By Edward Mwango
THE passing on of freedom fighter, Mama Chibesa Kankasa will not erase the historic major role she played in the struggle for Zambia’s Independence.
Today she is no more but memories will still linger in the minds of the majority Zambians regarding her personal accounts of her role in securing Zambia’s independence.
Cross sections of society including Republican President, Edgar Lungu have mourned and bid farewell to the gallant freedom fighter.
Mama Chibesakunda Kankasa was a firebrand during the Kenneth Kaunda and UNIP era, serving as chairperson of the Women’s League and as member of the Central Committee, which at the time was the highest policy making body within government.
In the lead up to independence in 1964, she and her husband were active in the movement agitating for Zambia’s freedom from colonial rule.
In her words, she was nicknamed “national cook” by the male freedom fighters who were hosted numerous times in her home and she boldly asked when she could join the movement beyond just being a hostess.
Her husband, Timothy Jiranda Kankasa, was supportive of her role as a nationalist and declared – “a revolution without women’s participation cannot be a reality.”
In 1955 she stepped up her role serving as a recruiter and helping bring more prominence to the role of women.
During her time in the UNIP administration as minister for Women’s Affairs (1969-88), she helped push for expanded women’s rights such as paid maternity leave, which was successful.
Of particular note about Mama Kankasa is how young she was during the height of the nationalist movement – she was only in her twenties.
She founded an orphanage in Lusaka’s Kalingalinga compound, and also mentored young women interested in politics and leadership.
In 2011 Mama Kankasa called on President Michael Sata to urgently look into the plight of freedom fighters as the country celebrated its 47th Independence anniversary.
Mama Kankasa noted that most freedom fighters had been living in abject poverty because they have nothing to sustain their lives.
She told journalists that government should ensure that it looked into the plight of freedom fighters as this had been their cry for a long time now.
Mama Kankasa, however, stated that freedom fighters were fortunate to have Mr. Sata as President of the country because he himself was a freedom fighter and knew what freedom fighters had gone through.
“We are lucky to have Mr. Sata as Republican President because he is also a freedom fighter meaning that he knows what we went through during the struggle for Independence,” she said.
However President Lungu has since indicated willingness to support freedom fighters in the country.
Speaking recently during the re-launching of Dr. Kaunda’s book “Zambia Shall be Free” organized by Kagem Mining Company in Lusaka, President Lungu said Zambians should be proud of the first republican President, Dr Kaunda and all the freedom fighters saying they worked so hard for Zambia to be free from any form of oppression.
President Lungu stated that the dream of the book ‘ Zambia Shall Be Free’ came to pass when Zambia got independence from colonial masters on October 24th 1964 and that people were enjoying the freedom now.
He said there was also need for Zambians to document the history of Zambia through writing saying the new generation will need to know about the history of the country.
In this regard Zambia has since honoured some prominent freedom fighters in style.
This was evident on October 24 2014 when three major international airports were named after the country’s prominent freedom fighters.
These include Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (formerly Lusaka International Airport), Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport (formerly Ndola International Airport) and the Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport (formerly Livingstone International Airport).
Dr Kaunda served as President from 1964 to 1991 and the late Mr Nkumbula was the president of the African National Congress (ANC), first recognised political party for Africans in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
The late Mr Kapwepwe, who was Dr Kaunda’s childhood friend, served as Vice-President between 1967 and 1970.
President Michael Sata on September 28, 2011 re-named the three airports after the three key freedom fighters.
As Zambians bid farewell to the gallant freedom fighter Mama Kankasa, they should bear in mind that she was part of a group which ensured Zambia’s march to independence in 1964 which was no easy journey.