Douglas G. Anglin
Dr. Jonathan H. Chileshe
Charles Anthony Stacey
T M D Mtine, OGDS
Kanoobhai A. Patel
I have been asked to comment on Mr. Puta's association
with the founding of the University of Zambia. Although his formal
connection as a member of the University Provisional Council was
relatively brief, it was not insignificant. Early in 1965, a vacancy
occurred on the UPC with the retirement of a businessman from the
Copperbelt. The view was expressed that his replacement should also
be a businessman from the Copperbelt. Accordingly, Mr. Puta was
appointed in March 1965. Then, following the passage of the University
of Zambia Act in November 1965, the UPC was superceded by a new
University Council, and Mr. Puta's tenure came to an end. My recollection
is that he experienced some difficulty taking off 4 days or so to
travel to Lusaka to attend Council sessions. In addition to running
his family business, he was involved in other public enterprises.
Perhaps, his most significant contribution to the University was
as a member of the UPC's innovative Fund-Raising Committee as well
as in personally canvassing for small and large contributions, especially
Douglas Anglin, now Emeritus Professor at Carleton University
in Ottawa, was the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Zambia.
ROBINSON CHISANGA PUTA CHEKWE: ZAMBIA'S TRADE UNION MOVEMENT STALWART
Zambia became a sovereign state at the stroke of midnight on 24
October 1964. There was absolutely nothing magical about the time
when Northern Rhodesia, like a snake, shade its outer skin to become
the Republic of Zambia. It was of course a culmination of events
that led to Zambia's independence but the choice of date and time
was by mutual agreement between the departing colonial administration
and the nationalist movement.
Humankind has since time immemorial, been fascinated by how effortlessly
history is sometimes made. Neither does the fact that history has
a habit of repeating itself lessen this fascination. It is necessary
that we bear in mind some of these facts in reviewing the various
contributors to Zambian history. We shall by and large, apply the
same principle in reviewing Robinson Chisanga Puta's role, first
and foremost as an instrument of the African trade union movement.
Secondly, as a budding politician, who actively participated in
the events that eventually led to the transformation of Northern
Rhodesia to the Republic of Zambia.
It is in the light of the above that this analysis embraces three
mutually inclusive levels of Robinson Puta's activities. These levels
are, (a) individual, (b) collective and/or (c) collaborative. In
more ways than one, these activities are an affirmation of Dana
Atkin's observation that "Life [is] not a written book you
can pick up and read, (rather) it is a journal waiting to fill its
pages". We are similarly reminded by William Shakespeare in
Macbeth that "Life's but a walking shadow, (where) a poor player
struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more:
it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying
nothing". What the author is not quite sure about concerns
the latter part "of being told by an idiot". However,
to fail to elaborate these sentiments would deny posterity the opportunity
of appreciating important foundations on which stands Zambian history.
It has been said many times over that a country or nation with an
incomplete history is likely to have a shaky future or no assured
future at all. There is no denying as the quotation from Shakespeare
puts it that Robinson Puta, like all mortals is at best, "a
mere player" on the Northern Rhodesian and Zambian scenes.
Granted, some of his pronouncements might indeed have been full
of sound and fury. But this may be reason enough to conduct a review
of the significance of his contribution at the material time and
establish their relevance to some later developments. Had the contribution
of Robinson Puta and his colleagues not been significant, the African
trade union movement might perhaps have been slow in coming of age.
It is equally important at this point in time to briefly recall
other fundamental observations about human nature, especially when
working as a community towards a common cause. Arnold Toynbee for
one, observed, among other things, that "people and communities
do not hoist themselves by their own boot straps, without a strong
incentive to do so. Where life is easy, man becomes indolent; where
it is hard, he becomes inventive and industrious
he reaches his greatest heights of heroism and self-sacrifice while
indulging in his most selfish stupidity -war". He goes on to
stress that "Man is a strange machine. His life is a war between
selfishness and animal pleasures and an innate desire for the spiritual
good. His course may be decided by his own inherited character,
but he will be constantly swayed by pressures of his environment".
Can the same not be said about the Northern Rhodesia situation and
the emergence of the African trade union movement during the colonial
Nothing would be further from the truth than the assertion that
one person was entirely responsible for the success or failure of
nationalism or for that matter, the emergence of trade unions in
Northern Rhodesia. The roles played by the various actors were different
but it was their sum total that made all the difference in the end.
On this point, all serious researchers are agreed. Achievement
of the final product without the contribution of unsung heroes would
have been delayed unnecessarily or achieved with less perfection.
Somehow, a trend against all wisdom had developed during the period
the United National Independence Party (UNIP) ruled supreme, to
single out one or a handful rather than all the freedom fighters
for the country's heroic achievements. It was as if the protagonists
were oblivious to the adage of "one finger being incapable
of picking a louse". This historical and literary shortcoming
is not confined to Zambians. To the contrary, it is quite general,
given the replete of written accounts of individuals portrayed larger
than life in the events of their respective countries: Charles De
Gaulle (France); Sir Winston Churchill (United Kingdom); Mao Tse
Tung (China); Napoleon (France); Leopold Senghor (Senegal); Julius
Nyerere (Tanzania); and Haile Selassie (Ethiopia), to mention but
a few examples. Somehow and because time is a great teacher, adjustments
have had to be made in order to accommodate the contribution of
several other actors, who for want of appropriate terminology, we
designate as unsung heroes.
The sacrifices these few individuals made in the sphere of improved
conditions of work and better wages for the African mine workers
can be likened, even though on a relatively smaller scale, to British
Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill's observation when he recounted
the great loss suffered by the allied forces during the Second World
War: "Never before in human history, have so many owed so much,
to so few". To a limited extent the works of McPherson and
Mwendapole have attempted to bring to life the respective contributions
of the few who sacrificed for the benefit of many.
THE AFRICAN MINE WORKERS UNION IN NORTHERN RHODESIA
The study and evolution of the trade union movement among the
African mineworkers, especially those that stood shoulder to shoulder
against the new movement's adversaries became a seedbed, out of
which, the likes of Robinson Puta sprouted. Africans and in particular
the mineworkers did not see themselves as budding politicians at
the time. Whatever came their way in political terms was less by
design and more by accident. Perhaps another angle to the story
is illustrated by how they agitated for increased wages, improved
conditions of work and attempts to be treated equally with their
white "counterparts" by virtue of working in the same
environment and at the same ore body. Any attempt by African mineworkers
to emulate what was enjoyed by the white mineworkers was to court
trouble. For the faint-hearted in the African community, at the
material time, such demands were considered pipe-dreams and treated
with the contempt they deserved.
