BUTTYSON KANDIMBA, Mwinilunga
WHEN the story of Charles Rea is told, the narrative will always include the fact both he and his father died in plane crashes. Now father and son lay side-by-side at a grave in Kalene, though they died 12 years apart.
The death of Charles Rea, age 65, a Zambian by birth and Irish by origin, who had lived in Mwinilunga district for over 50 years, came as a surprise to many people.
Mr Rea or Chiteta as he was fondly known by the locals, died in a plane crash at Kawiko Airstrip in Mwinilunga district on Monday, March 5, 2018.
Charles Rea Chiteta, was born in 1951 in Luanshya on the Copperbelt but spent most of his life in Mwinilunga where his father worked as a missionary and businessman.
His father died in a plane crash in 2005 in North-Western Province while he was returning to Mwinilunga from Kalene area in Ikeleng’i district.
Chiteta, who was destined to become a civil engineer, started his primary education at Sakhezhi Primary School in Ikeleng’i district and went to different schools locally until he completed secondary education.
He worked in Zimbabwe for a couple of years and married his first wife there and had three children with her before they divorced.
With great zeal to explore dynamics of engineering, he resolved to move to Canada but for a while.
At the beginning of the year 2000, he returned to his birthplace to join his family which is well-known for uplifting the living standards of the local community through various projects.
Mr Rea, who according to friends was fond of his Zambian name, married Roydah Mushila in 2012, and this did not surprise his acquaintances because the man was attached to local customs and traditions.
Being a respected household name in the community, memories of Chiteta will live on because he is the engineer behind the construction of the 750 megawatts Zengamina Mini Hydro Power Station on the Zambezi River in Ikeleng’i district.
The Zengamina power station, which was commissioned in 2004, is the sole supplier of power to Kalene Mission Hospital and the entire community in Ikeleng’i district.
Over 400 jobs were created during the construction period and the firm currently employs 15 people on full-time basis.
This innovation is the pride of Ikeleng’i, the only district in North-Western Province which does not rely on the Zesco grid for power supply.
The hydro power station has transformed many lives in Ikeleng’i and beyond. Apart from that, Mr Rea is described as a selfless person who in his own way created employment for the people. For example, he owned Jordan Farms in Mwinilunga which would seasonally create employment opportunities for farm workers.
Mr Rea was also credited for being among the engineers that designed the Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi which is owned by First Quantum Minerals.
Being a mining consultant, his relationship with the mining houses in the country continued up until his death. The painful grip of death caught him on his way to Kalumbila Mine.
In Mwinilunga, the Rea family is known for their benevolence and the gesture by the late Darow (Charles’ father) to build a house which is the official residence of the district commissioner, speaks volumes of their goodwill. The late Darow actually designed and built the house.
This is why people in the district are devastated about Mr Rea’s death.
“If I was given an opportunity to choose who was next to die in Mwinilunga, of course I wouldn’t pick on Chiteta because this man has done a lot for this area and his death is very painful,” says Sylvester Sakaumba, who has worked for Jordan Farms for 23 years.
Mr Sakaumba, who started working for the Rea family in 1994, says the late engineer was a humble man who had a heart for the less, privileged in society.
As for Memory Minganja, Mr Rea was a destiny helper for vulnerable children in Mwinilunga whom he offered scholarships and enabled to have a better future.
“I can’t just believe that this man is gone… for me I don’t have much to say, but you go round Mwinilunga and ask anyone on the streets, they will tell you that Charles was loved by all the people,” Ms Minganja said.
Boldwin Masumba, who has known the Rea family for over 20 years, says the late engineer was his mentor and source of inspiration.
“Around 1943, his late father who was coming from Congo came across a falls in Kalene and proposed the construction of a mini-hydro power station in the area. The project could not take off immediately because there was no money, but when Charles saw that drawing, he thought of fulfilling his father’s dream.
“So, when he came back in 2000 (from Canada), he started talking about it. He started constructing the hydro power station in 2004. The people of Mwinilunga and Ikeleng’i know him as the man who brought electricity to their communities,” he said.
Mr Masumba will remember Mr Rea as one person who always wanted to better the living standards of the poor.
“Even at the time of his death, he had plans of building two mini hydro power stations in Kanyama and Lwakela areas,” he said.
Mr Masumba said Mr Rea will also be remembered for his contribution to growth of the mining industry in Zambia.
“He worked closely with First Quantum, he was a regular engineer we would see at the site of Kansanshi Mine. We would see him going there several times, we had no idea that the place would become a mine.
Mr Masumba said Mr Rea’s death came as a surprise to him.
“I was very close to him, every time he was flying in and out of Mwinilunga, he would let me know. Three days before his death, he flew into Mwinilunga, and he asked me to be at the airstrip 30 minutes before he landed. When I got there, I found that he had already landed. We then drove to his house and we were together for about three hours.
“I met him again on Saturday. On Monday (the day of his demise), I didn’t talk to him because there was no network. When network was restored around 07:00 hours, I phoned him but the phone was just ringing. About 10 to 15 minutes later, our driver came knocking on the door saying that ‘Charlie has crashed with the plane.’ I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Dan Ball, who was another close friend of the late Rea, says the engineer will be greatly missed by the people of Mwinilunga.
“Mr Charles Rea was very active in this community, he lived here and he was responsible for the building of the Zengamina (hydro power station) and, so his contribution to the development of Mwinilunga district and indeed the rest of Zambia was very significant. We received the news with deep shock,” Mr Ball said.
He said in Rea, Zambia has lost an extremely brilliant engineer who was also kind and generous man.
Indeed, Mr Rea could be gone but his legacy in North-Western Province will always live on. He was put to rest in Kalene last week. He is survived by a wife Roydah and three children.
BUTTYSON KANDIMBA, Mwinilunga