@50 Jubilee Features

Martha Banda’s 100-year-old recollections

KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
AT 100 years old, Martha Banda can hardly remember many past events but not the country’s liberation struggle.
“I was the first woman to organise women during the liberation struggle. We organised them to boycott shops belonging to whites because they wanted us to buy through the windows. We boycotted their shops until they allowed us to be going inside,” Ms Banda says.
If her account is accurate, in a way, you would say that history records have been very unfair to her.
When names of female freedom fighters are mentioned, you are unlikely to hear that of Ms Banda. It was only when she turned 100 years in August this year that it came to light that she was actually a close friend of late former First Lady Betty Kaunda during the liberation struggle in Mapoloto, in Lusaka’s Chilenje area.
“These are the types of records that should have been properly kept. The country doesn’t know those who played different roles in the liberation struggle.
“The early politicians should have helped in this by properly documenting this history. Most of the people that fought for independence have gone unrecognised,” her son, Neboth Limbani Banda, who lives in Kabwe but equally has his own recollections about early life in Chilenje, says.
Ms Banda and her large family have lived in the Mapoloto area since 1940 after moving from Choma where her father was a reverend. She was however born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and only moved to Chief Singani’s area in Choma when she was a teenager.
Even in Choma, she was involved in mobilising women, but this time, in teaching them different skills such as knitting, how to use the sewing machine and the English alphabet.
“When we went to Choma that time, we found that people were not that much civilised unlike those in Southern Rhodesia. We were among the first people to cross into Northern Rhodesia from Southern Rhodesia.
“People in Choma knew generally little, they were not that civilised. There was no development going on. My dad was involved in evangelisation, teaching them some of the modern things. I think we still had some people who were wearing animal skins in certain places. Even the methods of farming were backward. We had to divide plots in the bush where we were doing the farming,” she says.
But it is the life around Mapoloto in pre-independence Zambia that she cannot forget. Admittedly, she has to speak mostly through her son Neboth and daughter Getrude.
Mapoloto, where Ms Banda still resides, was a political hub in the 1940s and 1950s, housing most of the country’s political parties and politicians.
Former Speaker of the National Assembly and one of the fathers of African nationalism Robinson Nabulyato gives a detailed account of the political activities in Mapoloto in his posthumous memoirs titled African Realities: A Memoir.
“Dr Kaunda’s office when he was secretary general of ANC was not far from here. Even his house and that of Harry Nkumbula was here. I introduced Betty Kaunda in the charcoal business. That time, her husband [first President Kenneth Kaunda] was busy with politics. We used to do the charcoal burning with Betty Kaunda in the Chilenje south area,” she recalls.
“This is the time I was organising women. I was among, if not the first woman to belong to an organised political party and the first one to organise women. This is the time white shop owners were not allowing us to enter their shops, we organised women to boycott the shops because of the discrimination.
“The whites came looking for me, and when they found me, they asked why I was calling for the boycott of their shops. I told them the reason, and later, they allowed us to start buying from inside.”
Indeed, Dr Kaunda has in the past made reference to how his late wife had to turn to the charcoal business to raise income for food and the children’s education during the independence struggle.
Ms Banda also remembers the politics of Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) for close to three decades.
For some reason, she remembers him as a one who loved his alcohol, particularly spirits, but was also intelligent and transformed ANC although in the end, he appeared to be liberal.
“He recruited a lot of people into the ANC including Kaunda. He changed the liberation politics when he took over the leadership of ANC. But in the end, he somehow appeared to be very casual in his approach to politics.
“That is why the others decided to form their own party [Zambia African National Congress]; they thought he was delaying the independence of the country. It seemed like he favoured a gradual transfer of power to the Africans, but the others didn’t agree,” she says.
Depending on where one is getting the argument from, Old Harry’s contribution to Zambian politics from 1947 to the late 70s is different.
But there is no denying that he provided the much-needed leadership in the fight against colonial rule. He was also a strong opponent of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, burning the White Paper and spearheading a general strike after leading a delegation to London to oppose the colonial government’s constitutional proposals.
Ms Banda also has memories of how Chilenje was in its early years of development as a township.
“Mapoloto was the first location; much of Chïlenje was a bush. It is in Mapoloto where things were happening, especially politically. There was no organised council per se. We had one church around here, the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Most of the houses were grass-thatched until the council was engaged to build houses with blocks and roofing sheets. We also had schools like Chilenje Suburb School. Chilenje A and B were new schools built in the 40s. The most commonly used language was Chewa,” she recalls.
“We had Munali School, and also had another school near the army barracks [Central Trades School, then Hodgson and after independence David Kaunda] where they were teaching bricklaying and carpentry. If you didn’t qualify to go Munali, then you went to Hodgson.
“When the construction of houses in Chilenje started, they meant it to be for civil servants. We regarded Kabwata as an area for savages but Chilenje was a gentleman’s compound.”
If Ms Banda was able to undertake a tour of the area where she has settled since 1940, she would be shocked with the changes that have taken place.

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