KELVIN MBEWE, Lusaka
THE Union Jack is said to have come down at 11:56 pm on October 23, and the Zambian flag was hoisted at 00:01 am on October 24, 1964.
The ceremony took place at Independence Stadium in Lusaka, which was built specifically for the occasion – independence celebrations.
Andrew Sardanis, in his book, Zambia: The First 50 Years, records the occasion.
“At midnight, the huge crowd went wild at the sight of their young president, Kenneth Kaunda (he was only 40 years at the time), hoisting their own national flag for the first time, to the tune of their national anthem, played by the Zambian Army Band, also for the first time,” Sardanis writes.
“The Union Jack had been lowered by Sir Evelyn Hone, the last governor of Northern Rhodesia, who was accompanied by The Princess Royal representing the British Queen. The long ceremony that preceded the event in order to keep the waiting crowds entertained until midnight was more like a lament for the departing empire than a celebration for the birth of a new nation. Naturally enough. The ceremony had been put together by departing British civil servants and army officers.
“The real Zambian celebrations were improvised after midnight by the huge crowds spread over the hill on the opposite side. They were spontaneous, unruly, deafening, and catching.”
Mulenga Kapwepwe, daughter of Zambia’s independence hero, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, who served as the country’s second Vice-President after Reuben Chitandika Kamanga, was six years old when the country attained independence from Britain.
She remembers the events of October 24, 1964.
“Yes of course. I was at Independence Stadium for the evening event, on October 24, I remember the Zambian flag being raised for the first time and the Union Jack being taken down,” Mulenga, whose father served as the first Foreign Affairs minister in the Independence Cabinet, says.
“I remember the 21-gun salute and the cannon smoke and the fireworks. I remember hearing the national anthem for the first time. I remember finding that our driver had changed the number plate on our car [ministerial] from NRG [Northern Rhodesia Government] to GRZ [Government of the Republic of Zambia] and placed the new flag on the car.”
A historian in her own right, you would expect Mulenga to have all the details.
“I was born on the day of the creation of the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC). When it was announced, 7th October 1958. This was as a result of [Kenneth] Kaunda and [Mwansa] Kapwepwe breaking away from [Harry Mwaanga] Nkumbula’s Africa National Congress (ANC),” she says.
“Yes. I remember having to go to Tanganyika in 1962, which was a regional headquarters for UNIP, and at that time, being run by Kapasa Makasa [first Northern Province Minister in 1964]. This was part of fleeing the colonial powers and also campaigning on behalf of UNIP.
“I remember some of the inter-party violence in Chilenje, going to victory meetings when the Federation [of Rhodesia and Nyasaland] ended.”
The Federation was left behind in 1963, and soon, Mulenga and her family would be leaving behind Chilenje township.
“Of course we moved from Chilenje to Woodlands, right next door to the American Ambassador’s residence,” she says.
“It was our first time to interact with white children. The house of course was much bigger, [and] mum learned how to drive, we could go to the places that were previously for whites only (the public swimming pool, the cinemas, the shopping centres etc), we could go to the European hospital (University Teaching Hospital now), and go the schools that were previously only for white children.”
Kaweche Kaunda, son of the first President, was only five years old when Zambia got its independence. At that tender age, he cannot remember much.
Still, he has his own memories.
“All I remember is that we were staying at Prospect Hill, which is opposite Cresta Golfview. One day, a white drop top vehicle came to our house and drove me, Masuzyo and Panji to State House,” he says.
“I had no idea that State House was our new home. I thought we were just visiting the place, and when it became dark, I asked my mother what time we were going home and she said that ‘this was our new home’.
“We only stayed in State House for four years and moved to another house which is within the State House yard.”
Kaweche says they had to move house for security reasons as this was the time a lot of liberation leaders from Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were coming to seek refuge in Zambia.
Kaweche recalls that, what used to be his bedroom and that of his brothers, is now the Presidents secretary’s office.
“The President’s office today is what used to be my parents’ bedroom. After some time we lived life normally, we would go for holidays together as a family and we would play football together and we had people from the media who came to cover the events,” he shares.
His older brother, Colonel Panji, was 17 years at the time of independence, and his memory goes further than that. In fact, it goes as far back as the liberation struggle itself.
“Those were the tough times, each time he [his father] was arrested, we were left with our mother, and it was not easy, but thanks to Father Walsh, a Catholic priest who adopted us during my father’s arrests,” he recalls.
He says Fr Walsh took Dr Kaunda’s children to school and drove Betty to visit her husband while he was incarcerated in Salisbury, now Harare. Col Panji says he and his siblings did not spend much time with Dr Kaunda due to his numerous errands.
“We never complained because we knew that he was away for a good cause. We literally didn’t have a father because he was playing father to the whole nation,” he says.
But make no mistake; the arrest of their father had a chilling effect on them.
“During the arrests, we would be thrown outside of the house and our father was taken away. This was mental torture,” he says.
But like the say, all is well that ends well; Zambian finally gained independence on October 24, 1964 with Dr Kaunda at the helm as President.