Heroines recall unbearable pain during the struggle

DORIS Chimanyika was the first female councillor who contributed to the liberation struggle as an active politician. PICTURE: SHIKANDA KAWANGA

SOME have died, others witnessed their colleagues being killed while others still have scars that remind them of the struggles they went through for Zambia to enjoy its independence that was attained on October 24, 1964.
Despite the pain and the struggles, what mattered to the freedom fighters was the goal that was going to be achieved at the end of the sacrifices made, it was bitter sweet but worth it.
Little is known about some of these unsung heroes for the role they played in the struggle for freedom. They risked their lives together with that of their children but they were ready to die for a good cause. And the appeal of the surviving former freedom fighters is for Government to look into their needs.
She still remembers the pain that people went through during the pre-independence days. Doris Chimanika, 83, relives the struggles and horrors that freedom fighters went through, which she says are beyond the imagination of those who have lived after the struggle.
“I witnessed men’s private parts being torched after pouring paraffin on them by the colonial masters. I saw bodies littered and rotting without being accorded a decent burial,” she thoughtfully speaks, picturing the gruesome acts.
This is why Mrs Chimanika is saddened to see how Zambians are taking their peace for granted by allowing tribal divisions. She wonders what has happened to the One Zambia, One Nation motto which should unite Zambians.
Pulling up her chitenge, she exposes a scar on her knee that has left her with a limp. Explaining what led to the injury, she said that a group of women, including herself, decided to visit a white farmer where they wanted to buy eggs.
They knew very well that they were out of bounds but despite that, they chose to be daring. At the time, the only black people who were privileged to buy eggs from the whites were the informers but nevertheless, Mrs Chimanika and the group were ready to defy this.
“It pains me to recall that for merely demanding to buy eggs, we were arrested, beaten and thrown in a cell that was flooded with water. This is how I started limping but my injured leg did not deter me from fighting for freedom,” she said in a pensive mood.
Fighting for freedom also meant sacrificing time for her family. Although there is little talk about the role women played in the struggle, they gave up their role as mothers and prepared food for the men and youth who were active in politics. The cooking was done in the bush, away from the watchful eye of the enemies.
During the struggle for independence, the colonial masters were always up to date with what the freedom fighters were planning because of the informers who were being paid a little something to sell out their colleagues. So it was common practice for Mrs Chamanika and her family and others to be discreet about their plans.
“There were nights when my husband and I would leave the house with windows and doors wide open with our children hidden under the beds. This was to confuse the enemy to make them believe that the home was deserted when in fact not,” she said with a chuckle.
Mrs Chimanika, who has been honoured by Government, recalls working closely with former Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda and Mama Chibesa Kankasa. At the time she was the United National Independence Party (UNIP) branch secretary, in 1960.
Another unsung heroine is Emelly Sampa, 75, who had to struggle as a single parent because her husband Eliac Kasuba was thrown in jail. She had one child and expecting another. Mr Kasuba was sentenced to eight years imprisonment and such jail terms usually brought despondency to the victims. And so one day from his prison cell, he wrote his wife a letter telling her to remarry because she was still too young to wait for him.
“I replied to my husband telling him that there was no way I was going to give up. I was with him in the fight for freedom and promised to wait for him,” she said with tears in her eyes.
An incidence that comes to mind is a beating by police simply for visiting her husband in prison. At the time, whenever women visited their husbands in prison, they would go in large groups, singing and dancing. This resulted in the police beating them up for not relenting in their fight for freedom.
To Ms Sampa, though she and her husband spent years apart, the couple did not give up on what they believed in, “My husband, Eliac Kasuba, started active politics in 1956 and he put the country first before anything else.”
As though the first separation was not enough, Ms Sampa experienced another life of being alone when her husband was whisked away in the dead of the night to travel to Moscow. The couple did not even have time to say their proper goodbyes. It was a knock on the door and the next thing, he was gone, only to receive letters from him on how he was faring.
“While he was fighting for the country’s liberation from abroad, I also became actively involved in politics,” she recalls.
As a child, she never saw much of her parents because they were either hiding in the bushes or on the battle field with the enemy. Emelia Phiri, 73, who lived in Katete said even as a child, she has a hazy picture of the sufferings of the freedom fighters.
“This is why most people of our time were not even educated because they failed to go to school for fear of being attacked. Parents advised their children to stay indoors,” she said.
There were times when children were left unattended and when the police visited the homes of the freedom fighters, the children knew the drill of not making a sound. The silence in the house was deafening such that one could hear a pin drop. The children also had to endure hunger pangs because their parents would be out strategising.
“I remember a night when I was home alone with my siblings when police came to search for my parents. We hid under the bed and I had the urge to cough but had to hold it in because once you were seen, you were a goner. These people were merciless,” she said.
The story is the same for Alice Banda, 74, and for Paulina Mukuka, 72. They both speak of hearing police cars patrolling the streets in the dead of night, officers banging on people’s doors and screaming sounds for help from those that were caught hiding.
It is true that in the pre-independence days, streets were indeed littered with bodies, blood literally spilled on the streets, loved ones were unceremoniously separated from each other, and it’s not a fairy tale. The struggle for freedom was real, let us not take our peace for granted.

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