In a country like Zambia records of past events are difficulty
to come by for a variety of reasons. Either they were deliberately
destroyed by some colonial administrators that wanted to cover up
their bad track record or simply thrown out by the new Zambian administrators
as in proverbially throwing "the baby with the bath water".
Logic in circumstances of this kind dictates that the analysis is
better presented within the context of the activities relating to
the evolution of the African mineworkers' leadership and remotely,
the emergence of the African intelligentsia and how both combined
to bring colonialism to an early end.
The scramble for Africa and the resulting partition of the continent
was a total mess, considering the suffering and pain to which the
Africans were subjected. Zambia did not escape the negative impact
of colonialism. The discovery of several minerals, principally copper,
zinc and vanadium brought prosperity to the country. It also brought
considerable misery and exploitation of black workers, especially
on the mines. The system of ruling that evolved reflected this exploitation.
A racist system was put in place that ascribed negative connotations
to "blackness" at every opportunity. From the European
point of view "blackness" was synonymous with "evil".
In other words, any one "black" had to be treated as sub-human.
The Algerian writer, Franz Fanon is on record as saying that "it
was not just a matter of destroying the African property or undermining
the African culture but more importantly, the destruction of the
African as a Human Being". In other words, the central purpose
and ultimate objective of destruction was destroying the faith in
him (African) so that he (African) is dehumanised. There can be
no better example than to show the extent to which the mining authorities
and their minions were prepared to go in ridiculing African culture
and weakening African leadership. This aspect is covered in greater
Furthermore, colonialism under the British rule nakedly exposed
itself as a total contradiction to the professed British ideal of
fair play and responsibility for the subject race. The crux of the
matter at the material time, in Northern Rhodesia in particular,
was that everything was organised along racial lines. In other words,
what mattered above all else, during the period in question, was
one's race. A person's station in society, in commerce, industry
or any other economic field was determined by race, in total disregard
of ability and character. Least appreciated by many analysts of
the period in question was the significance of the "race card".
The colonial masters and their supporters employed the "race
card" as a psychological terror weapon against the indigenous
people. Thus, every person with a "white skin" was by
custom of the European ruling class, superior to every "black"
African, in status. Similarly, the former was automatically assumed
to be more intellectually efficient than the latter.
Agitation by the African mine workers for improved working conditions
and better wages was construed as challenging the white mine kings
and their henchmen. From their point of view, the African miner
was well paid and cared for, given shelter, medical facilities and
rations. In other words, they could not understand the cause of
dissatisfaction by the Africans. Mere suggestion of agitation was
condemned as a sign of ingratitude on the part of the African miner,
considering that his counterpart in the village did not have the
aforementioned privileges at his disposal.
It was a result of that agitation that led to the imposition in
September 1956, of the Restriction Order. This law gave the colonial
administration power to arbitrarily imprison Africans and deprive
them of other rights. The African leadership challenged the Restriction
Order in the courts and obtained a ruling in its favour since the
action was found to be illegal. The colonial administration, working
hand in hand with vested white mining interests, were not however
about to accept defeat at the hands of Africans. In their determination,
they had to ensure that at least those Africans already behind the
bars did not have the opportunity to walk free before they had completed
their prison terms. In furtherance of that objective, the Governor
of Northern Rhodesia convened an emergency meeting of the Legislative
Council (Legco) which then passed a law that ensured restricted
persons, including Robinson Chisanga Puta served their prison sentences
to the full. These tactics were part of a strategy meant to frighten
would be African agitators.
The colonial administration tried to stem the influence of the
African intelligentsia by creating the African Representative Council
(ARC) in 1946. The main purpose was to divert African political
ambitions from the Welfare Societies. To some extent, this sort
of background helps to explain what drove the Africans to do what
they did against such considerable odds. It is possible in light
of these draconian laws, to appreciate how at the material time,
the evolution of militancy in Robinson Puta and his contemporaries
was nurtured. To a large extent, the emergence of the Northern Rhodesia
African Mineworkers Union (NRAMWU) was the catalyst for more generalised
politics in the country.
In total contrast and before the arrival of a genuine trade union
movement among African workers, white miners had already organised
themselves into a Northern Rhodesia Mine Workers Union (NRMWU).
They then crafted a strategy that exclusively ensured for themselves,
a better deal from the mining companies. Understandably, the white
mineworkers did everything to prevent and to suppress any aspirations
of their African counterparts.
Attempts to weaken African resolve by the combined forces of the
colonial administration and the all embracing mining "kings"
included greater insistence on use of a circuitous complaint system.
Whites in charge of both African miners and the mine residential
areas, known as Compounds, were selected on the basis of their cruelty
and harshness to African workers. This is borne out by the fate
that befell Mr.Elliot Mulenga or how trumped up charges led to the
incarceration of Robinson Puta as Nchanga Branch Chairman in his
attempt to implement the NRAMWU resolution against the so called
All Copperbelt Tribal Council. African miners with any complaints
were required to lodge their grievances through their respective
Compound Managers or Personnel Officers. However, the latter had
so much discretion that the complainant was totally at his mercy.
The Compound Manager could take all the time in the world if he
so chose before responding to a complaint. He was also not obliged
to pass on the complaint to his superiors. In any case, the complainant
knew that there was little or no possibility of appeal from an unfair
decision by the Compound Manager. The administration was averse
to direct communication with the leadership of the African mineworkers.
For all practical purposes, the administration was not about to
legitimise actions and initiatives of "cheeky" African
agitators who in their view, were good for nothing.
A way round the communication impasse had to be found and found
quickly. From the whiteman's point of view, whatever solution was
to be put in place had to have a built-in mechanism of destroying
once and for all, the emerging African mine workers leadership As
a point of fact, one enthusiastic white Mine Compound Manager at
Roan Mine by the name of Spearpoint had already gone ahead to establish
his own Tribal Committee. The idea seems to have had great appeal
among the administration. It therefore resulted in Scrivener, a
Compound Manger at Rhokana being chosen to set up the All-Copperbelt
Tribal Council. In order to give that new institution a certain
visible recognition, special gowns resembling those used by traditional
chiefs were made for distribution to the members of the All-Copperbelt
Tribal Council. It is worth pointing out also, that all those who
were selected to sit on the All-Copperbelt Tribal Council were not
genuine traditional leaders. They were not recognised by the people
they purported to represent. To add insult to injury, none of the
nominees had the blessing or endorsement of the leadership of the
African mine workers. Their most important qualification was that
they were trusted by the white appointing authorities and could
be counted on to do as they were commanded. In other words, they
were puppets or "His Master's Voice" in local parlance.
