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Sayimbwende: Mushala’s lieutenant

JACK ZIMBA, Mwinilunga
ONE day in 1977, around midday, a tall dark figure with a gun slung over his shoulder, accosted a young man in the mining town of Chambeshi on the Copperbelt and ordered him to follow him into the bush.
Afraid, the young man followed. He would spend the next 13 years in the bush as a rebel fighting the government of President Kenneth Kaunda.
The tall dark figure was Adamson Mushala, the only man to have led an armed insurgency against a Zambian government, and the young man was Alex Sayimbwende, who would later succeed him.
Having begun his campaign in 1976 in Western Province, Mushala had moved into the hinterland of Copperbelt, and like a lion on the prowl, he was secretly recruiting members and spreading his campaign against the one-party state of Kaunda.
Sayimbwende, who was 29 years old at the time, was working for Eureka as an operator in Kitwe; he had previously worked as a manager for Paradise Bar in the same town.
One day, he decided to visit his older brother in Chambeshi, leaving his wife and two children, and that is when he encountered Mushala.
“When I met him, he had a gun and he held me by the shoulder and told me to follow him,” recalls Sayimbwende, who is now 70, and lives in Mwinilunga, North-Western Province, with his two wives.
Sayimbwende says Mushala led him to a camp in the Minsenga area, around Chambeshi.
“There were about 100 men at that camp, and they all had guns,” he says.
He says the men explained that they had come from South Africa, but they were not South Africans.
“They gave me their policy and asked me if I could read. With fear, I read through the policy. Some of the objectives were really good,” he says.
The Mushala gang was more than just a ragtag gang of armed men. It was fashioned as a political movement called Democratic Supreme Council (DSC), with Mushala as its president.
Sayimbwende says after he had read the gang’s policies, he was given two options – to become a member or die.
“I asked them if I could go back to my family and say goodbye to them first, but they refused,” he says.
Sayimbwende was placed under the care of Mushala’s younger brother called Friday Mushala, who was captain of the group, and second in command.
“The first one week was really scary because I didn’t know what would happen to me,” he says.
He says the gang moved on foot from village to village.
“We used to gather people and we would tell them about our mission. We told them the reason we were in the bush was the one-party state. If there was no one-party policy we would have formed our own political party and participated in elections. We wanted democracy,” he says.
After undergoing military training for three months, Sayimbwende was handed a gun – an R1 rifle.
The R1 was the standard rifle of the South African army up to the 1980s.
According to Sayimbwende, SAYIMBWENDEMushala had come with the guns from South Africa, but he says they also collected a number of weapons from the Zambian soldiers they killed.
But the Mushala gang did not just rely on military skill.
Sayimbwende says there was a lot of black magic involved as well.
“We gave our soldiers charms which they put in bathing water. When you are involved in this kind of work, you have to use some charms,” he says.
He claims some of the charms would make the rebels invisible to the enemy.
But he denies stories about Mushala mysteriously visiting Kaunda at State House and having dinner with him in a spirit form.
“It is a lie, it was just propaganda,” he says.
Sayimbwende, however, says sometimes Mushala wrote letters to Kaunda which would reach State House through secret agents.
He also claims that the gang had support from some within Kaunda’s government.
“There were many in government whom we worked with such as Humphrey Mulemba. He used to give us food,” says Sayimbwende.
Mulemba had at one time served as secretary general of the United National Independence Party.
He also claims collusion between the soldiers and rebels at some point. He says some of the bullets were given to them by Zambian soldiers sent to hunt them down.
“Sometimes the soldiers would intentionally leave some bullets after they broke camp, knowing that we would find them. They never left any guns, but they left bullets,” he says.
According to Sayimbwende, the gang also traded in ivory to support their campaign.
By 1979, Sayimbwende had become well entrenched in the gang, and he became Mushala’s deputy.
According to the government narrative of events at the time, the Mushala gang was a murderous group that burned whole villages, abducted women and shot at security forces.
“It is Kaunda’s soldiers who were killing people,” says Sayimbwende.
“There are many who died within our group. I witnessed nine deaths in our group,” he says.
Most of the rebels died in ambushes.
Sayimbwende does admit to forcibly getting women as wives to the rebels.
“We used to get some of them by force, because sometimes the girls’ parents would refuse,” he says.
