Mama Chibesakunda Kankasa was a firebrand during the Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP era, serving as chairperson of the Women’s League and as member of the Central Committee, which at the time was the highest policy making body within the government.
In the lead up to independence in 1964, she and her husband were active in the movement agitating for Zambia’s freedom from colonial rule. In her words, she was nicknamed “national cook” by the male freedom fighters who were hosted numerous times in her home and she boldly asked when she could join the movement beyond just being a hostess. Her husband, Timothy Jiranda Kankasa, was supportive of her role as a nationalist and declared – “a revolution without women’s participation cannot be a reality.”
In 1955 she stepped up her role serving as a recruiter and helping bring more prominence to the role of women. During her time in the UNIP administration as minister for women’s affairs (1969-88), she helped push for expanded women’s rights such as paid maternity leave, which was successful. Of particular note about Mama Kankasa is how young she was during the height of the nationalist movement - she was only in her twenties.
Today, Mama Kankasa, at age 75, remains actively engaged in initiatives such as the increased access to education for girls in rural and urban areas. She founded an orphanage in Lusaka's Kalingalinga compound, and also mentors young women interested in politics and leadership.
To commemorate Zambia’s independence this year, I’m highlighting the work of several freedom fighters whose names remain as footnotes in our history books. They are the unsung heroes who played very important roles in the fight against colonial rule – the courage and bravery of these women is inspiring and sets an example of what can be accomplished when you stand up for what you believe is right. Today, I highlight Mama Chikamoneka.
Julia Mulenga Nsofwa also known as Mama Chikamoneka was a fierce activist and organiser. Chikamoneka was a moniker she adopted to hide her identity when mobilising citizens to avoid being jailed, which happened quite routinely. The literal translation in Bemba is “it will be seen.”
She organised women protests against colonial oppression and was a founding member of the Women’s Brigade. The Brigade housed nationalist leaders, raised funds for the cause and organised events across the country. Mama Chikamoneka was incredibly effective at recruiting and was often at the forefront of the protests and marches she organised. She also rallied women to boycott butcheries which abused their African customers and often sold inferior meats.
Her home was used as a meeting place for other leaders of the nationalist movement who were in hiding, and was in fact where the African National Independent Party was formed. This party later morphed into the United National Independent Party (UNIP) which later led by Zambia’s first president.
Mama Chikamoneka’s most legendary act of defiance was her decision to march half naked with other activists in public to protest the abhorrent colonial regime and to call for immediate independence. This happened in 1960 when Ian McLeod, Secretary of States for the Colonies, visited Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia). McLeod famously wept as a result of this action, and Mama called it “the most amusing incident in my life.” In her view, to show her nakedness was the highest form of anger and the only weapon she had – she wanted to highlight the suffering of the people.
Courtesy of The
National Archives UK
Mama Chikamoneka was honoured for her role in the nationalist struggle by former president Kaunda, and when she died at age 76 in 1986 was given a state funeral.
The last few weeks since the inauguration of the new Zambian government there has been seemingly non-stop ‘house cleaning’; boards have been purged, bureaucrats fired, airports renamed and various decrees issued. I’m not necessarily one of those people heralding this a new dawn. Call me jaded but I’m old enough to remember when this happened in 1991/92. This isn’t to say needed overhaul should be stalled, I just think we need to be smart and diligent about it all.
For those who have a case to answer for, be it abuse of office, embezzlement or just plain incompetence, by all means get rid of them and replace them with more capable people. However, let’s not lose sight of a fundamental problem we have in a lot of our institutions – the lack of checks and balances. How many times do we see positions being filled by well connected cronies and/or relatives that should otherwise go to the most qualified person selected from a pool of applications? How many times do we have to hear about billions of kwacha going missing and unaccounted for before we realise we have a serious problem with internal accounting and auditing?
You can get rid of the rotten apples but if the environment from whence they came is still rotten, guess what…
I applaud the new government for its zeal in cleaning house, but this is just the first step. We will only see true transformation, when the systems at their very core are flushed out and healed. Are we brave enough to tackle such a task regardless of what we each may personally lose such as a personal connection in the passport office to get expedited services? J
This is a trailer for the upcoming documentary “Miss Representation” by Writer/director
Jennifer Siebel Newsom. It tackles the issue of how girls and women are
portrayed in American mainstream media. This looks very interesting and I look
forward to watching it when it premieres on OWN, October 20.