The African mine workers' leaders and a great majority of Africans
mine workers were opposed to the All-Copperbelt Tribal Council mechanism.
After all, the initiative was designed or calculated to deal a death
blow to the African leadership. At the inaugural meeting of the
All-Copperbelt Tribal Council on 7th January 1953, the specially
designed gowns were distributed to nominees from all four major
companies: Roan Mine; Rhokana; Nchanga; Mufulira as well as the
perceived representatives of all major ethnic groupings on the mine.
The NRAMWU got wind of this development and decided to table and
discuss the issue at its subsequent annual conference. The end result
was the adoption of the following resolutions:
" Persuade all employees to whom gowns had been distributed
as "tribal" leaders to surrender them to the Compound
" African Mine Workers branch leaders were mandated to call
and prevail upon employees to whom the "tribal" leaders'
gowns had been distributed, to denounce the move of forming "tribal
councils" as proposed by the companies.
Implementing these resolutions in all the NRAMWU branches proved
rather difficult for quite understandable reasons. First, the individuals
that had been selected were quite scared of what would befall them
were they to follow what was requested of them. For instance, they
knew full well, some of the tactics used by the White Compound Managers
in obtaining information about so called agitators. These included
planting informers or whistleblowers in the African midst. Some
were enticed to cook-up allegations against their fellow Africans.
It was not surprising that the Nchanga branch chairman, Robinson
Puta found himself sooner rather than later in serious trouble!
He was arrested on a trumped up charge of threatening violence.
Evidence submitted by the prosecution before a Chingola Magistrate
Court alleged among other things, that Puta had told a meeting of
Africans at a secret place that "If we find out that you are
on the side of the Europeans, we shall call a meeting and denounce
you". The nature of things and the way justice was dispensed
ensured Puta was found guilty as charged. The court then sentenced
him to three months imprisonment with hard labour. Puta's appeal
against the sentence at Livingstone was successful but the outcome
was the same, as the Governor of the territory intervened to ensure
that he nevertheless served his "sentence".
The NRAMWU leadership realised the root cause, there and then, and
therefore declared total war on the existence of tribal councils.
They demanded that the Companies put the issue to a vote. In their
naiveté, the Companies agreed to the proposal on condition
that the votes cast against the existence of tribal councils would
be more than 40% of the entire African labour force. When the vote
was taken in March 1953, more than 82.2% of total votes had rejected
retention of tribal councils. The struggle for which Puta had gone
to prison was won, while the shameless manipulation of the appeal
at Livingstone was exposed as a sham.
One of the many problems that strained relations between black
and white people in Northern Rhodesia stemmed in part from existing
bonds between whites in Northern Rhodesia on the one hand, and the
regimes south of the Zambezi River, on the other hand. The mining
industry and all commercial activities in Northern Rhodesia were
with no exception, offshoots of white South African companies. Racialism
in South Africa had already entrenched itself. Those whites that
came into Northern Rhodesia from the south brought with them the
same attitudes of racism that South Africa and Rhodesia were known
for. In other words, the established system underlined the white-black
factor in recruitment, employment conditions and general treatment
to which the Africans were subjected. On the mines and in the African
compounds, white gangers and compound managers respectively, were
selected on the basis of their cruelty and harshness or inhuman
treatment of Africans. They seemed to derive great pleasure in ensuring
that conditions under which the African worked were as unpleasant
The absurd notion of a superior race on the one hand, and the inferior
race on the other hand, became more pronounced in Northern Rhodesia
after the Second World War as a result of immense industrial expansion
on the line-of-rail. Economic expansion led to an informal system
of guaranteeing jobs for white Northern Rhodesians at the expense
of their indigenous counterparts. In the new regime, protection
of white economic and political interests was paramount. While the
settler community was virtually guaranteed employment, the indigenous
community faced stiff competition even for the most menial jobs.
This meant that wages for Africans were kept deliberately low. The
humiliation suffered in this regard by indigenous Northern Rhodesians
at the hands of the "superior race" is well documented.
It is this background that gave birth to Robinson Puta as trade
As earlier pointed out, the use of race as a policy instrument
awakened political consciousness in African mineworkers. These developments
coincided with activities of the African Welfare Associations which
had already sprung up in a few isolated places. These associations
were more political than their names suggested as it was through
these associations that political activity was extended to the general
Because of the restrictive atmosphere of the time, Africans typically
met in secret to engage in political discourse. Debates in these
meetings centred on the issues of racial discrimination and poor
working conditions, particularly the very low wages paid to hard
working mineworkers. Employers were obviously unaware of these meetings
but instead were confident that they controlled all the means of
It was not unusual for the mining companies and the colonial administration
to be completely unaware of genuine African political opinion. Hence
the first African mine-workers disturbance and strike at the mining
town of Luanshya in 1935 took the authorities by surprise. What
added fuel to the fire had been the decision of the Legislative
Council to increase the poll tax, totally ignoring the fact that
in comparison to white miners, Africans were very poorly paid. It
is a common human failing of not wanting to learn from past mistakes.
The principle and effect of that African strike reminds one of the
Boston Tea Party of "no taxation without representation".
In fact Northern Rhodesia Africans responded to the same social
economic imperatives as their American counterparts and took the
opportunity impress upon the powers that be, that their labour was
indispensable to the smooth operation of the mining industry. It
is noteworthy that the Luanshya disturbances and strike were aimed
more at the colonial administration than the mining companies.
In a similar manner, the story of stalwarts in any field of human
history, in this case, the sons and daughters of Zambia who spearheaded
the evolution of Northern Rhodesia to independence, is quite fascinating.
It is the sum total of an intricate variety of situations in which
activities of the African mineworkers played a very significant
role. Robinson Puta's contribution can be likened to that of a cog
in a chain. He was a special cog by virtue of having been involved
as stated earlier, in many ground breaking actions that included
the extension of the Closed-Shop principle to the African trade
union movement. Hitherto, the principle had only applied to the
European trade union movement.
When these developments were taking place, Robinson Chisanga Puta
was already in the thick of things. For example, he had been elected
an official and Vice-President in the Supreme Council of the Union
together with Lawrence Chola Katilungu as President, Simon Kaluwa
as General Secretary; Philip Simwanza as General Treasurer; Jameson
Chapoloko as Deputy General Secretary; and J.R. Namitengo as Vice-Treasurer.
The Supreme Council was vested with power and authority to impose
discipline and command obedience of the 36,000 African employees
on the mines. Puta remained as Deputy President of the NRAMWU until
he was replaced in a very heavily contested election by Mungoni
Liso. He was also the Nchanga Branch Chairman.
