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Musakanya: An intellectual who held his own

NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
NOT enough has been documented about Zambia’s post-colonial leaders, making the younger generation ignorant of much valuable history and leaving the many stories of different national heroes untold.
Valentine Shula Musakanya became one of Zambia’s foremost politicians while serving during Zambia’s post-colonial government yet very little material can be found on him.
As though forecasting a future where little evidence of his contribution to Zambian politics would exist, he penned his own story through an autobiographical account.
Prior to his death in 1994, he left the papers with his son, Kapumpe Valentine Musakanya.
This autobiography, in which he describes the main events of his life in good detail, was published in 2010 in edited form and simply titled, ‘The Musakanya Papers’.
Interestingly, Musakanya began jotting down the details of his life while in prison facing treason charges under the Kenneth Kaunda led government.
Soon after Zambia’s independence, he became the head of the Zambian civil service. He was later nominated as member of Parliament and a minister and also served as Bank of Zambia governor.
Though starting out life modestly and in his own words, from “iron-age surroundings”, Musakanya catapulted himself to success.
He was a man of principle and certainly independently minded; a trait that left him disillusioned in the political arena where the line between friend and foe is often blurred.
Nationalist leader, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, is described as a positive role model in the life of Musakanya in the ‘Musakanya Papers’ foreword written by N Chisanga Puta-Chekwe.
Their relationship dated back to Musakanya’s school years at Wusakile African School where Nkumbula was headmaster and Simon Kapwepwe was a teacher.
Born in 1932, in Nkunkulusha’s village in Kalundu area, west of Kasama, Musakanya’s mother fled the family village together with him while he was still a baby.
This was following accusations by Musakanya’s father’s family of his mother’s responsibility for the death of his father who had gone off in search of fortune.
Later, Musakanya moved back to Nkunkulusha without his parents to live with his other relatives.
After 1944, however, his mother returned to the village to take Musakanya with her to Wusakile in Kitwe where he continued his schooling from his introductory background in the village.
Musakanya attended a Jesuit established school called Kutama College in then Southern Rhodesia in 1950.
Historian Miles Larmer, who edited the ‘Musakanya Papers’, states that the severely disciplined environment at Kutama helped shape Musakanya’s critical approach to authority.
He was hired as a leach plant attendant at the mines in Mufulira when he returned to the Copperbelt from Kutama in 1953.
Later the same year, he secured himself a position as a senior African clerk in the local district authority.
His duties ranged from the collection of Native Tax and writing ‘Chitupa’ or Identity Certificates to typing for the district officer and acting as an interpreter.
It was to mark the beginning of his career as a civil servant, where he would eventually rise some years later to become head of the Zambian civil service.
One of his official responsibilities at the mine as described in the ‘Musakanya Papers’ was issuing licences and passes to natives and making subsistence payments to the wives of political detainees.
As highlighted by historian Miles Larmer, Musakanya was steadily climbing the promotional ladder of the local civil service and continuing to test the ceiling of African advancement.
He enrolled at the University of South Africa for a correspondence degree, studying Philosophy and Sociology and met Flavia Shikopa, a teacher trainee, who he engaged in 1956.
Veteran politician, Andrew Sardanis, is one Musakanya had come to know for many years. He met Sardanis shortly after his marriage and described him as “agile-minded”.
His association with Sardanis also led to liaisons with Arthur and Sikota Wina and Wesley Nyirenda, who were all ministers in Zambia’s first government.
Since Musakanya’s role as a civil servant barred him from political involvement, he expressed his political beliefs in a more unique way, according to Larmer.
In Chiwempala, a non-mine township of Chingola, he and Sardanis established a social and cultural club.
When the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) was formed as a more radical alternative to the moderate African National Congress (ANC), Musakanya was drawn into the nationalist movement.
Reflecting on his political involvement in ZANC, he records in his papers: ‘Until then politics to me was essentially theoretical and impersonal…’
His involvement in ZANC was, as he puts it, “early although distant”. This distance, he explains, was partly because of his being a civil servant and “also my nature in avoiding association with mass opinion or
Musakanya: An intellectual who held his ownorganisations”.
Musakanya met many leaders during this period who would later move on to become prominent politicians after independence. They included the likes of Aaron Milner, Emmanuel Kasonde, Humphrey Mulemba, Fines Bulawayo and Jones Nyirongo.
ZANC was banned by the colonial authorities in March 1959, which led to the formation of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in late 1959.

