By CHIMWEMWE MWALE
LIKE any news of death, the demise of one of Zambiaâ€™s first Cabinet ministers Peter Matoka broke and spread like â€˜wildfireâ€™ last Friday, leaving a trail of heartaches among the lives he touched through his service to the nation.
Anthony, the son, confirmed the gloomy development on the day Dr Matoka died at the age of 84.
â€œI can confirm that my father died this morning [Friday] after an illness,â€ Anthony said.
Dr Matokaâ€™s long record of dedicated national service through the various portfolios he held is certainly indelible for Zambiaâ€™s post-independence, present and future generations.
He inevitably belongs to a class of eminent personalities that greatly contributed to the struggle for Zambiaâ€™s independence from British rule in 1964, as he was key in initiating and implementing the countryâ€™s development blueprint.
Dr Matoka was one of the first five nominated members of Parliament and was later appointed as Minister of Information and Broadcasting by then Zambiaâ€™s President Kenneth Kaunda.
He also worked in the foreign service as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, among other key portfolios he held. He had an illustrious public service career spanning over two decades under Dr Kaundaâ€™s administration.
On the eve of independence, it was Dr Matoka who was tasked by Dr Kaunda to officially unveil the monument at Kalene Hills – the source of the Zambezi River in North-Western Province.
And guess what? This is where Zambia derives her name after abandoning the colonial name of Northern Rhodesia.
In an exclusive interview with the author at his Lusakaâ€™s Ibex Hill residence in February this year on the occasion of Zambiaâ€™s golden jubilee, Dr Matoka said the then new government had a huge challenge to deliver better education and health services as per its promise to Zambians.
â€œI was honoured to be part of the first Cabinet and he [Dr Kaunda] suggested that I should go and install on his behalf, a monument at the source of the Zambezi River which had given a name to the new republic.
â€œMy wife and I flew to Zambezi and found a gathering of hundreds of people. After that, we made visits to chiefs to enhance the prestige of our source and in my speech, I pointed out that â€˜Zambia is our river and Zambezi our countryâ€™.
â€œWe resolved that we would take Zambia as our country forever while our relations with Britain continued and will continue for a long time,â€ Dr Matoka reminisced.
He could also not hesitate to state his wishes for mother Zambia without fear or favour as he urged youths to â€˜pull up their socksâ€™.
â€œAs founding fathers, we have been disappointed by the youth, the products of Zambiaâ€¦not taking seriously the responsibility towardsÂ our motherland because it is their country. We simply took it away from Britain and are now holding it for posterity,â€ he affirmed.
Dr Matoka said youths should understand that they are the future leaders and must help create change towards the prosperity of this nation.
He advised youths to help introduce laws that will perpetuate the superiority of people and Zambians in particular, and accommodate visitors.
â€œYoung graduates can be proud to know that what we produced in a year that time [of independence] is probably what we produce in a month because we now have three public universities and many private universities.
â€œCurrently, I am honoured to be Chancellor of Copperstone University, a position I take seriously which I also use to plant this feeling and ideals to take responsibility and ownership of our country,â€ Dr Matoka asserted.
On how youths can learn from his experience in helping to build Zambia, Dr Matokaâ€™s message was loud and clear.
â€œWellâ€¦I am thinking of Zambians being fully committed to the spirit of â€˜One Zambia One Nationâ€™. Zambia is not for one tribe or section of the country, the leadership should be drawn from all sections of our country. No part of this country is superior to the other.
â€œTo this end, no Zambian should feel inferior to be employed in the advancing of our principles towards the attainment of the goal of â€˜One Zambia One Nationâ€™â€¦our motto since independence,â€ he said.
It was his wish that all young Zambians fully dedicate themselves to appraising the levels of their motherland.
The former freedom fighter, minister, diplomat and academician urged youths to stop prioritising wealth but carry out responsibilities in national interest.
He equally dropped a note for Government on what it should be doing to support youths and engage them in national development.