Robinson Chisanga Puta also contributed to the attainment of Zambia's
independence. Consequently, on the day he was being honoured during
the 1966 independence anniversary celebration, the citation stressed
his role "as a former mineworkers' leader who had remained
a staunch nationalist fighter and even suffered imprisonment".
DEMOCRACY: OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES
The practice of democracy in Zambia during President Kaunda's
27 year rule of the country has sometimes been at odds with established
democratic theory. A most striking departure from democratic theory
and practice was the insistence by the UNIP government from 1972
that a one party state was nonetheless democratic.
No matter how one looks at democracy, one conclusion is inescapable.
Democracy is expensive and individuals committed to the fight for
democracy can pay a heavy personal price. This is particularly so
if the leadership is both affected and infected by the one-man-rule
syndrome. This will also happen where leadership delights in only
listening to flattery, to the exclusion of constructive criticism.
In less than a decade of Zambia's independence, Robinson Chisanga
Puta-Chekwe was to pay a heavy price for agitating for a truer form
of democracy than the Kaunda regime was prepared to practise.
Whereas in 1966 Robinson Chisanga Puta was honoured as a gallant
soldier in the struggle for independence, in 1972 he was vilified
as an enemy of the state. A friend and confidant overnight became
an enemy of the country's head of state. He was identified as a
hero of the colonial era but condemned in post colonial Zambia for
championing the same political cause. In the name of security and
self preservation, the principles of democratic governance were
thrown out like the baby with the proverbial bath water.
Robinson Puta with Jameson Chapoloko, Justin Chimba and Musonda
Chambeshi were among 150 former staunch United National Independence
Party cadres detained under the Preservation of Public Security
Act, a law inherited from the colonial era. Robinson's immediate
crime was to oppose the erosion of democracy and align himself with
the country's former Vice President, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe who had
formed an opposition party. Kaunda's former political comrades-in-arms
awoke to the realities of African political leadership and to the
meaning of one-man-rule. Kaunda began to show signs of not trusting
advice from his colleagues, especially those that dared put across
contrary views to his own. It was quite clear that any opposition
or suggestion for change of direction had to be condemned by all
means, at the leadership's disposal.
The 1995 Report of the Human Rights Commission of Inquiry under
the chairmanship of Africa Bruce Munyama underlines the changed
Zambian political scenario in 1972. It was a travesty of democracy.
The report recounts how former colleagues in the UNIP leadership
had their human rights violated, including being subjected to an
Kaunda behaved like a typical dictator. He feared losing power,
increasingly enjoyed flattery and took great pleasure dispensing
political largesse. He behaved like his former colonial masters
when he failed to read the writing on the wall and assumed he could
rule his country indefinitely. Kapwepwe and his colleagues committed
the cardinal political sin of reminding Zambians that the presidency
was not God-given. Rather, it is determined by the people through
a free vote preceded by a healthy debate. Consequently, those who,
like Robinson Chisanga Puta, supported Simon Kapwepwe's United Progressive
Party (UPP) were subjected to imprisonment without charge and in
most cases tortured as a way of forcing them to tow the line.
Robinson Chisanga Puta, Jameson Chapoloko, Maybin Mubanga, Fred
Ramsey, Godwin Munthali, Alfred Musonda Chambeshi and 19 others
were detained at Chipata prison. Other detainees were confined to
other prisons across the country. The methods and some of the force
used against detainees ranged from "(a) brutal beatings using
all sorts of objects, hose-pipes, electric cables, batons and iron
bars" to "(w) suspects being suspended between two tables
while hanging from an iron bar, this is commonly referred to as
'kampelwa' (swing)". Other forms of torture included (a) blacklisting,
(b) harassment of family members, relations, employers or prospective
employers, (c) eviction form Council houses and markets, (d) denial
of trading licences, and (e) withdrawal of passports.
When Puta was eventually released from detention, it was evident
from his physical appearance, and the slow pace at which he walked
that he had been subjected to ill treatment while a political prisoner.
Other signs of his discomfort included expressions of pain on his
face any time he moved any of his limbs. Every one who saw him and
had known him prior to incarceration reached the only logical conclusion;
Robinson had been subjected to nearly all the above listed inhuman
treatments. As if to add insult to injury, Dr. Arnold Chooka, then
Special Assistant to former President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda and Mr.
Bweendo Mulengela, then UNIP Secretary for Information and Publicity,
appeared before the Munyama Human Rights Commission, and with a
straight face defended the former President, saying that it was
unthinkable that Kaunda could have played any role in this gross
violation of human rights. And yet it was Kenneth Kaunda who that
had signed the detention orders. Furthermore, the individuals that
carried out the torture constantly reported to him, especially some
of the information that was extracted from the detainees. Such was
the system where covering up for the chief was the rule rather than
the exception. Robinson Puta had paid a high price. He, like his
prison comrades Justin Chimba, John Chisata and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe,
WHO SHOULD QUALIFY AS A HERO?
Not every one can be a hero. It is however possible for many to
be associated with the heroism of compatriots and acquaintances.
Heroism much depends on the events in question and the circumstances.
It is also dependent on public perceptions of those events and circumstances.
Being a hero does not necessarily entail putting the hero's head
on the block. Rather it is a question of the admiration of the individual's
achievements and any noble qualities he or she is able to constantly
display. The issue of loss of life belongs to martyrdom and should
not be considered a necessary condition of heroism. Under colonial
rule in Northern Rhodesia, everything as earlier pointed out, was
determined by race. It was therefore unlikely for a black person
to qualify for inclusion on the official list of heroes. The most
a black person could ever hope for was to be awarded an OBE (Officer
of the British Empire) and this went mostly to serving civil servants.
One particular graphic example was provided during the second African
Mineworkers Union strike by what befell Mr. Elliot Mulenga on 3rd
April 1940. Seventeen unarmed Africans were killed and sixty three
seriously wounded by shots fired by white-led law enforcement officers.
They were shot at by the forces of the regime that later summoned
extra white reinforcements from south of the Zambezi River. On that
eventful day, Mr. Elliot Mulenga was first shot in the arm, went
for dressing at the mine dispensary and when he returned, he was
struck with a bayonet, cutting open his bowels and died on the spot.
Under normal circumstances, Mr. Elliot Mulenga would have earned
inclusion on the heroes' and martyrs' list.
The manner in which Mr. Elliot Mulenga met his death was in as
far as the whites were concerned, just one good practical way of
intimidating Africans. The message was that there was a price for
the foolishness of daring white authorities. Far from frightening
the African mineworkers' leadership, however, this brutality served
only to strengthen their resolve to fight on for what they believed
was a just cause.
