@50 Jubilee

Kabompo House: KK’s first detention centre

THE place is derelict, yet it is where founding President Kenneth Kaunda was first detained by colonial authorities as punishment for his campaign for Zambia’s independence.
The structure, which is now a heritage site, might crumble if there is no effort to renovate it. It is shocking to see the house where Dr Kaunda was detained for three months, about 55 years ago, neglected.
Located in Kabompo, North-Western Province, about 1,267km from Lusaka, the two-room building called Kabompo House, on plot number J11 A, is the place where Dr Kaunda was detained at the peak of the independence struggle that ultimately ushered in black rule.
Because of its dilapidated state, Kabompo House is now unfit for human habitation, and it has been vacant for a long time, though this writer spent a night in it.
Spending a night in the house made this author reflect on what could have been going through Dr Kaunda’s mind during the three months he was confined there.
Just a night in this house makes one feel confined and understand why colonial authorities chose Kabompo as a punishment area for the number one independence agitator.
The house has broken window panes and the only door is in bad shape, yet this is where Dr Kaunda was detained when he broke away from the African National Congress (ANC) to form Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958.
Dr Kaunda broke away from ANC, which was led by Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, citing autocratic tendencies by the party’s leader.
However, colonialists were not pleased with ZANC’s activities of civil disobedience during the struggle for independence. The party was banned within one year of its formation.
In March 1959, Dr Kaunda was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, which he partly served in Lusaka before being moved to Kabompo and subsequently Salisbury, now Harare.
Dr Kaunda was detained along with other nationalists such as Mainza Chona, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Frank Chitambala.
The colonial masters thought it wise to detain freedom fighters in different areas as a way of stopping them from spreading political messages of seeking freedom from the British rule.
Dr Kaunda and Mr Chitambala were posted to Kabompo so that they could not further their agenda due to language barriers in that district.
This decision did not seem to work well because it was from Kabompo that Dr Kaunda mooted his intentions of becoming Zambia’s first president.
Luka Luminga, an 81-year-old resident of Kabompo, remembers Dr Kaunda as a humble and charming person who loved young people.
He recalls Dr Kaunda holding a series of meetings with young people encouraging them to concentrate on education and to love one another.
Mr Luminga, the only one who had educational credentials at the level of form II (grade nine), assumed the role of interpreter for Dr Kaunda who had gained enough momentum to begin his political crusade in Kabombo.
While in Kabompo, Dr Kaunda spent most of his time studying and writing his memoirs and coming up with political strategies such as the chachacha, which called for civil disobedience.
“I suspect Dr Kaunda wrote his memoirs from here in Kabombo along the river. We usually saw him carrying many books and manuscripts. I suspect this is where he wrote the book titled Zambia Shall Be Free,” Mr Luminga said.
It was still in Kabompo that a black mamba slipped through Dr Kaunda’s legs as he read a book written by Mao Zedong, and from a local traditional point of view, he was considered a brave man destined for bigger things.
Word went round that a young leader had been appointed by the ancestral spirits to lead Northern Rhodesia into Zambia because he did not show signs of cowardice when a black mamba slithered between legs.
It was from this point that ZANC began to strengthen and spread its tentacles across Northern Rhodesia.
The tree Dr Kaunda used to seat under while in Kabompo also stands as a national monument today.
“We used to gather around him in the afternoon. One day as he was narrating a story, a snake emerged and it nearly struck him but he did not panic. So traditionally, he was considered a brave man destined to lead Zambia,” Mr Luminga said.
He also said Mr Chitambala was not very close with Dr Kaunda as the two were engaged in different activities at that time.
“Dr Kaunda preached discipline and awareness, saying white people were very crafty, so it was imperative for us to be jacked up and not to lose focus,” Mr Luminga said.
On Kabompo House, Mr Luminga lamented that the structure has been neglected by the National Heritage Conversation Commission (NHCC) and wondered why this national monument and a great symbol of Zambia’s independence is in a state of disrepair.
The house, which is almost falling apart, has huge cracks on the floor and walls.
There are all sorts of graffiti on the white walls. For 55 years, there seems to be little or no appreciation of the value of this monument even as Zambia celebrates its golden jubilee this year.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s little house in Orlando West, Soweto, now called the Mandela Family Museum, but usually simply referred to as the Mandela House, is an exciting place to visit.
But all hope is not lost for Kabompo House. NHCC regional director Dennis Hambote said Government has set aside funds for rehabilitating and upgrading the house into a site museum.
“Kabombo House is of great significance as a symbol of independence from the oppressive colonial government,” Mr Hambote said.
Once the house is given a facelift, the commission will hopefully request Dr Kaunda’s writings and memoirs that are exhibited at Chilenje House in Lusaka to be moved to Kabombo.
According to Mr Hambote, the NHCC also intends to come up with a documentary on Zambia’s struggle for independence and Dr Kaunda’s contribution to the liberation movement.
“We want the site museum to have an interactive insight of pre-independence struggle and the revolutionary triumph,” Mr Hambote said.
He said Kabompo House has been in a state of neglect for a long time due to lack of funds.
Initially, the house was occupied by police officers to help safeguard it from vandalism. Unfortunately, these people have left the structure because it is in very bad shape.
As Mr Hambote rightly put it, Zambia’s history may be incomplete without recapturing the heritage of Kabompo House.

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