Features

Shambalakale: The forgotten mansion

JACK ZIMBA, Chinsali
NOW here is a place you probably did not know actually existed – Shambalakale farm.
Nestled in a lush mountainside in Chinsali, Muchinga Province, Shambalakale farm was meant to be the retirement home of Zambia’s first President Kenneth Kaunda.
Shambalakale is a Swahili term meaning “old farm”.
The estate, which stretches about 12km, is situated in Mafupa village, a few kilometres from Chinsali Boma.
Hidden from view by a pristine forest is the mansion that Dr Kaunda built.
After driving on a very bumpy road, you find an old tarred road, which is still intact, leading up a mountain. About 300 metres and you come to a metal barrier and a guard’s house. Beyond that, there is a long driveway lined with trees – flamboyant trees, umbrella and Christmas trees. There are also Bougainville plants.
Then you come before the whitewashed double-storey mansion, which has eight bedrooms, all self-contained. The house is also fully furnished.
The structure itself is an architectural marvel, with high ceiling and wooden window and door frames.
The mansion previously had a flat roof, but it was later replaced with a hip tiled roof.
There is a path leading halfway up the mountain to an observation post behind the house.
The concrete steps are now ‘painted’ green with moss, an indication no-one ever climbs them nowadays.
From the viewing post, which has metal railing to prevent falling, one can catch an aerial view of the mansion, as well as an extended view of the landscape, as far as the eye can see.
There is a small gate that leads to a large compound with three much smaller houses. The houses were built by Dr Kaunda for his mother Hellen Kaunda and another for his older brother Robert. A third house was built for his nephew, Collins.
Hellen Kaunda lived at the farm only for a few months before she died, and Dr Kaunda’s sister, Kate, remained in the house. She is now late, so are Robert and Collins.
The mansion also has a guest wing, which is now occupied by Misheck Mbao, a relation of Dr Kaunda. He is the guardian of the mansion he calls “palace”.
ORIGIN
The mansion at Shambalakale was built in 1971 by a company called Zambia Engineering and Construction Company (ZECCO), the same parastatal company that built the Taj Pamodzi Hotel, the University Teaching Hospital, and Zambia’s tallest building, Findeco House.
ZECCO Ltd was established in 1966 as a joint venture company between the Zambian government and Energoprojekt Engineering and Contracting Company of the former Yugoslavia.
According to Kaweche, the son of Dr Kaunda, when his father wanted to build a house, he was offered a plot east of Lusaka by Aaron Milner, who was the country’s first Minister of Home Affairs.
But Dr Kaunda is said to have been “pressured” to instead build a house in Chinsali by his friends Simon Kapwepwe and Robert Makasa, who had already started building their houses in the district.
Dr Kaunda gave in and decided to donate the land Mr Milner had given him to Government. That is where State Lodge is now situated.
And so, not far from Shambalakale are two other estates that belonged to Mr Kapwepwe and Mr Makasa. The two houses are not as grandiose as the mansion at Shambalakale, but still remarkable.
Mr Kapwepwe, who was well-known for holding very strong Afrocentric views, chose a circular shape for his four-bedroomed house, to resemble a village hut.
According to Salome, Kapwepwe’s widow, who recently turned 90 and still lives at the house, when the builders asked her husband for a house plan, he simply drew a circle in the ground with his walking stick, and sketched the rooms inside.
The three freedom fighters must have dreamt of spending their retirement life together in their birthplace, Chinsali.
But since it was built, Dr Kaunda has only made a few visits to Shambalakale. When he was President, he held a few meetings there.
In 1974, Dr Kaunda held a meeting at the farm with British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan to discuss Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). The meeting was also attended by Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time Vernon Mwaanga.
There is no doubt Dr Kaunda had endearment to Shambalakale, as he often made reference to it in speeches, indicating he would one day settle there.
In 1991, the Shambalakale mansion was renovated by a construction company called Minestone, perhaps to prepare it for occupation by President Kaunda, who was facing growing dissent at the time, and an imminent defeat in elections later that year.
But when he left office, Dr Kaunda opted to stay in Lusaka.
In an interview I had with Dr Kaunda’s wife, Betty, in November 2007, she talked about the frustration of leaving Nkwazi House, the official residence of the Zambian President, and not having a permanent home.
According to Mama Betty, she and her husband spent the first three months in a guest house, before they moved into a rented house in Kalundu, but when the owner of the house died, they had to move house again. They were then offered accommodation by a local businessman for two years.
Later, the Kaundas were given a not-so-befitting house by Government on Kudu Road, Kabulonga, before they were finally built a house in State Lodge.
As to why Dr Kaunda never took up residence at the Shambalakale mansion remains a subject of speculation.
But one plausible reason was the health condition of Mama Betty.
The former first lady herself had talked about her desire to relocate to Chinsali, but was prevented by her health condition.
“I wanted to go back to Chinsali, but it’s difficult now after having a stroke because in the building in Chinsali, the bedrooms are upstairs,” she had told me.
Mama Betty had suffered a stroke in 1997, and she usually needed a wheelchair to move around.
The former first lady was also a long-time diabetic. She died in September 2012.
FALLING APART
For most part of its existence, the Shambalakale mansion has remained unoccupied and locked.
The mansion now looks forgotten, surrounded by an air of abandonment.
There is a broken-down tractor in front of the mansion, and a rusty satellite dish mounted on the lawn.
In the wooden ceiling of the large verandah of the house, bees have found a dwelling place.
Moss has grown in many parts, including paved walkways, while some roof gutters are detaching from the building.
Mr Mbao says in the past, thieves have stolen some fittings from the house.
Dr Kaunda’s first-born son, Panji Kaunda, lived at the estate between 1978 and 1984, engaging in farming, including fruit farming. And when his brother, Dr Waza Kaunda, served as member of Parliament for Chinsali, he took up maintenance of the mansion.
According to Colonel Panji, Dr Kaunda handed over the estate to Dr Waza to manage.
A peep through one of the windows shows a big dining table. There are also framed pictures of Dr Kaunda on the wall, the only sign that this is his house.

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