposa Mabwe statue is simply the story of the Cha movement cast in stone.
Owing to little or no weapons of ‘war’ at their disposal, locals relied on stones to fight armed police officers and colonial masters. This is the story that Mposa Mabwe tells.
Unlike the Freedom statue in Lusaka, you would be forgiven if you mistook the Mposa Mabwe for any other sculpture you find in the city. This is so probably because it is not well cordoned as a national monument should.
Located on Kitwe’s Matuka Avenue surrounded by shops and a taxi rank, it is a common sight to see street kids, members of the public and taxi drivers hung around the Mposa Mabwe as though it has little or no significance to the country’s political history.
Perhaps unknown to them is that the statue symbolises the efforts of young people towards pre-independence struggles that eventually rid Zambia of colonial rule.
If a book about Zambia’s independence was to be written, the contribution of young people towards the struggle for freedom would be a chapter on its own.
The Cha Cha Cha uprising of 1960 is regarded as a key movement that spurred Zambia’s victory over British rule at the height of the struggle, which could not have been successful without the involvement of youths.
Four years later, Zambia had gained its independence.
Legend has it that the Cha Cha Cha campaign was a show of civil disobedience and political awareness by those that propagated for independence and their followers.
The execution which was mainly led by Zambia’s first minister of State for Defence and Security Lewis Changufu involved strikes, arson, blocking of the roads, boycotts and protests in Lusaka and across the country.
It is reported that the campaign was named Cha Cha Cha after a popular African dance so as to symbolise that time had come for the British government to dance to the tune of freedom fighters.
At the time, Changufu was only 34 when he led such a huge national movement, probably one of the greatest services a youth could give to his country.
The success of the Changufu-led project could have easily failed a reality test had likes of Kitwe-based freedom fighter Alexander Mulenga and his peers folded their hands.
Mulenga, a vice publicity secretary for the Kitwe District Freedom Fighters Association, recounts that young people of that time were a cog to Zambia’s triumph in the quest for independence.
He says people from as young as 13 years old were involved in the struggle.
Mulenga, who was at that time in his mid-20s recounts the ‘Mposa Mabwe’ days with relative ease.
“At the peak of civil disobedience, the oppression from the white rulers became unbearable. The only solution was to make the country ungovernable for the British rulers. The young people were instrumental.
“The architects of Cha Cha Cha and any other fights that ensued between blacks and whites depended on the youth to execute and instigate most of the attacks.
“It was selfless service from the young people, we gave it our all, it was voluntary work, there was nothing like being paid…because it was a common cause of liberating the country.
Mulenga says the genesis of the adage Mposa Mabwe traces its background from the clashes between stone-throwing youths and the colonial masters’ aligned police force.
“We would instigate the fights especially in the evening; we would converge in different places like Buchi Township, Kampemba and Kamitondo and receive instructions on how we would execute attacks on a particular day,” Mulenga says.
He says they would sometimes target police officers at a checkpoint and deliberately provoke them by hauling insults at Ronald Roy Welensky and the British government.
“This used to incense them and would cause violent clashes. Our most trusted weapons were stones which we would carry in sacks and that is how the Mposa Mabwe name came about, we were the stone throwers,” Mulenga recounts.
Mulenga particularly remembers one meeting which was chaired by Mama Julia Chikamoneka in September 1959 where she made the clarion call to young people to fight the establishment with sweat and blood.
Mulenga says among the notables at the meeting included former Prime Minister Nalumino Mundia, Musonda Justin Chimba, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Kapasa Makasa, among others.
He says before time, police had organised themselves to disrupt the meeting where they fired tear gas and people were injured.
“In October of the same year, the oppression became too much, that was when the master plan Cha Cha Cha was launched at Kampemba here in Kitwe. By January 1960, the clashes had reached their peak,” Mulenga said.
According to Mulenga, the contribution of young people extended beyond stone throwing to the following:
Composing political songs
Mulenga, who led a group of 10 young men to compose some of the solidarity songs, says youth choirs were the order of the day during the political struggle.
“We would compose different songs for different occasions ranging from praising our leaders, denouncing the colonial government and mourning songs when we lost a colleague.
“It became a trend sometime when you are working in the mines, you are signing songs about freedom, and this would anger our white supervisors,” he says.
Most young people worked in factories, farms and the mines. According to Mulenga, they contributed whatever little they earned or managed to steal from their white bosses for the struggle.
“We would contribute money to the leaders, we would contribute some money to some of the trips for Dr Kenneth Kaunda to travel to England to bargain for our peace,” he says.
While stones were probably the major ‘weapon’ they had, youths crafted some of the home-made weaponry that was used in the struggle and during regular uprisings.
“One night, acting with my friend Raymond Chitalu, we petrol-bombed a beer hall in Mindolo Township, but we were arrested after some informers reported us to the police,” Mulenga says.
To sum up our interaction, Mulenga notes that the freedom that Zambia enjoys today was earned at a great cost with most young people giving up their lives, thus it must be cherished.
Epitome of struggle, freedom