By Field Ruwe EdD
LION AND THE KING
In the heart of the jungle, man and beast were dead in their tracks, locked in a gaze. Roaring and ready to pounce was the king of the jungle, famished yet strong. Standing at 6ft 2in (1.88m, including the zonky hair) with bicycle above the head, ready to hurl, was Buchizya, the man who would become president.
The bicycle as a weapon was drawn from the entrails of his instinct without a pause of thought. The locking of eyes was about the only defence Buchizya had, triggered by a high level of adrenaline. He, like most of the Chinsali young men who scoured the savannah forest learned that the locking of eyes with a predator such as the one before him, eliminated the surprise of ambush.
In what seemed like eternity, Buchizya’s 24-year old heart did not succumb nor did it lodge into his throat. He could hear it pumping the same way it had since he came into this world on this day the 28th April, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-four in the Bembaland called Lubwa in the Chinsali District.
It’s clear his Malawian parents, missionary and teacher Reverend David Julizya Kaunda, son of Mtepa Kaunda and NyaChirwa both Tongas of Nkhata Bay, and teacher Helen Jengwera Nyirenda, daughter of the Tumbuka (Henga) elderman Mugagana Nyirenda of Chisanya Village near Ekwendeni, were content with seven children. When he showed up, they named him Buchizya, meaning “the unexpected one”—just as unexpected as the lion.
A FATHERLESS CHILD
As a young boy, intuitively mapping his destiny, Buchizya was aware his parentage was a thorn in his side. He began to distance himself from his own tribe and the country of Malawi (Nyasaland). Beholden to Bemba dictates, he embraced the Bemba language and spoke it with an accurate intonation, just like his childhood Bemba friends Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Robert Speedwell Kapasa Makasa, and John Malama Sokoni.
As he grew older, he was able to identify and understand the classifications of thought, codes and pictograms that undergirded the Bemba language and culture. By the time he became a teacher at Lubwa, at the age of sixteen, Buchizya was a quintessential Bemba. An authority on the language, a Bemba gatekeeper would capture not a scintilla of accent.
At the age of eight Buchizya interred his father. The death of David Kaunda rendered a blow in the gut of the Kaundas. David, the African-Malawian who brought rigor to Lubwa was notorious for his impertinence and insubordination to white authority, an attitude that landed him in prison for a couple of hours for drumming for the 10 o’clock church service while the Chinsali Native Commissioner’s wife was still in bed. To the Chinsali white civil servants, and some Catholic missionaries, David’s death brought a sigh of relief.
With David gone, the hamstrings of the Kaunda influence were expurgated and the family was left vulnerable in a foreign land. Without a father, young Buchizya’s deep-seated anxiety about the future took command. Mindful of the indubitable service of his father which so justly entitled him, he saw a sudden necessity of doing for himself that which nudged his sensibility.
From his earliest age, Buchizya was judged to be more determined, more polemical, and more fearless than his siblings—more like his uncle Robert Gwebe Nyirenda. Circumstantially, his uncle, Helen’s brother Robert Gwebe Nyirenda (senior) of Karonga, Nyasaland (Malawi), had stolen his heart, perhaps at birth and washed over him.
Robert, who throughout his teacher’s training at Overtoun Institution, Khondowe, opposed European imperialism gave up teaching, and in 1912 became one of the founders of the North Nyasa Native Association, Malawi’s first political party. It was from this celestial realm that Buchizya descended. As he grew older he unconsciously hopped on his uncle’s golden wings and took a flight.
MORE DEADLY THAN THE LION
But landing was not that easy. There was molten bubbling on the surface. That molten was his identity. It was more deadly than the lion. It was an enigmatic faulty right from birth. When, he told his mother and siblings that he was abandoning teaching and throwing himself into the politics of a country that was not his, they cautiously took a backseat to his ambition for they knew what lay ahead. Buchizya was not “one of us,” many Bembas said. He was a foreigner, a bona fide Malawian, a Malawian Tonga with Tumbuka roots.
But Buchizya “the unexpected” was born an outlier with unbridled ambition. It was not just his handsome ebony face under the kalwena-combed zonky hair, there was a truculent stubbornness about him that never could bear to be terrified at the will of others, not even at that of a lion. In the company of fellow boys; Kapwepwe, Makasa, Sokoni and others, some older than him, Buchizya was often a trailblazer. In general, he was extraordinary in the decisions he made.