Elliot Mulenga's name does not immediately come to mind when we
think of heroes. He is nevertheless a hero, albeit an unsung one.
What is the difference between acknowledged heroes and unsung heroes?
Many heroes, unlike the "unsung heroes", are conspicuous
by having structures, roads or avenues, both natural and man-made
lakes, airports etc. named after them. Thus, Lawrence Chola Katilungu
is a hero and this fact is given official recognition by the fact
that the building that houses the headquarters of the Zambia Congress
of Trade Union (ZCTU) in Kitwe is named after him. Perhaps one reason
why many will continue to be unsung heroes is because there are
not enough such structures to go round. In point of fact, several
unsung heroes of yesteryears are on the verge of being forgotten.
It is incumbent upon scholars and analysts of historical events
to take up the challenge of documenting them for posterity the way
Professor Musambachime has done with respect to the legendary Mr.
There are many unsung heroes from Zambia's pre-independence era,
without whose involvement, the strikes of 1935, 1940 and 1952 would
not have succeeded. Take as one illustrative example, the 1952 general
strike by African miners, particularly its very telling lesson for
the country, the white business community, and the mining companies
as well as on the colonial administration. Credit for its success,
including lack of violent incidences that would have resulted in
more deaths of Africans, in spite of lasting for nearly three weeks,
was due to the mature and determined leadership of the African mine
workers. Robinson Chisanga Puta Chekwe played a significant part
in ensuring this success. He is truly an unsung Zambian hero.
2. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Barnes
& Nobles, Inc., New York, 1994. p.882
3. Jonathan H. Chileshe, Alderman Safeli H. Chileshe: A Tribute
to the Man, His Life and History, Mission Press, Ndola, 1998
4. Fergus McPherson, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia: The Times and the
Man, Oxford University Press, Nairobi, 1974, pp. 126, 211
5. M. R. Mwendapole, A History of the Trade Union Movement in Zambia
up to 1968, University of Zambia Institute of African Studies, Communication
No. 13, 1977, p. 9.
6. L. H. Gann, A History of Northern Rhodesia, Chatto and Windus,
7. Anthony St. John Wood, Northern Rhodesia: The Human Background,
Pall Mall Press, London, 1961, pp. 24 - 29.
8. Henry S. Meebelo, Reaction to Colonialism: A Prelude to the Politics
of Independence in Northern Zambia 1893-1939, Institute for African
Studies-University of Zambia, Manchester, 1971,pp. 259-261.
9. Simon Zukas, Into Exile and Back, Bookworld Publishers, Lusaka,
10. T. D. Weldon, The Vocabulary of Politics, Penguin Books, Middlesex,
11. Republic of Zambia, Report of the Human Rights Commission of
Inquiry, 6th September, 1995.
12. Summary of the Report of the Munyama Human Rights Commission
of Inquiry and Government Reaction to the Recommendations, Government
Paper No. 2 of 1995, pp.14 - 15.
Dr. Jonathan H. Chileshe
Dr. Jonathan H. Chileshe, is an economist and student of political
institutions as well as man of the world. He has authored several
books, some of which are used for university course work. This apart,
he has published papers and lectured at several conferences. He
retired from the United Nations after 24 years and thereafter had
the rare opportunity of being Chairman of the National Economic
Advisory Council of Zambia for nearly a decade. Contact e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am afraid I am going to disappoint you. I joined the law firm
of Lloyd Jones & Collins on 1/4/60 but was away for several
months in Broken Hill [now Kabwe] as my old man had a severe heart
attack and nearly died. When I returned to Ndola and when I wasn't
slaving for Jack Dare [the senior partner of the firm] I was studying
for my solicitors' final examinations.
I honestly have no recollection of when I first met Robinson but
at that stage was kept well away from the important clients - in
fact I was on the 2nd floor in Debt Collecting. We were in the UK
from mid Jan to early Dec. 1962. So the likelihood is that I only
met Robinson in 1963, when I was re-writing my solicitors' exams.
Of the successful Black Northern Rhodesians, I only really knew
Tom Mtine and that was later.
I recall however that Robinson was a bit autocratic and thus probably
demanding but I was impressed with the status he received in those
difficult pre Independence days and although there was a certain
amount of window-dressing I felt his achievements were merited.
It can't have been easy working alongside AD McLean [a fellow director
of Rhodesia Railways] who, although he mellowed in later life, was
a most difficult and bloody-minded individual.
I am ashamed to say that I have a complete gap of the 1962 general
election and had never even heard of Robinson's running mate, Tidder
until your e-mail. It is a great pity that Robinson's talents were
never properly utilised after Independence.
I would add that his progeny do him credit.
Charles Anthony Stacey
Charles Anthony Stacey read English at Cambridge
before becoming a solicitor and former Senior Partner of Lloyd Jones
and Collins in Ndola, Zambia.
I first met Robison Puta when, together with other officials of
the African Mineworkers Union, he came to my house in Luanshya in
1951 to ask for assistance with facts and figures in negotiations
which the Union was about to have with the Mining companies on wages.
He was a tall figure, spoke good English and appeared self-confident
in his ability to face the companies if he had figures of the profits
they were making.
Robinson was Vice-president of the Union and Lawrence Katilungu
- President. They had both been chosen by the mineworkers for their
ability to face up to the white 'compound managers', who were the
companies' administrators in charge of the workers' housing, recreational
facilities, discipline and even pay.
The African mineworkers included many recent recruits from rural
areas who had little education, and even amongst the educated administrative
workers there was a lack of self-confidence and experience to negotiate
with these managers: it needed tough people and both Katilungu and
Robinson were of such calibre. Robinson had early on been sentenced
to three months imprisonment for an act to frustrate the companies
from continuing to use 'tribal representatives' in lieu of the newly-
formed Union as the spokesman for the workers.
Robinson was also active in the African Congress and the campaign
against the white-sponsored Central African Federation and took
part in a large protest meeting in Chingola. He remained so involved
even after Katilungu led the Mineworkers Union away from supporting
strike action against imposition of the scheme.
After my deportation Robinson came to see me in London in the mid-fifties
but by that time he had left the union and become a businessman,
while still involved in the nationalist movement. After Independence,
Kaunda recognised Robinson's contribution to achieving independence
by giving him an award.
- - - - - - - - - -
In reorganizing my papers I have come across the following note
which I made in the late 1960's and which might be of interest.
"Kapwepwe and Chimba were detemined to include in the top echelon
only Bembas which were pliable and had conceded leadership to them.Thus
Puta and others were left out, with their connivance.
It would appear that KK relied on their views. This also applied
to the substitution of Mutemba for Chikwanda.