Sayimbwende says Mushala himself had taken two women and fathered three children with them.
He also says the gang killed people who passed information to government soldiers about the rebels’ activities.
“We killed people who betrayed us,” he says.
Mulondwe Muzungu, who had been Mushala’s friend, says two of his close relatives were killed by the Mushala gang.
He says one of his uncles was made to put his neck on a log and then hacked to death after the rebels suspected him of passing information.
On November 26, 1982, the day Mushala was killed, Sayimbwende says he was just a few hundred metres away.
According to Sayimbwende, it happened around 11:30 hours.
He and some women had gone to cultivate in a field near the gang’s camp, somewhere near Kasempa, when he heard a single gunshot, followed by a round of shots and grenade explosions.
Sayimbwende says at that point, he knew something was wrong.
“I sneaked and got closer to the camp, then I saw a lot of soldiers who were shouting Mushala’s name. At that point I knew Mushala had been killed,” he says.
“He was the only one killed in our camp that day.”
According to Sayimbwende, the camp’s position was given away by a woman called Lacy Mukwemba, who had just been divorced by one of the rebels.
“She is the one who led the soldiers to our camp,” he says.
It was the rule of the gang to not allow a woman divorced by a gang member to remain in camp. They would send them back to the village.
“What we feared is that other men within the camp would start sleeping with that woman and that would annoy her ex-husband,” he explains.
After Mushala’s death, Sayimbwende was elected as president to lead the group.
According to Sayimbwende, four men stood for election to succeed Mushala, among them Agray Muma and Anas Gondwe.
“We held elections because we wanted to be democratic,” he says.
Agray Muma was elected to be Sayimbwende’s deputy.
Sayimbwende changed the name of the movement from Democratic Supreme Council to Democratic Revolution Movement or DEREMO.
But the gang was in disarray after the death of Mushala.
Sayimbwende says some gang members suggested disbanding the group and going back to the villages, but were scared thinking they would be killed, so they stayed.
Sayimbwende stayed in the bush until 1990, when he surrendered to government authorities.
“They never caught me, I just surrendered on my own,” he says.
“They would not have managed,” he laughs. “Sometimes they would pass by but would not see me.”
Sayimbwende says he heard an announcement on a South African radio on September 18, 1990 that he should leave the bush.
He finally surrendered and was flown to Lusaka for a few days, lodging at Mulungushi Village.
Sayimbwende says before being flown back to North-Western Province, government promised to give him land, a tractor and money. He got the land, but nothing more.
“IT IS here!” one young man finally shouted from the middle of the cemetery.
I was in a large graveyard called Kimasala in Solwezi town in search of Adamson Mushala’s grave.
Mushala’s granddaughter, who did not want to be identified, and four young men who claimed to know exactly where the grave was situated were leading the way, parting prickly twigs and branches of shrubs as we intruded on the necropolis.
Kimasala Cemetery is a real desolate place. Many of the graves have no gravestones and have either disappeared into the earth or are now completely hidden by the dense undergrowth.
It is also one of the oldest graveyards in Solwezi, and no longer takes in new tenants.
A large part of the cemetery has been reclaimed by the living, who have illegally built shabby houses on top of old graves.
But it is here, 36 years ago , that Adamson Mushala’s body was buried after the rebel leader was killed by government soldiers.
His mutilated body was paraded at Solwezi General Hospital like a trophy, before it was brought here for an unceremonious burial overseen by government and security officials.
Mushala’s body was buried by prisoners in an unmarked grave.
“They buried him like a dog,” remarked his granddaughter as we stood at the grave. “They did not even put him in a coffin; they just wrapped his body in a blanket.”
Today, Mushala’s grave is an unremarkable place, overgrown with shrubs and grass.
A lantana plant has stubbornly grown on top of the grave.
However, two years ago, Mushala’s son, Bert, came and marked the spot by building two rectangular boxes around it, using blocks.
Bert Mushala says he plans to build a mausoleum to honour his father.
But Rejoice Mushala, the wife of Adamson Mushala, has never visited his grave.
When I asked her why, she replied:
“I’m still bitter because I was not allowed to attend my beloved husband’s burial, so why should I visit his grave? What am I going to do there?”
But Alex Sayimbwende, the man who took over from Mushala, doubts if Mushala’s body was buried at Kimasala, he thinks the rebel leader’s body was transported to Lusaka.