CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
NO ZAMBIAN will successfully defend their claim that they lived in Kitwe in the 1970s and ’80s if they never heard of the infamous Buchi Boys.The large gang consisted of both petty, baby-napkin snatching thieves and cold-blooded robbers-cum-murderers.
One of its few lucky survivors still lives in Buchi township.
Last month, 57-year-old Chisanga Chilufya was relaxing at a local bar when someone approached him and told him something that shook him.
“You must thank God because had you not turned to Him you would also have been dead by now like your friends,” the man told Mr Chilufya.
Mr Chilufya was a founder member of the notorious Buchi Boys criminal gang that spread havoc around Buchi, Kamitondo, Mindolo and Kwacha townships in the 1970s and ’80s.
He shared his ‘dark’ past in an interview in Buchi recently.
Besides terrorising residential areas the gang, which moved in large groups of up to 20 in a single raid, also frequently raided the heavy and light industrial areas, breaking into and ransacking factories and warehouses.
Mr Chilufya recalls that it was in fact his gang that inspired Twigee Lee, a ruthless thug who lived in Chamboli and committed many atrocities before he was finally gunned down by police in Mindolo township, to forcibly sell common stones to workers on pay day.
“Our gang was big and feared. We sometimes used to work with Lion of Miseshi and his gang, Shasha Shiwili [Lovemore Mumba] and Frank Zappa.
“The other day I heard in a bar that the Daily Mail has been publishing interesting stories about many gangsters of the past, including my friends who were killed by the police,” he said.
Mr Chilufya said the atrocities he and his fellow Buchi Boys gangsters committed over the years were too many for anyone to document or recall.
“I can talk non-stop for one week without covering even one percent of the things we did. We were bad,” he said.
“The only people we feared were the police, but sometimes we brutally attacked lone officers when we chanced one.”
The former gangster, now a family man with five children living a quiet life in Buchi, said they were engaged in a bitter rivalry with ‘Ba Kajamu Boys’.
Ba Kajamu referred to illegal precious stone miners and dealers operating around the Kamakanga Emerald Mines (KAGEM) in what used to be Ndola Rural, now Lufwanyama district.
They were famous for flaunting their illicit money through expensive clothes and lavish beer parties.
They also drove the fanciest saloon cars of the time such as Peugeot 504, popularly known as zhyula, and Toyota Cressida.
“We needed to show Ba Kajamu and the people that we also had money. We would raid up to four different industries or warehouses in a single night.
“We also raided Zambia Railways train wagons carrying scrap metal at Scaw Limited. After offloading the scrap we sold it to dealers, who would again sell it to Scaw near Machona Primary School,” Mr Chilufya explained.
“The police used to call us the ‘Notorious Satana Buchi Boys’.”
Memories of how his closest friend in the gang called Michael Kamamanya was shot dead by police while he slept haunt him to this day.
Mr Chilufya narrated how a highly skilled and audacious fellow gang member, Joshua Chitoloma, used to crawl to ZCBC [Zambia Consumer Buying Corporation] department store through a sewer tunnel to steal goods.
“He didn’t even mind the sewage on his body,” he said and laughed.
The police arrested the Buchi Boys so frequently that it became part of their lives.
“We couldn’t bear being without money, even just for hours. As a result, we did not fear being arrested or killed.”
The slow-speaking but witty Mr Chilufya named some of his fellow Buchi Boys gang members as Chola Babruma, Tricky, Richy Boxer, Edwin Mvula, Simon Chanda, Frank ‘Satana’ Mpafye and John Wawawa.
Others were Keegan Chishimba, Penwell Zulu and Frank ‘Zappa’ Bwalya, both of whom were shot dead by the police anti-robbery squad.
At the peak of his criminal life with the Buchi Boys, Mr Chilufya met some of Zambia’s most notorious robbers and killers.
“One time I was involved in a break-in and arrested after I was found with stolen goods. During the one month I was at Kamfinsa Remand Prison, I shared the same cell with Uncle Barry,” Mr Chilufya said.
Most of the members of the gang were school drop-outs like him.
“But some of the Buchi Boys were school pupils like Simon Chalikosa, whom we called McPeace. He lived in Kawama, and was a pupil at Mukuba Secondary School,” Mr Chilufya said.
During the day, the Buchi Boys would be drinking beer and spirits in the townships. In the evening, they would start ambushing and attacking people, grabbing anything of value they were carrying.
“We did not show any mercy. If, for example, we came across a security guard doing checks and he did not have money or anything of value, we would beat him unconscious and run away with his bicycle or motorcycle. It never crossed our minds that what we were doing was bad,” he said, suddenly pensive and remorseful.
Mr Chilufya was forced by circumstances to become a ruthless gangster, but apparently redeemed by providence.
It all started when he went to Solwezi to live with his brother and sister-in-law, but the couple allegedly started mistreating him.
Because of the constant mistreatment, he ran away from home and started living with a missionary, Bishop Abel Potani at a church.
Later, he managed to find his way back to Kitwe, where he joined a group of vulnerable and bitter boys.
“We started calling ourselves the Buchi Boys, but there were other gangs like Ba Dark City in Chimwemwe,” Mr Chilufya said.
His life took a new turn when the police and the Kitwe City Council began a campaign of punitive evictions of families of suspected members of the Buchi Boys from council houses.
“This, and the number of my friends who were shot dead by police made me decide to turn to God and repent. That’s how I stopped,” Mr Chilufya said.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka