Monday, March 17, 2008
By Brighton Phiri
Sunday March 16, 2008 [03:00]
THE history of the Nsenga speaking people is incomplete without mentioning chief Ndake of Nyimba district. More interesting though is chief Ndake’s ascendancy to power. Actually the selection came as a surprise, at least to a point where he wanted to run away. It all started when chief Ndake (born Alick Maponda) heard about his uncle’s death.
He left for Nyimba so that he could be present at his uncle’s burial. Unfortunately at the time, transport was a big problem and he arrived a day after the burial.
“That was 15th February when he died and around 1st March, that was the time to finalise the mourning rituals. On that day, the people demanded that the name of the successor be mentioned. I became a bit suspicious because some of my drunken cousins openly said we want the same Alick, meaning me.
I never believed that it would happen,” chief Ndake says. “On that day, I was not even consulted or regarded as a member of the family. Nobody whispered to me. I never thought I could be picked because both my father and mother were telling me that none of their children was going to be a chief. So I was confident that since my mother and father were there, nothing would happen.”
So the rituals started off with people among them the royal family members gathering at the palace.
A tradition cousin of the Lungu clan (Ndake royal family’s clan) took control of the proceedings. He made a few announcements before dropping the bombshell.
The master of ceremonies explained how the royal family’s senior uncle (Tumvi) and his royal sisters (Mbumba) conducted the selection process before turning his head towards where chief Ndake was seated.
“The master of ceremonies went round telling the people that we have decided…and he went on and on before turning towards where I was seated… he pronounced my name…Alick Maponda, the son of Mr. Maponda. You all know him and he has only one wife,” says chief Ndake. “I did not know what followed because I broke down into tears before they rushed me into a hut. I considered all those saying kind words about me before as terrible enemies. I looked at my mother and uttered one word while crying. I asked my mother why she allowed me to be selected as chief when she knew that I had very young children.”
The Nsenga people observe matrilineal descent. Chiefs are chosen from particular lineages within clans who rule designated lands, but exogamy between clans has created a situation where most clans are represented in each chiefdom. Although all pre-colonial Nsenga chiefs were equals, the British named senior chiefs in order to centralise authority and administration. The three senior Nsenga chiefs were namely; Kalindawalo (Petauke), Lwembe (Nyimba) and Mbuluma (Luangwa).
Upon his arrival from Livingstone where he used to live, it was agony again for chief Ndake as he was confronted with questions regarding the selection of a new chief.
The first to confront him was his wife Ruth, who upon opening the door led him to the bedroom before asking him to disclose the name of a new chief.
“When I entered my bedroom, she sat next to me on our bed and looked directly into my eyes and asked how I travelled to the village. I told her that I was selected as chief before breaking down in tears…and she too broke down. Both of us broke down, but we agreed that we should not tell our children,” he said.
Another trial for chief Ndake was at his office, where he had difficulties breaking the news before his principal. Before he left for the funeral, the principal advised him to guard himself against being selected as chief.
“So when I reported back for work, I wept upon being asked how I travelled. But later I pleaded with the principal not to tell anybody. It took over three months for the children to know as we were preparing them for the village life. Unfortunately, some people who were on transit to Zimbabwe used to publicly declare that chief Ndake was in Livingstone.
So somebody came to inquire about the presence of chief Ndake at the college. We realised that the news had been broken and so we decided to tell our children because it was not good for them to get it from the other people.
So we chose an evening dinner to announce our pending transfer to the village. When I broke the news, majority of them stood out of their chairs crying, apart from one of them who jumped high in celebrations.”
But before breaking the news, chief Ndake was scheming on how he could avoid becoming a chief. He attempted to run away to Swaziland under the pretext of seeking employment because at that time Zambian teachers were on high demand.
“So I told my wife that I wanted to resign and leave for Swaziland, but she discouraged me from conceiving those ideas. She reminded me that one day I will grow old and find myself back at the village and that it will be embarrassing for the people to begin questioning me about my going back to the village late. So since my wife said it and since she was one of those that opposed it earlier, I felt comforted,” says chief Ndake.