Later SK and JC were to regret this because Puta & co started
working against them and the UNIP government.
Ironically, Puta might have been included in the govt. were it not
I cannot remember who told me this and it might have been Robinson
Zukas was born in Lithuania but immigrated with his parents to Southern
Africa in his early adolescent years.
As a Northern Rhodesian, Zukas identified himself with the cause
of social justice as espoused by African nationalists. He was deported
from Northern Rhodesia to the United Kingdom in 1952 because he
was deemed by the colonial government to be a "danger to peace
and good order".
When Zambia attained its independence, Zukas returned home immediately
and soon established a civil engineering practice. The public spirited
Mr. Zukas served as a director on many sate agencies and corporations
as well on the University of Zambia Council.
I have very fond memories of Robinson Chisanga Puta Chekwe who was
at one and the same time a friend, compatriot, and business colleague
and, at the end of it all, he was like a brother to me.
It was perhaps inevitable that Robinson and I would be spoken of
in the same breath. We both used our early jobs after school as
training grounds for our own enterprises. Robinson worked as a clerk
in the mining company while I worked as an Inspector of Cooperatives
for the Department of Cooperative Societies. We both learnt our
work quickly but declined to remain in our positions because we
considered at the time, the working conditions to be unjust.
While I tried my hand at running commercial agencies, Robinson
tried his as a broker in the fishing industry. He reckoned that
there was quick money to be made in buying fish at source and selling
on the lucrative Copperbelt market. Robinson's calculation was right.
In a relatively short period of time he made enough money to start
a shop of his own in Bancroft, now called Chililabombwe. By 1960,
Robinson was able to establish the first super market in Lubengele
In the meantime Robinson and I were emboldened by our success and
began to take interest in governance issues. Although we avoided
national leadership positions in the nationalist movement, we nevertheless
were happy to finance the movement in one way or another. We also
participated in the Copperbelt African Representative Council, which
at the time debated issues of national importance with a view to
giving advice to Her Majesty's Government. Subsequently we both
fought elections on behalf of the United National Independence Party,
led by our childhood friend Kenneth Kaunda.
Robinson served as mayor (at that time called, Chairman of the
Management Board) of Bancroft in the early 60s and was still mayor
on Independence Day. I was mayor of Ndola from 1964 to 1966.
It is a marvel to me how we managed to do all the things we did.
Although we had a political profile, we regarded ourselves essentially
as businessmen. I thought Robinson was a particularly skilful businessman.
At a time when opportunities for Africans were extremely limited,
he took advantage of bylaws that permitted businessmen to be established
in African areas and used that as the basis of his commercial success.
The high profiles we enjoyed and our history of success in business
made us valuable commodities in the business world. On the eve of
Zambian Independence, I was chairman or director of eight major
commercial undertakings and a member of a number of charitable organisations.
Robinson was director of many companies including Katata Breweries
Limited and Rhodesia Railways Board, in addition to being Chairman
of his expanded family business. He was also President of the Northern
Rhodesia Traders Association. For our trouble we had the dubious
distinction of being the first Africans to become eligible to pay
The story of Katata Breweries comes to mind. A company called Heinrich's
Syndicate, of which I was Public Relations Officer and later became
director, dominated the opaque beer industry in Northern Rhodesia
for most of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The Company's Secretary
in the late 1950s was a Mr. Hargreaves. Hargreaves left and persuaded
Robinson to set up a rival company in Luanshya. That company was
called Katata Breweries Limited. Katata was initially quite successful
but in the long term could not compete effectively against Heinrich's.
The end result was that Katata was taken over by Heinrich's Syndicate.
Thus Robinson joined me on the Board of Heinrich's Syndicate.
The business world of Northern Rhodesia was mostly a white world.
African businessmen like Robinson, Safeli Chileshe, I and a few
others were therefore, anomalies at that time. The typical white
Northern Rhodesian was at that time comfortable with the assumption
that people with dark brown complexions could never be the equal
of pink skinned humans. By our behaviour, Robinson and I disabused
Whites of this notion. Through our actions the white business world
began to see that Africans could be just as talented as they were.
In my view, this realization helped one way or another to break
down the famous Northern Rhodesia colour bar.
We were of course hurt by racism from time to time. This led to
impatience on our part when we encountered racial discrimination.
I recall once telling a white reporter that I had run into discrimination.
I continued, "It does not worry me. When a person is stupid,
and people who try and discriminate are stupid, he is stupid irrespective
Furthermore, I wish to state that, while Robinson worked as a clerk
in the Mines in Chingola, he joined the struggle for African Advancement
as a Founder Member of the powerful African Mineworker's Union in
March, 1949, which was led by the late Lawrence Chola Katilungu.
By 1952, Robinson was Chairman of the Nchanga A M U Branch and General
Vice President of A M U and was at the time Vice President of Northern
Rhodesia Trade Union Congress (NRTUC). I remember Robinson as a
true nationalist who did not subscribe to tribal sentiments; he
respected all fellow Zambians irrespective of where they came from.
Copperbelt was and still remains 'a rainbow' Province in Zambia.
To emphasize the point, it is a cosmopolitan province. This noble
idea we both shared and it helped us build our leadership in our
respective fields. I in sport and civic life and Robinson in trade
union and civic life - both converging on business life and it is
from our successful business exploits that we both supported the
freedom struggle materially and otherwise.
Robinson Chisanga Puta Chekwe was a principled entrepreneur who
used his talents to better himself and advance the interests of
his country. I miss him dearly.
T M D Mtine, OGDS
Mtine is one of Zambias best known and respected businessmen.
Over the years, Mr Mtine has served as a director of many companies.
He is perhaps best known internationally for his roles as Managing
Director and Chairman of Lonrho Zambia Ltd. As a civic leader, Tom
Mtine has impressive credentials. He served as a member of the then
Ndola Urban Council from 1953 to 1958. In 1960 he was nominated
by the Governor In Council as a Councillor of Ndola Municipal Council.
In 1964 he was elected Mayor of Ndola. He served in that capacity
for two years.
Tom Mtine is also associated with the promotion of sport, especially
football (soccer), in Zambia. He is a former Chairman of the National
Football League of Zambia and the Football Association of Zambia.
He is currently an honorary member of the Confederation of African
Tom Mtine lives in Ndola on the Zambian Copperbelt.
I have been asked to comment on my association with the late Robinson
I would start of by saying that Robinson is his own best epitaph
and nothing that I can say can add to his stature - indeed it can
draw attention away from it; so I will be brief.