Musakanya would also serve as local magistrate in Kitwe where among other duties, he was responsible for the resolution of family disputes over the estates of mineworkers who died whilst in service.
The ‘Musakanya Papers’ record how he sought to defend the rights of widows against the customary demands of miners’ male relatives.
He was also critical of the predictable racism of white officials and the ways in which African messengers and clerks used their positions to belittle those seeking licences.
He found friendship in the emergent African intellectual elite such as Elias Chipimo [Senior] and Justin Zulu and was distant from African colleagues whose drinking he found a sign of weakness and whose materialism caused them to live beyond their means.
In 1960, when Musakanya received his university degree at the age of 26, he was one of the first Africans to be interviewed for the promotion to district officer at the end of 1960.
Initially appointed Zambia’s first Director of Intelligence in April 1965, he was made the first Secretary to the Cabinet and, therefore, head of the civil service.
As noted in the ‘Musakanya Papers’, he played a leading role in establishing the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the months leading to independence and selected Zambia’s new ambassadors from a group trained at Georgetown University including Emmanuel Mwamba, Mark Chona and Elias Chipimo.
However, Musakanya found that many senior UNIP leaders were insecure around individuals with an American education and blocked most of such appointments in favour of ‘freedom fighters’, as a reward for their sacrifices which became an influential and prosperous position in the post-colonial state.
“The freedom fighters carried their pre-independence credentials too far and too long into the post-independence era to the extent of confusing problems of their own making with the enemy, colonialism, long since vanquished and gone,” he recounts.
Musakanya starkly points out that the freedom fighting syndrome became a major source of “our problems with our new staff in the missions right at their establishment.”
He illustrates this with an actual experience where he was instructed to appoint an unqualified individual to the position of counsellor in Washington. This individual neither looked nor sounded the part but Musakanya was instructed to appoint him nonetheless.
As head of the civil service, his primary task was to establish a new civil service to replace the colonial one.
The ‘Musakanya Papers’ document outline how he sought to create a service immune to special pleading and interests.
Initially establishing a positive working relationship with Kaunda, he clashed with leading politicians over his vision of the post-colonial state.
He, however, criticised Kaunda’s model of Government and in particular the policy
Musakanya: An intellectual who held his ownof tribal balancing. He witnessed, for instance, during cabinet meetings, ministers narrowly arguing for their areas of origin.
Larmer highlights that in his papers, Musakanya is critical especially of the more educated cabinet members, who advocated militant positions, which could not be practically sustained.
Rising discontent in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the failure of the new state to address the vast expectations of the population for social and economic change intensified political competition.
He was against Kaunda’s plans to reform the civil service; plans which involved the appointment of provincial ministers, the replacement of Cabinet Secretary with a Secretary General to the government and the replacement of civil servant district secretaries with local party officials directly appointed and directly accountable to the President. His opposition led to his resignation.
Historian, Larmer, highlights that Musakanya’s opposition to the re-organisation of the civil service and his resignation was a significant step in his alienation from Kaunda.
“What the administration needed most was better educated personnel and not political propagandists….,” he states in part in his writings.
He was not given any significant posts following his resignation but as a nominated MP, he accepted the position of Minister of State (deputy minister) for Technical and Vocational Education.
Under his new role, he insisted that conditions for college students be as good as those for University of Zambia (UNZA) students while actively pursuing the creation of new technical colleges.
Worth noting is Musakanya’s invention of an automatic nshima maker otherwise termed the ‘Nshimatic’ to be used in the kitchens of colleges.
His 1980 Independence Day arrest is described in good detail in his writings.
In what he described as the VIP cell of Lusaka Central Prison, Musakanya joined Edward Shamwana, Colonel Mkandawire, Major Mbulo, Francois Cros, Hans Mol and Kateka, among others. All were accused of plotting to overthrow the Kaunda led government.
He reveals: “I was the 23rd inmate in a cell of 5.1m x 5.1m, with two tiny windows plus the squatting toilet stinking to the heavens.”
Eventually, a conviction was secured following a treason trial and he was sentenced to death. He then appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court in April 1985 and was released after four-and-a-half years of detention.
Larmer notes that as expected, Musakanya was profoundly changed physically and emotionally by his imprisonment as well as the threat of execution that had hung over him.
Previously, an open and trusting person, he became suspicious and highly critical of those seeking his advice.
For his contribution to Zambia, N Chisanga Puta-Chekwe states that it is regrettable that not a single avenue, street, road, building, airport or institution has been named after Valentine Shula Musakanya.
His words captured on page 37 of the ‘Musakanya Papers’ provide meditative food for thought befitting Zambia’s 51st independence commemoration:
“Rarely are reasons of our state of backwardness ever sought at home within our midst or attributed to our own actions or omissions. Often, no sooner have we denounced those we allege […] conspire against our progress than we approach them for more development assistance. […] “We fought for our independence on the justification that only ourselves can order our affairs to our best advantage. Independence meant entering the world arena of nations, each with its own interests, some of which would conflict with our own, but that we would rationally secure our own in that arena, at the same time respecting those of others in order for them to respect ours. […] To shift that responsibility onto ‘external’ forces each time things go wrong is condemning oneself and the nation to childishness and inferiority complex.”

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