DOREEN NAWA, Luangwa
LAWRENCE Tapiseni is 77 years old, and his health is now somewhat failing him. But there is no doubting his commitment to the well-being of the people of Luangwa.
He is sometimes referred to as the father of Nkondo ya Mkwezalamba (War of Sacrifice). He rendered invaluable service during the Kavalamanja liberation war. For his role, he was honoured by late President Sata in 2012 for his service and involvement in the Kavalamanja war.
On March 6, 1978 around 09:15 hours, Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Army attacked Luangwa district, specifically Kavalamanja and Kakaro village’s in a war that was to last for 72 hours. The most intensified aerial and ground bombardment resulted in unaccounted deaths, internal displacement and a human crisis that has haunted the local people of these remote villages to date.
Gallant men and women from the defence forces lost their lives, got injured –and for those that still live today recount the experiences of that moment with pain and anguish.
It is the stuff for a documentary by Yezi-Arts.
Against that backdrop, the district of Luangwa has been commemorating the battle of Kavalamanja.
The initiative was initially spearheaded by the people of Luangwa and Yezi-Arts Promotions and Productions, who have produced a documentary titled “Kavalamanja – In Defence of the Nation”, which captures first hand experiences, diverse testimonies of people who experienced the lethal wanton air and ground attacks in a military operation code-named “Operation Turmoil” – in pursuit of freedom fighters from the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe’s People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA).
Mr Tapiseni was a Boma messenger by then as well as a home guard, when the villagers of Kakaro sent a message to the office of the district governor that about two vehicles had been bombed by Rhodesian jet fighters resulting in some deaths.
“I remember on March 7, 1978, another notable camp in Kakaro was bombed and six out of nine government officials from the Ministry of Agriculture were killed. They were coming from buying chickens in that area. And immediately we went to bury the bodies in a mass grave. I was part of the team with the district governor then,” he says.
“When we reached the scene, we found that six bodies were lying dead with one body without a leg as hyenas ate it. After enquiring from the Kakaro community on what happened, we were told that when the [Ministry of] Agriculture vehicle reached the junction that goes to Kakaro Basic, a jet flew from the Kavalamanja direction and passed over the vehicle and when the driver sensed danger, he tried to turn towards the road that goes to the school but unfortunately, the jet dropped bombs on the vehicle and six people died on the spot.”
He remembers those who died as Dominic Shambololo, a driver with the agriculture department, James Malaya, officer-in-charge, Department of National Registration, Lazarous Chabucheka Tembo, a passenger coming from Mpika to see his spouse at the Boma, Bernard Phiri, a Mr Mwansa, a self-employed radio repair in the district and one unidentified person.
After burying the six bodies in a mass grave near a big Baobab tree, locally known as Mulambe, they walked about two kilometres when they found 14 freedom fighters lying dead after the Magras truck they were travelling in was also hit by bombs on their way from where they had gone to collect rations and ammunition. These bodies were buried in a mass grave just next to the ruins of the truck. Their remains were later exhumed and buried in a mass grave in Kavalamanja.
“We were also told that on the same day, the jets caused havoc in Kavalamanja village where several people died and others got injured. One prominent soldier known as Captain Kalima died as he was trying to take cover under a big Mutobe tree and his body was taken to Lusaka for burial,” he says.
“Upon burying our colleagues at Kakaro, we started off for the Boma and upon reaching Soweto village near the ZESCO plant, a rebel flew over us and we all had to jump out of the truck for cover. When we saw that it was clear, that was when we proceeded walking the remaining three kilometres to our homes.
“It was a very sad moment for not only the people of Kakaro and Kavalamanja, but for the entire district, a lot of deaths were recorded, the other involved a Mr Kamwamba, a district intelligent officer who died after the vehicle he was traveling in with Lieutenant Panji Kaunda stepped on a landmine.
“During the war struggles, we did a good job, we worked together for the benefit of the people of Luangwa. Truly it was a war of sacrifice and for us here in Luangwa, we call it Nkhondo ya Mkwezalamba. The war went on for four days, jets were being flown all over the skies and there was fear in the people of Luangwa.”
He says he was separated for over eight months from his family because his wife and children had fled Luangwa because of the war.
Born on August 10, 1940 in Luangwa, Mr Tapiseni started school in sub A at Jeniro School in 1951 and five years later in 1956, he qualified to standard three and went to Katondwe Mission where he did standard three to six.
Upon completion of his education, he started looking for a job and his first was as an agriculture demonstrator in 1967 until 1970 under the Ministry of agriculture.
“On January 12, 1971, I started working as a district messenger until 1996 when I retired as an inspector with one star. It is from there that I was deployed in the judiciary department as a court justice at Mphuka Local court,” Mr Tapiseni says.
After working for over a decade, he was transferred to the Luangwa Boma to open the first local court and in 2012, he retired from the civil service.
“After retiring, I was identified as a person who was present during the struggles. And I was tasked to help gather and tell the Kavalamanja story to people that were interested in documenting the happenings during and after the Kavalamanja liberation war struggles,” Mr Tapiseni, who is chairperson for the Kavalamanja Liberation war struggles, says.
“I don’t need motivation to do good to Luangwa and Feira, it’s the area of my birth, for me, this area and Zambia comes first… It was not easy for us, I personally thank Col Ernest Nathan Kabwita (Rtd), the man who was with us on the ground to defend Luangwa district.”