I came to Northern Rhodesia after leaving the British Army to help
Brian Gardner deal with the appeals, from the convictions in Northern
Rhodesia, in the Federal Supreme Court in Salisbury following the
Copperbelt riots in 1955. Lloyd Jones and Collins was one of the
few law firms willing to act for the appellants. Maurice Conway
had no problem with giving the firm's services to whoever needed
them - often whether they paid or not. This applied across the board
- the firm had quite a number of local Zambian entrepreneurs but
apart from Robinson- I am not very good at remembering names - there
was a lady with a bus company, I can see one of her buses in my
mind's eye to this day. Another name I remember is that of Morton
Msichili, an Ndola based butcher. There were many others whose names
I cannot recall.
I must have met Robinson on quite a number of occasions and I think
it was Tom Mtine, another prominent businessman, with whom I went
one day to have lunch with Robinson and his wife. This was my first
time to have a truly local meal.
It was quite a privilege in those days - though perhaps not everyone
saw it that way!
Subsequently, I had many such meals and I remember one in particular
after a hunting trip with my great friend Michael Chileshe. Michael
was then the District Governor of Ndola.
On my return from London in 1971, I was shocked to find Robinson
in detention without trial when I went to Kabwe to see Michael Chileshe.
Having read his website I understand a little better now why Robinson
had been included in the mass detentions that took place that year.
As I said I went to see Michael - whom I had got to know well whilst
he was District Governor in Ndola - he told me something of what
had happened to him and the others. I saw cigarette burn scars.
I was not very conversant with torture at the time but have become
much more familiar with it in my later life with refugee appeals
in the United Kingdom.
Robinson came along - in his dressing-gown. I recall he was thin
and did not look well. I cannot remember what we talked of but their
treatment must have been one of the topics.
I was so distraught at what I had seen that I decided to take the
matter up with the authorities.
Aaron Milner was Minister for Home Affairs at the time. When I
visited him at his home, I found him laid up in bed with - I think
- a broken leg. I railed at him for the government's treatment of
the detainees. He did not deny the torture but simply said "well
you people did the same to us".
Maybe so but that he offered that as an excuse still lives with
me now. I cannot remember everything I said to Milner but I did
remind him that no one had tortured him.
I don't think I saw much of Robinson after that. Apart from his
deteriorating health, there was also the fact that I was now living
in Lusaka and when I travelled back to the Copperbelt, I did so
as a judge.
One of the photos on the web site shows Robinson's friend, Jimmy
Fleming, with the Belgian Consul in 1960. The photograph includes
the local District Commissioner Paul Thirsk (on the left). Paul
was my cousin. Later he became the Representative for Northern Rhodesia
and Nyasaland in Salisbury and I was with him when Sir Henry Curtis
came for talks that led to the dissolution of the Federation of
Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Paul had been a Submarine Commander during
the war and afterwards joined the colonial service. After a spell
in Nigeria where he got TB, the Colonial Office decided to send
him to a more temperate climate - Solwezi in Northern Rhodesia I
think! He was married in Chingola, Robinson's adopted home town.
Another photo of particular interest was that of Robinson and his
Mineworkers Union colleagues being represented by Jack Dare and
Brian Gardner. Jack Dare's granddaughter, Rebecca Zausmer, came
to watch how my Tribunal performed one day a couple of years ago.
I have read and looked at the website with fascination. I knew
Robinson reasonably well as - unlike Charles Stacey I was allowed
to meet him!
Robinson Chisanga Puta Chekwe was deeply respected and highly regarded.
It is a great pity we don't have more like him.
Geoffrey Care was a partner in the law firm Lloyd Jones and
Collins until the early 1970s. He then became a Judge of the High
Court for Zambia. Geoff is currently President of the International
Association of Refugee Law Judges, and lives in Bressasy, Shetland,
MEMORIES OF ROBINSON CHISANGA PUTA CHEKWE
I first heard of Mr. Robinson Puta during the Cha-Cha-Cha days
when the nationalist struggle against British colonial rule was
at its peak. I was very interested in the struggle because of my
own opposition to British rule.
I arrived in Northern Rhodesia from South Africa in 1952. My experiences
in South Africa as a brown skinned person of Indian origin were
mainly negative. I have one particularly bad memory from 1944 in
Johannesburg when I was a primary school pupil. I was returning
home from school when a man was run over by a Double Decker bus.
The man was very badly injured and he was bleeding quite profusely.
A crowd gathered around the man and word quickly spread about the
accident. We were all concerned that this man might die. So, we
were quite relieved when an ambulance came along and stopped to
pick up the injured man. To my shock however the ambulance driver
declined his services when he realised that the man was a member
of the Bantu race. The ambulance was only for Europeans. The ambulance
left the man behind with the advice that another ambulance designated
for black people should transport the man to the Baragwanath Hospital
which was reserved for Africans. Because of the heavy loss of blood,
the man died.
My parents also had bad experiences in South Africa and eventually
the family decided to relocate to Northern Rhodesia. In those days
all we needed to do to enter Northern Rhodesia was to show that
we could read and write English. Upon satisfying the immigration
authorities that we could do this, we were accepted as British citizens.
I am afraid when I left South Africa I had developed a deep dislike
of white people and this dislike only disappeared in the early 1960s.
As a young man with my background, I saw no alternative to supporting
the nationalists in Northern Rhodesia. Consequently I joined the
freedom movement. Robinson Puta had already established a reputation
for himself as someone who got things done and someone who had worked
to improve the living standards of black Northern Rhodesians.
At that time the Northern Rhodesian Indian community tended to
support the nationalists although a few supported the predominantly
white United Federal Party which was born out of colonialism.
When finally Northern Rhodesia attained Independence and was renamed
Zambia, I contested one of the seats on the Mufulira Municipal Council
and won. Thus I became a councillor. There were other people who
had won the election but who had never before served in this capacity.
These colleagues and I were sent to the nearby town of Chingola
for orientation. Robinson Puta was one of the people responsible
for our training. He had been mayor of Bancroft during the colonial
era and had also sat on the African Representative Council.
I found Robinson to have a great personality. He was a well built
man who commanded a great deal of respect. We listened attentively
as he talked to us about the principles of local government and
the responsibilities of councillors. I cannot remember the exact
number of days we spent in Chingola but I do recall that we had
two sessions a day in the morning and afternoon. We were housed
at the Nchanga Hotel in the centre of the town.
One evening Robinson invited all the participants for an evening
party at his farm in Musenga, some ten miles south of Chingola.
At this party we had an opportunity to meet other dignitaries from
Chingola. Robinson and his wife Grace were excellent entertainers
and the party lasted late into the night.
