KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
VALENTINE Musakanya is known as the first Zambian Secretary to the Cabinet when Zambia got independence.
But when you want to write about the history of aviation in Zambia, you will have to put Mr Musakanya’s name right at the top.
This is so despite him having been an amateur pilot.
“In my opinion, aviation as a profession for black Zambians was the brainchild of the late Valentine Musakanya who was then one of the few educated Africans in government service,” says Captain Philip Lemba, who has spent about 50 years in the cockpit.
He is quoted saying so in the book, 50 Years of Zambian Aviation, published in 2014 by Langmead & Baker in association with Proflight Zambia.
“It was Mr Musakanya who introduced the programme that made it possible for the government to sponsor Africans to learn to fly in flying clubs, and subsequently the formation of the Zambia Air Force in 1965.
“It was an exciting time for this young pilot [Captain Lemba] who joined the other ten cadets in Livingstone to start their careers as pilots flying the Chipmunk and Beaver aircraft.”
In 1967, seven cadets along with Captain Lemba were awarded their flying wings in Livingstone by then President Kenneth Kaunda.
When they were working on the 50 Years of Zambian Aviation, in association with Proflight Zambia, they interviewed a number of people who have been involved in the aviation industry.
One of those interviewed is retired senior aircraft engineer Jacob Chisela.
He was shown a picture bearing the faces of flying officer Peter Zuze who later rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and Zambia Air Force (ZAF) commander and diplomat; flying officer Philip Lemba, who rose to the rank of Wing and later joined Zambia Airways to become Captain on the HS748; master pilot Vic Brown (Royal Air Force World War II veteran), flying instructor; then President Kenneth Kaunda; late flying officer Edmond Lazaro, who rose to the rank of Colonel and later joined Zambia Airways and became a Captain on the Boeing 707 and DC 10; and late Flying Officer Eddie “Blondie” Holden, who on leaving the Air Force went into general aviation in Lesotho.
“I read a lot into that photograph and saw the germination and sprouting of careers from the military beginnings to civilian commercial aviation,” Mr Chisela said.
“I am especially delighted that the photograph shows the genesis of Commander Zuze who went on to command the Zambia Air Force and Captain Edmund Musonda Lazaro who was the first pilot to pass his Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) locally and went to captain the B737-200, B707-320 and the DC10-30 then became chief pilot for Zambia Airways.
“This same photograph also shows Captain Lemba who flew as one of the first indigenous presidential pilots on the Hawker Siddeley 747-2. He went on to become Wing Commander at ZAF Lusaka. When he retired from ZAF, he joined Zambia Airways; he flew HS747. Captain Lemba went on to fly in Kenya showing all aspects of advancement.”
He also said the aviation industry has in the last five decades supported education through school runs of both local and foreign pupils; political support of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, South Africa; commerce and trade in opening up Frankfurt, Yugoslavia, USA, Mumbai, Colombo; cargo flights that promoted rose exports from Zambia, Malawi and Kenya to Amsterdam onward to Schengen countries.
“Professionals in the Zambian aviation have themselves become an export commodity; today, we have a complete management team of Zambians running Rwandair, then Uganda Airlines, then several airlines in West Africa have Zambians sprinkled in various departments,” Mr Chisela says.
“I think it deserves mention that Zambia has the pride of place among meaningfully employed professional Zambians in Boeing Aircraft Company and other aviation companies in the USA.”
You have to certainly give credit to the likes of Mr Musakanya and indeed the country’s first administration.
Mr Musakanya, who was educated at Kutama (St Francis Xavier College) in Southern Rhodesia and passed matric in solid subjects such as Latin, English, physics and chemistry, had initially planned to train as an electrician at Nchanga mine where his father was working.
But he was rejected because the company did not accept black apprentices at the time.
Andrew Sardanis, who met Mr Musakanya in Chingola in the 50s, believes the rejection turned out to be of benefit for the rejected.
Mr Musakanya went on to read Philosophy and Social Science by correspondence with the University of South Africa and rose to the position of head of the Zambian civil service after independence.
After he left government, he was later implicated in the 1980 coup against Dr Kaunda’s Government.
The others involved were Edward Shamwana and Pierce Annfield.
Mr Sardanis believes it is Mr Annfield who got Musakanya involved in the coup.
“He met and befriended Valentine at the Lusaka Flying Club (they were both amateur pilots) and they jointly bought a Bonanza single engine plane. I am not surprised at the recruitment of Valentine. He was going through a period of uncertainty, having been excised out of government service and seen his plans for the future of the civil service frustrated,” Sardanis writes in Zambia: The First 50 Years.
“He did manage to get what everybody, excerpt perhaps himself, would have considered an enviable job with IBM as manager for its operations in the region, in which he excelled as is obvious from the offer of promotion as manager for the whole of Africa, which would have taken him to Paris.
“”But in 1978, the government withdrew his passport on the specious grounds that he was speaking ill of the ‘Party and its Government’ while travelling abroad, one of the many nasty and cruel measures of the ‘One Party’ era, that destroyed people’s livelihoods and made UNIP an abject of hate. ”
Mr Sardanis says Mr Musakanya did not much like politicians in general.
But he certainly loved flying, hence the existence of the Zambia Flying Club.