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Salome Kapwepwe’s independence tale

HISTORY is never complete without mentioning names of gallant men and women whose leadership leaves an indelible mark that cannot even be beaten by weather. One such name in Zambia’s independence history is Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe.
It may once again ring out as colloquial but it must inescapably be acknowledged that ‘behind every successful man is a woman’. Salome, the surviving widow of the gallant freedom fighter, is the woman behind the fallen hero.
The Daily Mail crew caught up with Mrs Kapwepwe, 88, at her Chinsali residence in Muchinga Province, where she shared some of her memories about the role she and her husband played in the liberation struggle as well as her reflections on Zambia`s Golden Jubilee.
The remains of her husband, the veteran freedom fighter and politician whom she married in 1948, are also buried in Chinsali.
Initially, Mrs Kapwepwe did not have a clue about her husband`s political escapades, but she inevitably endured some hard times alone with the children.
“I did not know that they had started pushing for independence until he came back from India [from studies]. He left me at Lubwa Mission where I did some work at the elementary school and took care of the children,” she recounts.
Mrs Kapwepwe also recalls that her husband was consistently attending meetings in the night and would come back home clutching documents on his belly hidden inside the shirt.
She reminisces how they would sometimes cycle from Chinsali to Kasama for over 11 hours to attend meetings organised by African National Congress leader Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula.
That was a very difficult period, there were no vehicles and the only reliable means of transport was by bicycle. She had to encourage Mr Kapwepwe to ensure the mission was accomplished.
“He would confidently say that I have to live to see the independence of Zambia before I die.  They [freedom fighters] really suffered fighting for independence, and this is why I don’t understand when some people shun independence celebrations…I wish they could honour and appreciate the efforts the freedom fighters applied in gaining independence,” she says.
She says mooting plans to shun golden jubilee celebrations is doing a disservice to the country and dishonouring the fulfilment of independence by freedom fighters and fallen heroes.
According to Mrs Kapwepwe, it was not easy to raise children alone during the times her husband was attending meetings and sometimes in police detention.
“He was at one time detained for one year in Mongu. That was after Governor Arthur Benson declared a state of emergency in 1958 and it was a time I had just given birth to twins. It was difficult to visit him because Mongu is far from Chinsali and I was preoccupied with raising the twins (Mulenga and Chileshe),” she remembers.
Mulenga Kapwepwe is now National Arts Council chairperson while her twin sister Chileshe is International Monetary Fund alternate executive director for Africa Group One Constituency.
And Mrs Kapwepwe remembers that it became a trend for some wives to abandon their husbands who were involved in the liberation struggle on the premise that they were not being remunerated in any way.
“They [freedom fighters] never used to get paid and some of their wives ran away from them and got married somewhere else because of the hardship, and obviously, lack of income to support the family. Some women would wonder and ask saying what sought of a job is this without an income?
“In my case, I had strict orders to obey from my parents who were always urging me to stick to my partner and my new home.  My father told me that differences are inevitable and if you differ with a man, do not resort to leaving him because that is also your house and if he doesn’t want you, he better leaves!” she explained as she burst into laughter.
The mother of eight, grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother also recalls the eve of Independence Day, which was characterised by various festivities.
She reminisces the lowering of the Union Jack (Northern Rhodesia flag) and hoisting of the new Zambian flag at midnight on October 24, 1964 as being emotionally ecstatic after many years of the struggle for independence.
During a lengthy chat at her Chinsali residence, Mrs Kapwepwe also evoked memories of freedom fighter Mama Julia Chikamoneka pacing up and down in exhilaration and disbelief as the independence crowd erupted into frenzy.
“And up to now, October 24 is like my birthday. I am always joyous because it is a day when the struggle was fulfilled after a long time of suffering at the hands of the colonial administration. We are no longer being ruled but we rule ourselves,” she said.
Mrs Kapwepwe gets saddened when some sections of society talk of boycotting Independence Day celebrations, and especially the Golden Jubilee.
“This is something we cannot forget which our heroes fought for. Let us jubilate and honour our freedom fighters because we are free people.
“Of course we have people saying they are jobless and have not benefited from the country`s independence, but everything has its own time and people eventually have jobs,” she said.
At 88, Mrs Kapwepwe is now unable to visit, clean and decorate her husband`s grave with flowers like she did in the past.
On her huband’s tombstone are inscriptions: “Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe. Born: 12-04-1922. Died: 26-01-1980, a gallant freedom fighter.”
Truly, the engravings on the tombstone best describe the author of the widely read book titled Africa Twasebana (Africa in shame).
That is why the renaming of Ndola International Airport as Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport by President Sata is a sign of respect for the fallen freedom fighter’s tremendous efforts towards Zambia’s independence.

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