LET US HONOUR OLD ALEXANDER GREY ZULU
BY TENTANI MWANZAH SUNDAY 28th April 2013
Octogenarian, Alexander Grey Zulu, more familiarly known simply as Grey Zulu, marked his 88th birthday, which fell on Monday 03 September ,2012, quietly at his Makeni home. Well-wishers, and they are not few , now prefer to call him Old Grey, the idea being to convey the same meaning as in the Swahili Mzee ,respected wise old man. He loathes vanity. Blowing his own trumpet is a far cry from his way of going about his personal affairs. Thus even on this day there was no fanfare to talk about, no blowing of trumpets ,no pomp and splendour of any sort, no drums, no percussions ;the American colloquial would have it, there was no nothing! His has been a life guided by an approach of quietude, quietude, and more quietude! Unlike most politicians he does not relish the limelight to a point of allowing himself go out of his way to solicit for coverage in the media. In that, he is no politician’s politician.
Occasionally, Old Grey has made appearances in public. When formally invited to state functions such as Africa Liberation Day, 25 May, and Zambia’s Independence Day, 24 October, he makes it his duty not to miss. Notwithstanding the fact that he retired from active politics in 1991, cameramen get busy the moment they discover his presence at such functions.
Last month, Zambia lost her first First Lady, who went to join her ancestors. Old Grey was on hand at the airport to receive the delegation of her husband, first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda, who brought back her remains from Zimbabwe. Journalists witnessing the spectacle of the two 1924- born old men hugging and passing condolences to each other would be excused if they regarded it as a scoop. It was reminiscent of their heydays; the Commander-in-chief being received by his Second-in-command, albeit in sorrow. All available media outlets made big news out of the captured images as well as those in which Old Grey appears with President Michael Chilufya Sata.
There has been recognition of Old Grey’s contribution to Zambia but a befitting honour has so far continued to elude him. One of Levy Mwanawasa’s first acts after assumption of the Presidency was to reintroduce the ceremony of honouring deserving individuals on Africa Liberation Day and Independence Day, banned during the 10 year reign of his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba.
Topping the list was no other than Old Grey. Mwanawasa decorated him with the Order of the Eagle, the highest available to one who has not served as Head of State. We cheered while remaining glued to our seats as he was receiving the honour from the President. Realising that well-wishers went against all protocols by moving close to the podium to mob later recipients I went to him to express regrets that we had failed to accord him similar compliments. Noticing my restlessness, Old Grey eased my tension by remembering an old adage “nakale lomwe wotsogola ndiye apita kumanda”-it is those in the forefront, the trail-blazers, who are beset by all sorts of dangers.
In recent times, Sata, at his very first such function, deemed it imperative to bestow on Old Grey a second round of the Order of the Eagle, a rare achievement in itself. It is noteworthy that in the very first days after his inauguration, he held private talks with him at State House as if it was a foregone way of enhancing legitimacy.
It has been said that mulandu suwola –there is no time limit in punishing a crime. With that in mind I went to my comrade and colleague Sibanze Simuchoba, a pundit in law with whom I have enjoyed a long-standing relationship of observing no taboos in discussions between us and accosted him “Let us assume the 27 year rule of the United National Independence Party(UNIP) was characterized by crimes against humanity. Who would be indicted by the International Criminal Court and and be arraigned at The Hague to face prosecution?” I shuddered when in his usual brutally frank manner he laid it bare that “Apparently, Kaunda would be the first on the list and Old Grey would immediately follow him; as for the rest it will very much depend on what findings investigators come up with… The legitimacy of any trial would be put into question if Kaunda was to dance to the music alone because Old Grey was widely perceived as Kaunda’s alter ego…”
Lawyer Simuchoba’s opinion is on solid ground when one looks at a revealing passage in self-confessed coup-maker Goodwin Yoram Mumba’s recently published book on the abortive 1980 coup against the Kaunda leadership. Mumba discloses that they aimed at “diverting (hijacking?)a Presidential aircraft…from the original destination to a selected one…At that point the President (Kaunda) was to sign a declaration stepping down from the Presidential office…Certain key leaders such as Secretary-General, the Chairman for Defence and Security…were to be rounded up and detained…The purpose was to ensure that nobody with effective leadership quality would organize measures to counter the taking over of office…” Old Grey as Vice-President was officially designated Secretary-General! He also was briefly Defence and Security chief before resuming his role as Vice-President. It is self-evident from this testimony that Old Grey, call him Secretary-General or Defence and Security chief, was the key man next only to Kaunda to be captured in the eyes of the plotters if the coup was to succeed.
Indeed, 10 years later on June 30, 1990, while Kaunda was away on the Copperbelt, Old Grey as Vice-President addressed the nation with authority using the national broadcaster to announce to the world that the socalled Mwamba Luchembe coup was the work of a handful of drunken soldiers and had been smashed. A situation of normalcy returned immediately as all took him for his word.
In that light, all things being equal, Old Grey is supposed to be following Kaunda on the heals in receiving honours unless we succumb to palowa njoka zani muniyavye kukumba; palowa mbewa nikumbe neka-when there is danger we send an sos for team work; when there is an el dorado we say it is fortune belonging to me alone. Let us honour Old Grey.
Venerated veteran Zimbabwe leader, Robert Mugabe, in showering Levy Mwanawasa with praises for recognising the need to honour Kaunda, who had previously been vilified, at a special ceremony at State House a few months later, felt that it spoke positively of those who saw the need to honour people like Kaunda for the services they had rendered. As with Kaunda so with Old Grey. The wise of Africa of years gone by admonished that wopusa adayimba ng’oma; wocenjera navina-It is the one who played the drum, considered the foolish one, who enabled the famed dancer to perform.