He was intrepid too. With a born-to-fight Mtepa mindset, Buchizya, eyes still set on the lion, waved the bicycle. Mtepa was the grandfather he never met, a brave Tonga warrior who died in the revolt against the Ngonis in 1895, seventeen years after David’s birth. Cognizant of Buchizya’s clout, the lion turned, and slowly slunk off into a mesh of elephant grass.
Watching the lion disappear, Buchizya breathed a sigh of relief. As he got back on the bicycle, he thanked God for His tender mercy and sang songs of praise, not in Tonga, Tumbuka, not even in English, but Bemba, the language he had to perfect if he were to meet the demands of his 1952 new role of Provincial Organizing Secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) for the Northern Province.
Riding his bicycle through a forest inhabited by some of the most dangerous creatures in the world, Buchizya was thinking for himself. He was a notch ahead of other early political rising stars Godwin Mbikusita Lewakina, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, Dauti Yamba, Mainza Mathew Chona, and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe. Unlike them, he possessed a singular ability to translate the majesty of his imagination and idealism into a pragmatic stratagem that befitted his dream—that of becoming president of the Republic of Zambia.
But with the label of “foreigner” stuck to his back like a leech, Buchizya knew his cycling was in vain and the fate of his political career at stake. He knew he had to overcome a deep-seated prejudice and the common wisdom that no foreigner could rule Zambia. Acknowledging only his identity could defeat him, he branded himself a Bemba, and dropped his Buchizya name and replaced it with his father’s name David. Henceforth he was to be called Kenneth David Kaunda. He did so, knowing his father was someone the Bembas revered.
A BRILLIANT STRATEGY
Then, he devised a brilliant piece of political strategy with audacious assertions. Aware recalcitrant friends still held him at arm’s length, and did not fully embrace his self-acquired Bemba kinship, Kenneth doubled his efforts by courageously inculcating his self-proclamation in the minds of the Bemba people, and set out to take their temperature. To this, he got himself a bicycle, an acoustic guitar, a prophetic toga (a cloth draped over the shoulders and around the body), and Jesus sandals. Then later, he added the famous white handkerchief.
The bicycle, the same one that had just saved his life, he used to cycle the breadth and depth of the beast infested savannah; the guitar juxtaposed his melodious voice each time he sang “Tule bomba tule bachulila ba mwansa kabinga” (We are working and suffering for colonizers), and other songs of social protest; the prophetic toga he wore to look like the law giver who met God face-to-face on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments; and the Jesus sandals completed the “prophetic” outfit. The white handkerchief was a necessary prop used when too much pressure was laid on the safety valve of his emotions.
A combination of the above paraphernalia coupled with a good measure of charisma, gave Kenneth an acceptable unique iconic poise. The Birth Trait theory was held in him that “some humans are born with unique qualities that earmark them for leadership, while the majority of people are destined to follow and be subordinate.”
Everywhere he went people gathered in their hundreds to hear him speak. There was a thrum of urgency in his tone when he spoke or sang. Each time he did, his voice rose an octave with unspoken cry for freedom. In towns and cities his fame spread in advance, and people flocked to his rallies. Many considered him a hero—a martyr, even a prophet. When he shouted “kwacha!” they all replied “ngwee!” in hysteria and carried him shoulder high as he waved his white handkerchief.
KK THE LIBERATOR
The lion infested path Kenneth took on his bicycle led him to the State House on 24th October 1964. Along the path, Buchizya “The Unexpected One” guided by his personal beliefs and conviction became Kenneth David Kaunda the radical vegetarian; the prisoner; the humanist; and the liberator.
In a chaotic world, Kenneth became an immensely popular president at home and abroad. At times he used to be everywhere opening doors that were closed to others. Throughout he spoke in a language of unity. Sometimes he spoke in the language of forgiveness and love. Of course there were times he erred. Many times. But is it fair to say he was God given; that although his ninety-six years have been punctuated by brilliant flickers, bedazzling delights, and heart breaking sorrows, his legacy and old age are worth living for. Was he a God? Of course not. Was he a saint? No. Was he like no other? Without any doubt. Is he human? You bet.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRESIDENT KENNETH DAVID KAUNDA
Author is a US-based Zambian multicultural scholar practitioner and author. He holds a Doctor of Education degree from Northeastern University, Boston Massachusetts, U.S.