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Kay Sifuniso: First black, female Zambian journalist

KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
WHEN she reported for work at the Central African Mail, the forerunner to the Zambia Daily Mail, her first assignment was to cover a football match.
Despite her protestations that she had no idea about football, her editors Richard Hall and Kelvin Mlenga insisted that she goes to cover the match. With little option, she went, accompanied by Ahmed Kamanga, who used to cover sports.
“When I came back, I was told to do the story. I did nothing, I didn’t understand a thing, I didn’t even know who had scored,” says Kay Sifuniso, the first black female Zambian journalist who started with the Central African Mail in January 1964.
Ms Sifuniso was a late conversion to football. Well, even now, she is not that enthusiastic. The only team she can say she supports is perhaps City of Lusaka, and that is because her brother-in-law Ridgeway Liwena played for it.
“I used to wonder why people emotionally behave the way they do when watching soccer. But one day, my sister took me to watch City of Lusaka. I found myself doing the same whenever Ridgeway, who was their main striker, was fouled. My sister was just looking at me probably wondering what had happened to me,” she says.
“… When Zambia played the Africa Cup final in 2012, I said I wasn’t going to watch it. I went to bed. I said if they win, I will be able to hear the noise. But I fell asleep. It’s my daughter who woke me up when she came shouting that we had won.”
Well, Ms Sifuniso never carved it out as a sports reporter. Instead, she did general reporting and also covered the courts and Parliament.
However, she only stayed with the Central African Mail for 18 months before she moved to the Times of Zambia. In fact, the day she started work at the Times of Zambia is the day the paper changed its name from Northern News. There, she joined her former editor Richard Hall who had also moved in the same direction.
“I did feature writing, which I enjoyed. But I also did politics,” she says.
Some of the people that she remembers working with at the Times of Zambia include Mr Liwena, Errol Hickey, Fackson Nkandu, Komani Kachinga, Stephen Mpofu, Geoff Chapman, who was also known as Bwana Mkubwa, Derek Taylor, Toni Tilley and Martin Meredith, who has written several books on Africa and its modern history and also worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa for The Observer and Sunday Times of Britain.
At the Central African Mail, Ms Sifuniso remembers that she started work on the same day as Akwila Thompson Simpasa, the renowned artist whose favourite media was sculpture and drawing and was friends with Eddy Grant and rubbed shoulders with Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.
“I remember he [Akwila] even painted a picture of me, and someone took a picture of that, unfortunately, I lost that picture,” she says.
But while at the Central African Mail, Ms Sifuniso remembers one interesting case involving Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, the Zambian “astronaut” who, while the country was celebrating its independence, was complaining that the festivities were interfering with his “space programme”. Mr Nkoloso, who boasted that he will beat the United States and the Soviet Union in the space race — by going to the moon, and then to Mars, was a grade-school science teacher, and self-appointed director of the country’s (unofficial) National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy.
Ms Sifuniso remembers Mr Nkoloso’s space programme which involved a small group of trainees who had to roll downhill in a 44-gallon oil drum somewhere in Matero.
“The newspaper had run a story saying Mr Nkoloso’s actions were no longer funny as he could cause injury one day. The newspaper said a way of discouraging him should be found. But Mr Nkoloso wasn’t amused by this. He said everyone [at the newspaper] would be in trouble,” she says.
“Mr Nkoloso was a freedom fighter who was well-respected. He was imprisoned a number of times and tortured to a point where he suffered mentally. When we heard that he was coming to the office, everyone left. I was the only one left to welcome him I knew there was no way he was going to give me a hiding.
“When he came, he asked ‘where are all the stupid people you work with?’ I told him they are all out in the field. He then read the riot act to me, and after waiting for a while, he left. I wanted to write the story but couldn’t out of respect for Mr Nkoloso and what he had gone through.”
But Mr Nkoloso was the least of Ms Sifuniso’s problem in her journalism career which she launched at the age of 22.
“There were a lot of confrontations with politicians. I had a rather tough time with politicians. We had just got independence and people were jittery and touchy. They wanted a lot of praise. It wasn’t easy at all,” she remembers.
“I was assaulted a number of times because of something I had written even when it was true. I was also assaulted because of something I was wearing especially trousers. One case ended up in court, it involved a UNIP constituency official. That time, we didn’t have any protection as journalists from any organisation or association.”
Ms Sifuniso, who attended Chipembi Girls Secondary School with the likes of Mutumba Bull, Gwendolyne Konie, Lily Monze, Lombe Chibesakunda, Rosemary Chanda, Catherine Chileshe Chellah, Victoria and Sofia Kazunga and Yvonne Lesoetsa, says she did not envisage a career as a journalist initially.
However, a lot of people recognised that she could cut it out as a journalist because of her huge interest in reading and writing.
“It came easy for me. I liked reading and writing a lot but never thought I could have a career out of it. But one of the people who saw this said you can. In fact, it’s the late Mainza Chona who found me the job at the Mail,” Ms Sifuniso, who was born in Mongu and attended a number of schools in different places before ending at Chipembi, says.
For a while, she was the only black Africa female journalist, having trained on the job. When she joined the Times of Zambia, she says her salary was doubled. Her editor at the Mail, Mr Mlenga, was not happy and he made it known to her. He thought it was immoral.
Anyhow, later, she went into public relations and joined Lightfoot Advertising, which was owned by former Zambia Broadcasting Services director Donald Lightfoot who later sold it to Vernon Mwaanga.
“I didn’t like it [public relations] because it wasn’t challenging enough… We had clients like the Breweries and Daily Produce Board and used to write about new products. We would write about an ice cream or new imported cigarette,” she says.
“I was then attached to the Tourist Board for a year. We toured Zambia, visiting tourist attractions as we tried to sell the country’s tourist attractions. We also did an in-house magazine.
“However, things changed in government as they opted for their own public relations, so we lost that account.”
Ms Sifuniso then left formal employment in 1971 to go and look after the piece of land that she and her husband Charles Laugery had bought in Lusaka West. However, she still continued to write.
At the farm, she did some farming but after the death of her husband 21 years ago, she kind of lost the motivation. But she says the motivation is again back as she is taking care of about five people who she needs to see through school.
Currently she is keeping pigs and wants to venture into village chickens after undergoing some training. But she still grows maize, beans and sweet potatoes for consumption.
But away from that, Ms Sifuniso, now aged 74, is actively involved in the Senior Citizens Association where she has served as chairman for six years.
“Once we receive some funds, I’ll be stepping down but I will continue being an active member. The work there is both fulfilling and frustrating, frustrating when you look at the conditions of the aged in this country, they have no social protection,” she says.
One area Ms Sifuniso is passionate about also is democracy and its accompanying tenets of freedon of expression and association.
These are the things she wants to see thriving in the country.

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