According to Dr Matoka, worldwide a government can only be successful if it has financial strength and good relationship with the subjects of its country.
â€œZambia must remember that the people graduating from academic institutions and the ones we are sending there must be helped to the fullest because they are going to acquire that knowledge to expand our fight to build this country.
â€œZambians may feel young and inexperienced but that should not mislead them or be misled by someone that they are incapable of reaching certain heights of development and pride to work for mother Zambia in every way possible,â€ he said.
His death in the early hours of September 12 at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka has once again robbed the country of a born leader as attested by many.
His son Anthony remembers him as a person who loved Zambia.
â€œOne thing that stands out about my father is that he had deep love for this country and this is something that became infectious and was passed on to us and we all love Zambia,â€ he said.
Anthony said his father was committed to the essence and objectives of the â€˜One Zambia One Nationâ€™ motto aimed at uniting the nation.
Dr Matoka was also uncompromising when it came to his childrenâ€™s education, for which they described him as a â€œgentle giantâ€.
â€œHe clearly mentioned to all of us that we had to get educated if we had to make a headstart. He was a good father who would sometimes joke, saying the difference between you and others is that you have a lionâ€™s blood!â€ Anthony noted.
Former President Rupiah Banda described the late freedom fighter and academician as an inspiration who proved that excellence could be achieved by any determined person.
Mr Banda said Dr Matokaâ€™s immense contribution to Zambiaâ€™s liberation and development will have an indelible mark on the minds of many Zambians.
In a letter to Dr Matokaâ€™s widow, Grace, Mr Banda expressed sadness at the death of a man who inspired many both in terms of political consciousness and the desire to continue contributing to Zambiaâ€™s education standards.
â€œWhen your husband graduated with a BA degree from Natal University at the age of 24 in 1954, he proved to us that, regardless of a personâ€™s humble background, it was possible to achieve excellence if only one was determined,â€ reads the letter in part.
The fact that at independence in 1964, at a relatively tender age of 34, Dr Matoka was found worthy of a place in Zambiaâ€™s first Cabinet is proof of his quality that continued to be recognised at various stages of his life.
Mr Banda said it was humbling that when he became Zambiaâ€™s fourth President in 2008, Dr Matoka was among the many Zambians who were willing to offer their advice and support to his government.
Veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga has described the death of Dr Matoka as a devastating loss to the country.
Dr Mwaanga remembers the deceased as a person who gallantly offered his services to the nation during the struggle for independence.
Dr Matoka was one of the few graduates at the time Zambia became independent and greatly contributed to the liberation struggle.
â€œHe served the country with dedication and integrity, he was selfless and belonged to that generation that put Zambia first and self last,â€ Dr Mwaanga said.
The deceased, who will be greatly missed, was a proud defender of the countryâ€™s sovereignty, Dr Mwaanga said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary George Zulu describes Dr Matoka as a selfless former freedom fighter, a luminary who immensely contributed to Zambiaâ€™s education sector as a university lecturer.
Dr Matokaâ€™s death is sad, Mr Zulu said, adding that former Mozambican President Joachim Chisano, who recently visited the country and dined with former freedom fighters, was eager to meet Dr Matoka.
â€œWe were earlier at the ministry planning for President Chisano to meet him, but we were informed that he was home recoveringâ€¦.little did we know we would lose him.
â€œIt is very sad news that he is gone. As a [former] freedom fighter, he lived his life for the emancipation of Zambians. He embraced everyone regardless of tribe, colour or creed. He was a great luminary educating and passing on values and knowledge to the young generation,â€ he said.
Mr Zulu urged Zambians to emulate Dr Matokaâ€™s life and follow his teachings.
There is no iota of doubt that Dr Matoka enters the annals as a man who embraced former American President John F. Kennedyâ€™s saying: â€œAsk not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.â€
Indubitably, Dr Matoka answered this question through his long illustrious national service.
Survived by wife Grace, several children and grandchildren, Dr Matoka truly ran his race.
By CHIMWEMWE MWALE