Zambia’s crucial role in the liberation of Southern Africa, By Kagosi Mwamulowe

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2024 is a milestone year for Southern Africa. Zambia is readying for its diamond jubilee. The country is considered the cradle of liberation in the region. The last to be free was South Africa, now marking its 30th anniversary but

economic inequality is rife. It’s among the world’s worst in the lack of equity. Factors like half-hearted transformation are to blame. Until 1994, conservatives like Ian Smith and Hendrik Verwoerd subjected Southern Africa to “colonialism of a special kind.” Despite colonial-driven massacres and destruction, Zambia remained true to the subcontinent’s liberation project. As we commemorate our hard-earned independence this year, we also pause to preserve our liberation heritage for future generations

Ensconced in the heart of Southern Africa, Zambia epitomises resilience and sacrifice in the continent’s journey to decolonisation.

Zambia’s role – along those of Botswana, Tanzania and Lesotho – to support the region’s liberation project is testament to the nation’s support, under the Kenneth David Kaunda’s visionary stewardship, and the dedication of then-ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP). The nation’s unwavering solidarity with, and material support for, the oppressed is a defining legacy in Africa’s relentless pursuit of freedom.

A look at the life of KK, as the revered leader was called, is a quick reminder that he believed that Zambia was not free if the rest of its neighbours were not independent. Born 100 years ago, the measured activist-statesman swore by the philosophy and biblical commandments of loving thy neighbour, and treating others the way you’d like to be treated. Such outlook birthed the One Zambia, One Nation motto to cultivate unity in a country of more than 70 ethnicities. Soon, it inspired a contagious slogan, “Tiyende pamodzi ndi mtima umodzi.” That’s Chinyanja for “Let’s move together in unity”, and it is the hallmark of the AU.

Zambia was a sanctuary for freedom fighters from Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Put differently, their route to decolonisation traversed KK-led lands. Lusaka, the epicentre, offered safety to the region’s political activists. It is not by accident that the United Nations (UN) looked to Zambia as the base for the Institute for Namibia in exile. The fact that the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, Namibia’s SWAPO, and others had their offices or leaders based in Zambia speaks volumes. Revolutionaries who lived, trained and worked in Zambia – and Tanzania – include Josina Machel (née Muthemba), Thabo Mbeki, and President Hage Geingob, Namibia’s First Citizen. Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) leader, Herbert Chitepo, was assassinated in Lusaka in 1975.

The landlocked country’s support transcended mere refuge provision to extending vital assistance to freedom fighters and their movements, who established pivotal operational hubs in Zambia. Oliver Tambo House in Lusaka was among the sanctuaries or safe houses for these leaders during their protracted struggle. So was Robert Gabriel Mugabe House at Chalimbana University, the Freedom Camp and Chitepo’s House, bombed by Rhodesian security forces in 1975. Likewise, apartheid Pretoria dispatched cross-border mercenaries who, at the start of their killings in February, 50 years ago, assassinated student leader, Onkgopotse Tiro (in Gaborone) and Umkhonto we Sizwe founder, John Dube (in Lusaka). Thus, sites like the ones mentioned here, given the Liberation Routes Agenda, can boost cultural tourism.

Attacks such as the Kavalamanja bombings and Operation Green Leader, both waged by Ian Smith’s regime in 1978, and the Chambeshi Bridge Bombings in 1979, underscored the perils faced by Zambia in its support for decolonisation. Those attacks were part of the broader efforts by racist regimes to extend their illegitimate minority rule. The attacks went on to claim the lives of Zambian soldiers and civilians alike. This highlights the steep price the host nation paid in its relentless fight against oppression.

The sacrifices borne by the nation were immense, including unfair diplomatic pressures. Strains on resources and infrastructure posed significant challenges to the landlocked nation’s own developmental aspirations.

Against the background of Zambia’s commitment to justice and liberation, the impact of its involvement reverberated across societal domains. Socially, the nation emerged as a symbol of solidarity and Pan-African unity, fostering a profound sense of comradeship among nations united in their quest for independence. In the second place, politically, Zambia’s steadfast support contributed substantially to the eventual downfall of apartheid and colonial regimes. Economically, Zambia faced formidable challenges due to sanctions and disruptions – meted out by minority-rule regimes and their Western principals – as a form of punishment for the nation’s solidarity with then-oppressed Southern Africa.

In the final analysis, the support offered by Zambia turned it into a paragon of dedication among African states. Its historical significance in those struggles aligns profoundly with the Liberation History agenda of the AU and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention Agenda. The country’s role warrants the advancement of Zambian sites as part of the Southern African Liberation Routes for several compelling reasons:

The liberation sites in Zambia hold immense historical significance. They mark critical moments and events in the struggle as tangible reminders of the sacrifices made and the resilience displayed during that era.

These sites represent not only Zambia’s involvement but also the collective efforts of other nations in the emancipation project – symbolising unity, resilience, and the spirit of Pan-Africanism.

Inclusion in the Southern African Liberation Routes would ensure the preservation and conservation of these sites; including educating generations about such history, and fostering more appreciation of Africa’s fight for independence.

Recognition of these sites within the World Heritage Agenda acknowledges their outstanding universal value; amplifies their importance; and facilitates their protection and conservation measures under the World Heritage Convention.

Inclusion in the Liberation Routes agenda fosters regional cooperation and solidarity; sharing of experiences, knowledge, and heritage, contributing to a sense of unity and common purpose in pursuit of shared values.

Thus, Zambia’s historical sites encapsulate the struggles and triumphs of the people of the subcontinent. As discussed, advancing these sites as part of the Liberation Routes aligns with the objectives of the AU and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention Agenda. It honours the legacy of the struggle.

Zambia’s contribution to the decolonisation project, under the leadership of KK and his comrades, remains indelible in the annals of African history. The sacrifices made and the unfailing support provided resonate through the fabric of the nation, solidifying its position as an emblem of emancipation and unity. Its legacy of commitment to independence ought to be preserved to inspire generations, embody the unyielding spirit of a nation dedicated to the cause of justice and freedom for all.

Not to keep as a secret the statesman’s contribution in the region’s march to freedom, Zambia is taking its KK tribute to the globe. Last year, the UNESCO General Conference passed a resolution to approve Zambia’s, among the proposals by Member States, for the celebration of anniversaries in 2024-2025 with which the organisation could be associated. Zambia’s proposal, supported by South Africa and Zimbabwe, is the celebration of 50 years of Kaunda’s contribution to peace in Southern Africa.

To safeguard that part of African history, relevant institutions must collaborate in the name of preservation and documentation. The National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC), alongside Zambia National Commission for UNESCO, is well placed to spearhead that process. Further, history-rich sites like Oliver Tambo House and Kavalamanja not only deserve to be declared as shared National Monuments but also World Heritage Sites. Continued collaboration by members of the regional family will enable our children and grandchildren to appreciate the history and the power of the spirit of the AU or Bantuism-Ubuntu.

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