Since chief Ndake had not reached retirement age and he did not want to lose his retirement, he asked the Ministry of Education to transfer him to an education institution near Nyimba district. And the government was fair enough and transferred him to Nyimba Secondary School as deputy head master.
Later after clocking 25 years in service, people asked chief Ndake to move from Nyosali where he settled to Lwezi, chief Ndake’s headquarters.
The people further asked chief Ndake to retire so that he could concentrate on traditional matters.
“So I retired on 31 January, 1990. I started performing as a full time traditional leader,” he says.
An educationist turned chief Ndake in 1986, Alick Maponda has spoken on issues of national interest, but it is his attempt to discard some bad Nsenga cultural beliefs that has yielded controversy.
“Our people’s pace to catch up with the fast changing world is very slow due to lack of proper education,” says chief Ndake.
“As a result they are easily corrupted by bad cultural beliefs such as superstition that leads them to think that problems like illness, poverty or any other fortune that befalls them is caused by man. So when they want to find out about the causes, they resort to witch-hunting by consulting the witchdoctors. And these witchdoctors are not sincere with the people. Even if someone is infected with HIV, they will not advise accordingly.”
In his quest for a just society, chief Ndake has banned the traditional healers from identifying the suspected persons linked to causes of illness. But he has instead asked the traditional healers to assist their patients with medicine only.
“I have since lost some favour among the people over this matter because they think that a chief cannot live without taboos or practising witchcraft. So they are saying chief Ndake is against the diviners because he fears to be exposed. So those are some of the challenges I am facing as a chief.”
Despite the accusations, chief Ndake has remained resolute to conquer illiteracy and poverty among his subjects.
In 1997, chief Ndake was instrumental in the establishment of the Nsenga Cultural Institute whose objectives were to maintain and promote Nsenga traditions and culture.
Under the institute, chief Ndake guides his subjects towards assimilating issues or actions that bring about positive results elsewhere in the world so that they are kept abreast with the latest global development.
“In June this year we have designed a workshop, which will last for two months, for about 260 school-going girls to try and discourage them getting hooked to early marriages. Our young girls get pregnancies much earlier at the expense of their education.
That is one of the challenges,” chief Ndake says. “There has been some calls asking me to punish the parents, but I think before were punish we must educate them.
The girls too, must get educated. Drunkenness has taken toll on some of our young men, leaving them unproductive because they spend most of their time drinking. Worst still, some of them completed Grade 12 with good results, but they end up drinking Kachasu, having unstable marriages, insufficient food and unable to think properly.
All they think about is where to find the beer or where to steal to raise money to buy beer. These are some of the vices I am fighting against.”
Chief Ndake was born on March 14, 1945 at Ndake village in Nyimba district.
He enrolled for his Sub A, currently referred to as Grade One class, in 1954 at Kalindawalo school in Petauke, where he went up to Standard Two.
When chief Ndake’s father was transferred as treasurer clerk from Petauke to Nyimba where he took over as a court clerk, chief Ndake followed him and was admitted at Hofmile boarding school after writing his examinations.
“I was at Hofmile middle school from August 1958 to May 1960, again after writing my examination for Standard Five I qualified to go to Melwe Upper School in 1960. I was at Melwe for two years and completed Standard Six. And I was among the fortunate seven pupils to be selected to go to Katete Secondary School in August 1962…where I did my Form Two until May 1963,” says chief Ndake.
In January 1964, chief Ndake was to undergo a primary school teacher’s training at Malcolm Moffat Teachers Training College. After completing his training in 1966, chief Ndake’s first posting was to his former school Hofmile where he was later appointed assistant teacher.
“I taught at Hofmile from 1966 to 1971. I was appointed as headmaster for Hofmile Upper School and I was later transferred to Nyanje Upper School. These were mission schools run by Dutch Reformed Churches in Zambia,” says chief Ndake.
In 1974, the Ministry of Education selected chief Ndake for an in-service training course at Chalimbana, in what was then known as Zambia Primary Course for three months.
