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Zambia at 50: Key institutions

TWO vigilant soldiers dressed in ceremonial attire are usually spotted standing at attention at the entrance of State House in Lusaka, which is the official residence of the President of Zambia.
At the other gates, heavily armed police and military personnel are also keeping a watchful eye on the premises. It is surely a no-go area without an appointment as eligible visitors are thoroughly screened before being allowed entry.
Historical connotations surround the house of power depicting the sovereignty that befits the dwelling place of the Head of State, fondly known as plot one.
The two heedful sentries at the gate on Independence Avenue signify that the President is available while the rest are bound to provide security at the well-regarded residence strictly sticking to their shifts whether the President is inside the building or not.
The building was named Government House by the colonial masters, who built it in 1935 and it was home for the British top boss known as the Governor, who ruled Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) with impunity.
Its name was changed to State House after Zambia gained independence in 1964 and Kenneth Kaunda shifted from his humble Chilenje home to occupy the esteemed mansion.
Former Secretary to the Cabinet in the UNIP era Sketchly Sachika recounts that Dr Kaunda effected two major improvements at State House during his tenure.
“Comrade KK [Kenneth Kaunda] initiated the construction of Nkwazi House and the prestigious 19-hole golf course,” observed Dr Sachila.
He reminisces that the state-of-the-art golf course was officially opened in 1974 and tournaments were conducted in which Dr Kaunda took part as he was a seasoned golfer.
Dr Sachika noted that the famous Nkwazi House has since been a home for all the successive Presidents in Zambia.
“It is unfortunate that the golf course, which engrossed colossal sums of money, has not been maintained over the years. It has not been preserved because comrade KK’s successors are not golfers,” he observed.
However, the police compound that surrounds State House has been expanded since independence as demands of the house had increased   compared to the colonial times.
The National Assembly, which opened in 1967, is another key site that brings historical memories as mother Zambia celebrates her Golden Jubilee this year.
At the time of Zambia’s independence, Parliament was housed in inadequate and unsuitable premises behind the Government’s Central Offices in Lusaka, commonly known as the Secretariat Area.
It was, therefore, apparent at the time of independence that a more fitting Parliament building be constructed to meet future expansion and also provide adequate Members’ sitting space as well as office accommodation.
A site was chosen on the crown of a low hill in Lusaka which dominates the surrounding landscape and which was at one time home of Lenje village headman called Lusaaka, after whom Lusaka City is named.
“The National Assembly was built in six years and every member of Parliament had to make contributions of any form, either money or building materials, for that house to be what it is today,” says former UNIP secretary-general Grey Zulu.
The 90-year-old veteran politician says the National Assembly building was planned in such a way that its external appearance, whose roofing is made of copper, expresses the wealth, dignity and power of Government while internally, it was planned to function as a centre of administration. The National Assembly building is seen at night as its copper-clad outer façade is flood-lit and reflects a spectacular orange glow.
“The focal point of the building is the chamber, which is rich in decoration and colour in distinction to the rest of the building. The composition of the House has since increased from a handful to over 155,” Mr Zulu says.
The jurisdiction of the legal system can also not be left out in the Golden Jubilee revelry as the Supreme Court entrance is beautified by sculptures of two big lions where Zambia’s Presidents usually stand when being sworn- in.
The Lusaka High Court lawn, too, is decorated by the African version of Justitia, wielding a sword on one hand and two balanced scales on another. These are the iconic landmarks that depict the supremacy and strength of the adjudicative system in Zambia.
The Roman goddess of justice and the white lions bear Zambia’s history and development of the judicial structure as they were sculptured and embedded after independence by the late humble Zambian artist Nobbie Tsokalida.
By virtue of having the lion monuments rooted at the Supreme Court, it signifies the sovereignty of the highest court in Zambia as the lion is the king of the jungle.
“And Zambia’s Presidents stand in between the lions when being sworn- in to appreciate and recognise the fact that the Supreme Court is the last sacrosanct place with the final authority of judgment,” explains Judiciary spokesperson Terry Musonda.
He enlightens that in the colonial times, the highest court of appeal was known as the English Privy Council and was re-named Supreme Court after the enactment of the one-party state constitution.
“And the current Supreme Court building was formerly the High Court and the final Court of Appeal. But in 1988, the current High Court building was unveiled and the Supreme Court was left to operate freely,” Mr Musonda says.
And the lady justice mounted in the lawns of the High Court with her eyes closed entails that the law is blind and does not favour whoever comes in conflict with it.
The sword the goddess brandishes simply means that anyone who comes before the court should be treated the same regardless of social status.
“The two balanced scales that the lady justice holds portrays equality and that when judgment is delivered, all parties should be satisfied,” he explains further.
The integration of the Subsidiary and Native Courts into the judicial system of Zambia also began after independence. The Subsidiary and Native Courts came to be known as the Local and Magistrate courts, respectively, and are controlled by the Judicial Service Commission instead of being led by governors and court commissioners.
Continues tomorrow…