Old Grey was Minister of Commerce and Industry in Zambia’s first cabinet of popular acclaim. Not staying long in that portfolio, he was moved to the Ministry of Transport and Works where he served until the following year. He lasted longer as Minister of Mines and Cooperatives having served up to 1967 from 1965.
These were the heady days of the Southern African wars of liberation. For Zambia, a frontline state determined to playing its part in extending the frontiers of freedom beyond the Zambezi and Limpopo, it was imperative that only those of unquestionable character were left in charge of matters relating to defence and security. It is here that Grey Zulu showed a lot of ability. He first met his vocation in 1967 when Kaunda appointed him Minister of Home Affairs, effectively putting him in charge of internal security up to 1970. Desiring to put to better use his natural gifts, Kaunda elevated him to take charge of the Defence portfolio, a position he held until 1973 when he moved into the coveted Vice-President’s official residence at Kabulonga round about, after his appointment to that position.
In 1978, shortly before the first and last serious elections under the One Party State, considered dovish and accommodating towards those who had declared their intentions to challenge Kaunda in the upcoming elections, he was dropped as Vice-President .He was made to take charge of the new portfolio overseeing all defence and security matters, created for him. He however maintained his escort as Kaunda considered him indispensable. In came Mainza Chona, considered hawkish and combative towards Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula and Robert Selemani Kamoto Chiluwe, all of whom were eventually not allowed to contest after arbitrary changes, targeting individuals, had been inserted into the constitution. He bounced back as Vice-President in1985, holding on to the position until the 1991 UNIP’s loss to the upstart Movement for Multi-Party Democracy(MMD).
Instructively, Old Grey is the only one who sat with Kaunda in the cabinet for the entire 27 year UNIP hold on power.
The years Old Grey sat at the feet of elders, learning the African idiom, armed him with great wisdom. He had no difficulties to broker peace among warring parties. These attributes proved indispensable at the fractious 1968 UNIP National Council meeting which he chaired at Chilenje Welfare Hall. Kaunda resigned from the Presidency after the acrimony generated by ethnic rivalries among senior leaders could not be contained. He unceremoniously left the Hall in disgust. Old Grey, uncomparable as a conversationalist, talked protagonists into doing the right thing and healed the bitter feuds. He brought back Kaunda to rapturous cheers from delegates who had literally turned the Hall into a funeral house from the time he walked out. That is Old Grey for you.
As a peace-maker, Old Grey had the amazing ability to join together all sorts of groups, some of them disparate, into one coherent body. Endowed with a photographic memory enabling him to store the minutiae of meetings his organizational and administrative skills were largely responsible for stability and harmony over the years.
Soft-spoken but determined, never seen as an original thinker or orator, Old Grey was considered in 1981 by Africa Confidential, a London-based publication, as one of only two serious contenders in the succession battle for Kaunda’s seat. He was identified as leader of the socialist forces within the party while the opposite camp of capitalist-roaders looked to Humphrey Mulemba, then occupying the office of Vice-President, as its leader.
His dream is for the young people aspiring for political office to “always put the interests of that one in society who cannot defend himself or herself”
Old Grey’s credentials as a freedom fighter are impeccable. Tracing his political apprenticeship to the days he served as District and Provincial leader from his base of Kabwe(then Broken Hill) in Nkumbula’s African National Congress(ANC), he was one of the guiding personalities who were instrumental in the formation of the breakaway Zambia African National Congress(ZANC) in October 1958. All ANC party organs in Central Province switched allegiance to the new party at its formation.Grey Zulu became a member of the ZANC Central Committee from the word go. It’s thanks to him that we can proudly talk of the Mulungushi Rock Of Authority which he discovered as a site suitable for conferences in preparation for ZANC’s inaugural congress. Suffice it to say apart from UNIP, major policy decisions were made from Mulungushi by liberation movements, notably SWAPO of Namibia and ANC of South Africa.
Such a political path, however, landed him in trouble with the colonial authorities. The banning of ZANC in March, 1958, saw him undergo detention in Ndola. As if that was not enough his wife went to join her ancestors not long afterwards leaving three little children more like orphans.
UNIP rose on the ruins of ZANC and Grey Zulu became a member of its Central Committee upon gaining his freedom from rustication.
Unlike many an African freedom fighter, Old Grey achieved economic independence at a personal level quite early. He was a material and financial donor to the other freedom fighters in his other capacity as company director of the thriving Broken Hill Cooperative Society he helped establish shortly after resigning from the civil in 1952 after serving only for two years. “Seeing that I was increasingly becoming politically active I had to prepare myself adequately well in advance for future battles” he reminisces. Defending this approach, eminent African freedom fighter and first Vice-President of independent Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, whose illustrious political career took this route, affirmed “I was convinced that to start the battle against White domination, we had to assert our economic independence”
The befitting honour at our disposal for Old Grey, luminary of our struggle for independence and pillar of the liberation fight of Southern Africa, builder of the new state of Zambia, advocate of peace and understanding among people, would be to name the new ultra-modern stadium under construction in Lusaka Grey Zulu stadium
We have examples. In recent times, to the nation’s relief, not consternation, we have seen Lusaka, Ndola and Livingstone International Airports being named after Kaunda, Kapwepwe and Nkumbula respectively. There is in the offing, Robert Makasa University in Chinsali.
In South Africa, similar honours are not the exclusive preserve of Madiba Nelson Mandela. The country’s main airport in Johannesburg is named after Oliver Tambo. Walter Sisulu has a top university and the main botanical garden named after him. During the last World Cup big matches took in Durban at the stadium named after Moses Mabhida, ANC stalwart and General Secretary of the South African Communist Party.
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