While at Chalimbana, chief Ndake pursued his private studies aimed at obtaining the O-level certificate with the Rapid Results College of London. “I struggled up to 1974. While at Chalimbana, I applied for an advanced Zambia Primary Course. After completing the course in 1975, I came back to Nyanje. I stayed just for a few months before I applied to go to UNZA to do a diploma in teacher’s education. I was accepted and I was at UNZA from 1976 to 1978,” he said.
At UNZA, chief Ndake studied science, social studies and education. After graduating he was posted to David Livingstone Teachers College.
After being promoted as lecturer grade one in 1978, chief Ndake was sent to the then President’s Citizenship College in Kabwe, where he obtained a certificate in political science.
Unfortunately, while chief Ndake was enjoying his teaching career, death struck his family and claimed the life of his uncle, the then chief Ndake.
He was made chief.
It was not all rosy for chief Ndake.
He was taking over a chiefdom that was under siege from the RENAMO across Mozambique.
Chief Ndake joined forces with the Zambia Army in sensitising the local people on security issues.
As if that was not enough, chief Ndake was faced with the challenge of responding to the winds of regime change that had engulfed Zambia.
“At the time of my retirement there were whispers and calls for regime change from the labour movement led by former president Frederick Chiluba. It was a very vocal movement, which shook Dr Kaunda as it led to some unrest, strikes by the workers and demonstrations against high prices and food shortages.
The time for a one-party system was numbered and the demand for multi-party was increasing. And he (Dr Kaunda) had to have supporters, therefore, in 1991, in March he turned Nyimba into a Boma and appointed me chief Ndake as its first governor.
So moving away from teaching and concentrating on the traditional matters, the head of state saw it fit to push me into politics in order to defend UNIP.”
“It is like forcing somebody to wear gloves to go and fight in the ring and indeed, I fought, but the fight was not violent. It was a peaceful approach to politics.
It was not dirty, yes some people might say politics is dirty, but what makes it dirty is the human mind because our first President is not dirty even as at now. He is a very dedicated man to human calls. He is very dedicated to peace and human development and that is what we learnt from him.
That is why I accepted when he chose me to stand as representative of Nyimba district and I went through with a very big margin,” says chief Ndake. “There I was, thinking that Dr Kaunda was very popular and believing that one day I was going to be a minister.
We were sure that we were going to defeat the MMD, but for sure it was like we were dreaming. We lost lamentably except a few parliamentary seats from the Eastern Province. So I went to parliament with a lot of despondency because what I thought I could contribute from the government bench was destroyed by the loss.”
Chief Ndake’s desire to stay in the National Assembly was unfortunately shattered when UNIP decided to boycott the 1996 presidential and general elections after the new constitution barred Dr Kaunda on account of his citizenship.
Chief Ndake got married to Ruth in 1966 with whom he has six children and 30 grandchildren.
Chief Ndake met his wife during his early days of teaching at Hofmile.
“My wife’s father was a grader operator camped at Nyimba site. We used to do the shopping at Nyimba and passed through their camp. And her father was a very good friend of my uncle, the late chief Ndake. When I broke the news about my plans to marry her, both my father who was a court clerk and my brother vigorously protested because they did not want me to marry someone from other provinces.
They wanted me to marry a Ngoni, with whom I could pay lobola. And so my uncle decided to approach my wife’s father Mr. Ibrahim Hussein to negotiate for my marriage. Since both of them were heavy drinkers, the negotiations did not take long. So the marriage was arranged by my uncle and I married my wife that year.”
Chief Ndake does not want to be left our on the current stand off between government and the mining companies.
“The foreign investors are being very unfair. The reason why they swarmed into Zambia to come and do whatever they are doing is due to our relaxed economic regulations.
And so they are threatening to drag our government to court simply because our government had been soft on them from the beginning. We are a developing nation. In my view we should not withdraw from our demands for a fair share of our resources.
If they don’t want why can’t they roll their mats and go rather than allowing a situation where we are not afforded the chance to benefit from our wealth,”
Chief Ndake says Zambians are malnourished economically and yet there is food.
“So for us to develop properly, there must be a tax regime that will ensure that those that are ripping from our resources are taxed heavily,” says chief Ndake.