At that time Robinson was chairman of his family business. He was
also director of a number of large companies including Rhodesia
Railways Board and SKF, the Swedish ball bearings manufacturing
company. Rhodesia Railways Board was the common railway network
for newly independent Zambia and Southern Rhodesia. The future of
the system was uncertain now that the two countries had such different
governments. In 1965 when the Rhodesian leader Ian Smith declared
illegal independence, it was clear that the Zambian railway assets
would have to be disengaged from the Rhodesian system and a new
railway company created.
In 1967, Kenneth Kaunda asked Robinson to disengage the Zambian
assets from the Rhodesian system and to create Zambia Railways Board.
Thus Robinson became the Chairman and CEO of Zambia Railways Board.
Although Robinson accepted a number of public appointments, it was
clear from the late 1960s that he was getting concerned about the
erosion of democracy in Zambia.
I was also becoming concerned about certain undemocratic practices.
For example, when I attempted to run for a second term as Councillor,
Mr. Fines Bulawayo, a Minister of State in the Kaunda government,
vetoed my nomination. Mr. Bulawayo had made a public speech criticising
Indian participation in Zambian politics. Mr. Bulawayo's comments
were not only irresponsible but contradicted the Zambian constitution
as well. I was therefore mollified when Alex Chikwanda, a young
government official who had recently returned from Sweden where
he studied economics, wrote to me assuring me that Zambia would
not tolerate discrimination. Chikwanda subsequently became Minister
of Finance. Simon Kapwepwe reacted in an even more practical way.
He used his powers as Minister of Local Government to appoint me
as a Councillor. I knew Kapwepwe quite well and he often visited
me when he was in Mufulira. Robinson also knew Kapwepwe. The two
had in fact attended the same school at Lubwa Mission in Chinsali.
It was not surprising to me that in 1971 Robinson was identified
as one of the people who had decided to support the United Progressive
Party formed by the former Vice President and childhood friend of
Kenneth Kaunda, Simon Kapwepwe.
The United Progressive Party was officially launched in August
1971. At dawn on September 20, 1971 some eighty prominent people
across the country were bundled out of their beds and taken to various
detention centres under armed police escort. The detentions were
made by order of the president under a law inherited from the colonial
era. The Preservation of Public Security Act had been used from
time to time in the past by the colonial government to subdue us.
Kaunda however had made this most unfair law permanent. Throughout
Kaunda's rule any person in Zambia could be arrested indefinitely
without charge by order of the president. Persons could also be
arrested for a month by a police officer of or above the rank of
Assistant Superintendent, without trial.
I was one of the people picked up as a suspected sympathiser of
the United Progressive Party. My journey ended at Mukobeko Maximum
Prison in Kabwe where I found other detainees. I was the only Zambian
of Indian origin. By 7 in the morning I was joined in the prison
courtyard by Robinson and other prominent Zambians like John Chisata
and Musonda Chambeshi. John Chisata had until recently been junior
Minister of Home Affairs. Musonda Chambeshi was an old colleague
of Robinson's from the trade union days. He now ran a liquor store
in Ndola. It took two prison officers the whole day to register
us. We were searched and our money, neckties, papers, shoe laces
and belts were confiscated. These items were then placed in envelopes,
one for each detainee bearing his name.
September is one of the hottest months in Zambia and we resented
being made to stand in line in the open courtyard. Eventually the
registration was completed and we were each given an aluminium bowl,
a mug and two very cheap and coarse grey blankets. It was now about
6 p.m. and we were marched to another gate that led to an enclosed
football ground. After marching about half the distance of the ground,
a gate on our left was opened and we were asked to go through that
gate. John Chisata, who had served as Minister of State for Home
Affairs and had visited prisons as part of his responsibilities,
told us that were now approaching the cell for condemned prisoners.
The building for death row inmates was a double storey structure
with a court yard in the centre and small cells around it. The building
was closely guarded. We were made to sit in the courtyard and it
was then that Mr. Chisata told the prison warden that he wanted
to see the Officer-In-Charge. When the Officer-In-Charge arrived,
Mr. Chisata asked him how he could keep us hungry and thirsty the
whole day. The OIC apologised and explained that food was served
at 3:30 in the afternoon. He also said he would check to see if
any food had been left over. He did find some food but it was not
enough for the crowd. In Zambia there is a tradition of sharing
food, so we simply divided this food among us. Unfortunately I could
not partake because I was then (as I am now) a vegetarian. The food
consisted of crudely prepared Nshima (thick corn porridge with the
texture of mashed potato) and a lump of meat. I was relieved however
to have some water to drink. I spent three and a half days at Mukobeko
without food. Despite telling the authorities that I was a vegetarian
they insisted on bringing me Nshima and meat.
While we were in the court yard, we watched the prison warders
removing the condemned prisoners from their cells on the upper floor
of the building and taking them outside to use the toilets and wash
themselves. These prisoners were kept in their cells naked, being
obliged to leave all their clothing by the door to the cell. The
only thing they could take inside the cell was a bowl of water.
The prisoners could not re-enter the cells without an inspection.
The condemned prisoners only had thirty minutes within which to
wash themselves, exercise and use the toilet. The lights in their
cells were controlled from outside. These lights were switched off
precisely at 9 p.m.
Our observation of the condemned building and its inhabitants came
to an abrupt end when the gates opened and a few officers came in
and asked us to stand in line. We all stood up and formed a line.
An officer however came to me and pulled me out of the queue. I
asked why he had done this and reminded him that my colleagues and
I had been brought to Mukobeko together. His impolite response was
that I was now in prison and not entitled to ask questions. I was
quite puzzled by this.
Subsequently I learnt that Robinson and the others had been taken
to Mpima State Prison within the same District. Mpima did not have
a brick wall for a perimeter. Instead it had a wire perimeter. For
this reason it was considered an 'open' prison.
I was allocated a cell that was filthy and had human waste in it.
I had many sad thoughts in my lonely hours in that cell. Somehow
I could accept oppression from the colonialists but I could not
accept oppression from our own government.
I spent six months in detention. I was never formally charged but
I had been accused administratively of plotting the overthrow of
Kenneth Kaunda's government. Needless to say, I was never tried.
About three months after my release, Robinson Puta was also released.
I was very happy to hear this. Robinson's health had deteriorated
in prison and after his release he became less visible as a public
I regret that Zambia has not done more to honour this great figure.
Robinson believed in democracy and justice. I feel privileged to
have known him.
Kanoobhai A. Patel
Patel was a well known civic and business leader on the Zambian
Copperbelt. He ran a successful business in Mufulira, Zambia, where
he then lived. He now resides in Mississauga, Canada.