SUNDAY PROFILE with DOREEN NAWA
THE title ‘The Union Man’ would best fit his life story for his long service as a unionist in Zambia.
Mr Hikaumba, former Zambia Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) president who is also former Civil Servants Union of Zambia president is known as a staunch trade unionist through and through and a rare breed of genuine socialists.
Mr Hikaumba has earned the love and respect of just about everybody who ever meets him inside and outside the trade union movement.
In reality he is everybody’s hero, whether they are civil servants, taxi drivers, bus drivers or street vendors. Mention his name, and what comes to many people’s minds is how he stood up to late President Levy Mwanawasa on various labour matters.
On February 2004, Mr Hikaumba put so much pressure on President Mwanawasa and his government that the President openly said that he never enjoyed being President of Zambia.
As if that was not enough, in March 2014 in Kitwe, during the Labour Day commemoration, Mr Hikaumba accused President Mwanawasa of being very arrogant. The basis of the accusation was the continued non-improvement of workers’ conditions of service in the country.
During his reign, Mr Hikaumba simply wanted a better and just world for everyone, with a society free of war, hunger, poverty, homelessness, unemployment and repression.
As always, during his active involvement in labour matters, Mr Hikaumba was prepared to fight for those ideals and in his youth he came close to dying for them.
Mr Hikaumba’s involvement in fighting for others started during his secondary school days at Mumbwa Secondary School.
“I recall when I was in form five, there was a misunderstanding at school between the headmaster and the female pupils regarding hostel accommodation. Then the issue needed the attention of the Mumbwa district governor. We gathered as students and went to see the governor and I was chosen to speak. After meeting the governor, the issue was settled in our favour,” Mr Hikaumba recalls.
Mr Hikaumba was born in Dabbali village, in Hamapande area under Chief Moonze in Monze Southern Province, but he grew up in Mumbwa.
This was after his father, an evangelist in the Lutheran Church, was transferred to Chabota area in Mumbwa district.
He started grade one at Chabota Primary in 1971 and in 1978, qualified to go to Mumbwa Secondary School for form one.
He completed his secondary education in 1982 and was one of the top five students selected to go to University of Zambia (UNZA).
Soon after getting into university in 1983, a veterinary medicine course was introduced and he opted to go for it.
But Mr Hikaumba never completed his studies at the university. He was expelled after he got involved in the student union politics.
“I was in my third year when UNZA was closed in 1986. The entire University of Zambia Student Union (UNZASU) executive was expelled from school and that is how I found myself out of the university. I was the UNZASU secretary general,” he says.
But what led to the student unrest?
“The basis of the protests began when government introduced boarding fees in government schools then. So we felt that many pupils will not manage. We felt it was the obligation of Government to provide free education. We then decided to hold a meeting and invited schools and parents and other representatives. We wanted to compel Government to rescind the decision so that no one is disadvantaged by the move. So we did all the advertising for that meeting and the whole country was aware. When the university management got to know about it, they decided to cancel by sponsoring a contrary advertisement and that meeting was canceled,” Mr Hikaumba says.
But the students went ahead and began a march from UNZA to State House in order to present their petition to President Kenneth Kaunda. The march was stopped by police.
And the next day, the student union leadership made a transport requisition as the case was to order food stuffs for the student canteen that was run by UNZASU.
Contrary to the custom where UNZASU would use the university transport for the errands, the university management refused to grant them permission to use the said transport.
This action angered the students the more.
“What used to happen is that when we need transport to buy goods for the canteen, the cost was deducted from the UNZASU account. When that time came, the requisition was cancelled. Our UNZASU president Ben Chilufya decided to get more clarity from the principal, Professor Mwauluka. It was at that point that the two had a physical confrontation. Mr Chilufya was then pushed into a police vehicle after the principal engaged police to come to his rescue,” Mr Hikaumba says.
Soon a protest ensued. The unrest became violent and students damaged and set ablaze two vehicles, one belonging to the principal and the other to the chief security officer. The students also damaged school property before marching to the Great East Road.
It was this protest that saw Mr Hikaumba being expelled from the university. He was UNZASU secretary general then.
He then opted to go to Natural Resources Development College (NRDC).
“I went there to enroll, they looked at my results and I was asked why I did not go to the university with such good results. The principal at the college openly told me that if I am one of the students that were expelled, I will not be enrolled, he went to check the list and my name was there,” Mr Hikaumba says.
After being sent back and forth, Mr Hikaumba could not succeed in finding a place at NRDC, nor could he get any scholarship to study abroad.
“There were a number of scholarships given, but I discovered that even for the scholarships, we were blacklisted. I went to Liteta instead at my uncle’s farm and started my farming. A year later, I received an acceptance letter from NRDC. I went to the college and after all the formalities, the principal called me saying I had been accepted by mistake,” Mr Hikaumba says.
But out of sympathy, the principal allowed Mr Hikaumba to be in school under a condition that he would never get involved in student politics.
Despite the condition, Mr Hikaumba had numerous requests to join the student politics. He was nominated unanimously to sit on the College Board as a student representative.
In 1990, he completed his education at NRDC and a year later, he was employed in the Ministry of Agriculture and was sent to Mongu.
A few months later, he was transferred to Kalabo. While in Kalabo, he was elected to lead the district civil servants committee.
At the end of 1994, he first got actively involved in trade union matters at the quad annual conference.
He was appointed regional secretary for Western Province. He was then transferred from Kalabo to Mongu.
It was at this conference in 1994 where he was elected president of the Civil Servants Union of Zambia. The quest to stand for presidency came immediately after he gave a vote of thanks after Newstead Zimba, the then minister of Labour had spoken.
“According to my colleagues, the vote of thanks was powerful and everyone was impressed. Then during the break, a request for me to stand for the president of the civil servants union came. It was within the 20 minutes that I made a decision to take up the challenge. I never campaigned because they did that for me. When the campaigns started, I was written off by my colleagues because I was the youngest and I was only four years in the civil service. I was only 31,” Mr Hikaumba says.
Mr Hikaumba served four terms as CSUZ president from 1994 until 2010 when he decided to step down and become a trustee.
Mr Hikaumba become ZCTU president in October 2002, after serving as ZCTU vice president six months earlier.
He took over from Mr Fackson Shamenda who had decided to step down.
Mr Hikaumba defended his position for three consecutive terms until 2014 when he decided to pave way for others.
The trade union movement and his beloved ZCTU, in particular, was a natural home for him.
On numerous successes under his leadership, one of the notable ones is when the civil service won a court case after taking Government to court over delayed negotiations. During this case, civil service unions had President Lungu as their lawyer.
Mr Hikaumba’s hatred of oppression encouraged him to serve with dignity and honour.
His sincerity in everything he achieved or tried to do showed through his tenure, and retirement has not diminished his energies.
He has stayed active in providing professional advice on industrial relations matters.
While a formidable interrogator, he is ever constructive.
SUNDAY PROFILE with DOREEN NAWA