5 December 2012

Uganda: In Chilenje House, the Kaunda Legacy Still Lives

Chilenje House is where Zambia's independence struggle started. Situated in Chilenje township off a rather dusty road, this house is where Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda Zambia's first president, coordinated his country's independence struggle. It was recently declared a national monument in recognition of its role in the history of Zambia, writes Stephen Ssenkaaba

The roads through Lusaka, the Zambian capital, are neat. They make you hate much of our own in Kampala. So, as we drove through, I marvelled at the organisation of the city. What is it that Zambians do differently?

I think Zambian planners were very keen on keeping the city streets green. There are a number of swanky boulevards lined with trees; each painted across the trunk with "belts" of white shade.

There are fewer potholes than you would see here, perhaps because it is the country's central business district. However, farther away from the capital, it gets dustier.

We drove through the famous Kalingalinga slum, where we passed a tiny little field named after the Ugandan capital Kampala.

"It was named so to commemorate a famous victory against the Uganda national football team by our own Zambian side a couple of years ago," our guide told us.

My colleague Gerald Tenywa and I mumbled. Poverty stares right at you here from the hawker boys who come running after your taxi shoving their stacks of chewing gum up your nose in the window to the scores of shabbily-dressed men who aimlessly wonder about the city.

The colourful billboards:

There are lots of colourful billboards in the city, but none haunted me more than that showing Hervé Renard, the coach of Zambia's football team; Chipolopolo, proudly showing off his spotless white shirt.

He casts a sideways gaze, lower lip slightly twisted and his hands folded around the chest. Monsieur Renard seemed to hover over every passerby; looking down on whoever looked up at him. Seeing as we had a crucial soccer date with Renard's boys for a place in the 2013 Africa Nations Cup final in South Africa, this surely was a most unwelcome picture.

Meanwhile, I was not sure if I had seen the real Zambia; if I had seen this country's spirit, until I went to Chilenje House 394. Situated in Chilenje town, off a rather dusty Burma Road, this house is where Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda - Zambia's first president, coordinated his country's independence struggle. It also served as his residence from January 1960 to December 1962.

It was recently declared a national monument in recognition for its role in the history of Zambia. Kaunda calls it 'my wonderful old residence'.

"This is where I mobilised political activities," he famously told a visiting president. It is here, stories have it, that meetings for resistance activities took place. It is in Chilenje that the well-known Cha-Cha-Cha demonstration to advocate constitutional reforms in Zambia was hatched.

However, Chilenje was no barracks. It was, and still is, a simple residence a two-bedroom house with a small living room, kitchen and two bedrooms. It lies in a spacious compound littered with giant trees that seem to thrive on a stony ground.

It shares a compound with two houses numbered 393 and 395, all of which were used during the struggle. In front of Chilenje House 394, stands a bronze statue of Dr. Kaunda on a pedestal, splendid in traditional wear and waving his trademark white handkerchief in the right hand.

The artefacts:

A huge replica painting of the Kaunda family photo his wife Betty and their eight children hangs down one of the trees in front of the house. In one extreme corner of the compound lies a shell of a Land Rover truck browned by chars of fire.

According to the inscription on the Land Rover, the car was donated to Kaunda by a missionary called Marvin Temple for use during the independence struggle. Harold Machuku, the site attendant, says it was burnt by angry citizens on June 30, 1990, during the famous food riots.

My visiting colleagues and I rushed to take pictures next to this wreck of a car, perhaps subconsciously reminiscing the similar trends and scenes in our own countries.

The beauty of Chilenje House lies in its simple, well-preserved status; in the old, well-kept images inside the living room that tell the story of Zambia's struggles.

Black and white photographs of a youthful Kaunda with his family at home; his comrades at work; of him with white colonial chiefs and of the changing face of Lusaka over the years, hang down from the walls of the living room. The hazy tones of these pictures teem with the simplicity, uncertainty and hope of the times.

Well placed Zambian currency notes from the olden times grace the walls too, bearing witness to the economic changes this country has gone through over the years.

There are also well preserved domestic utensils in the Kaunda family kitchen the tea pots, the metallic cups and plates used during meals; even the basin shared by the family. They tell a story of modesty, persistence and resilience.

Each of the remaining rooms contains a single bed the little metallic spring bed without a mattress in the smaller room is where Kaunda's son slept. In another bedroom, a larger bed stands, well-laid with a clean red and blue stripped blanket and beaming with the bright yellow sun rays from the bedroom window.

A tourist destination:

Many Zambians visit to marvel at the gem that is Chilenje. As we leave, a group of primary school students line up outside the house waiting for their turn to be ushered in. Bemused excitement fills their innocent eyes as they make their way to the living room.

One by one, they look at the walls, whisper to each other and look again. "This house marks an important part of our history, that is why we are so proud of it," Machuku says.

Alice Bwala Kalufyanya, a young public relations professional says: "Chilenje House is a milestone on the route to Zambia's independence.

It rightly belongs in annals of our history. The Kaunda legacy cannot be complete without it." "Chilenje House is the mother of all houses in Zambia and the genesis of our independence, a matter that we as Zambians will never forget.

All year round, people of all walks of life visit the place," Isaac Kanguya, the public relations manager at Zambia's National Heritage Conservation Commission, says.

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