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OCTOBER 29, 2019 marked exactly a year since demise of one of Zambia’s freedom fighters and heroines Chibesa Kankasa fondly known as Mama Kankasa in political circles.

Mama Kankasa died on Monday October 29, 2018 in South Africa after an illness, three days after the country celebrated its 54th independence anniversary which falls on October 24.

The freedom fighter who died at the age of 82, started her political career at the age of 19 in 1957. She and other womenfolk such as Julia Chikamoneka, late Betty Kaunda, wife of first republican president Kenneth Kaunda, Vice-President Inonge Mutukwa Wina among others helped the country attain independence from the British colonial masters.


Mama Kankasa was born on March 23, 1936 at Lubwa Mission Hospital. She was the daughter of Yotham Chibesakunda Ng’ona, the first born son of Chief Chibesakunda, and Elizabeth Chilufya Mfula of Mpika.

She married Timothy Jiranda Kankasa in November 1952 with whom she had 10 children, who bore her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Mama Kankasa was widowed at the age of 46 years and left to superintend over her relatively still young family. She was a working mother, the whole of her life.


At the time of their marriage, Mr Kankasa was a Local Government Officer, the Township Secretary for Chibuluma township in Kitwe. The family was transferred to Ndola in 1959, where Mr Kankasa continued in the role of Township secretary for Twapia Township.

Mr Kankasa was an office holder in the Local Government Union and very active in the trade union movement. This was one of the avenues for political activism and mobilisation for the African population then.

In this regard, the Kankasa home played host to many freedom fighters. Mama Kankasa was the quintessential hostess, being called upon to cook nshima in big pots at any hour of the day or night, depending on what time the visitors arrived and doing it with good cheer.

During this time, the Kankasas hosted national leaders who came to mobilise on the Copperbelt, including Dr Kaunda. This earned her the nickname of “national cook.”

During the time of the UNIP government, some of the pots she had been using to prepare nshima were preserved in the National Museum.

Fortunate to have an understanding husband, Mama Kankasa joined the struggle for   independence in earnest and began to participate in the politics in her own right from 1955, when she was elected the women’s secretary for Chibuluma branch for the African National Congress.

Her main task was to mobilise women to participate in the struggle for independence.  This was done in many ways, including boycotting and picketing white-owned businesses that were practicing the colour bar.

This was the practice of not allowing Africans to be served inside the premises but to instead be served through a small window at the side or back of shops. She encouraged women to participate in civil disobedience such as refusing to be served through a window but to instead walk into the shops and butcheries and demand to be served together with the white women – a demand for equal treatment, thereby challenging the prevailing racial discrimination policy of the time. 

She also sensitised the women on the need to protect their husbands and the other men in the forefront of the struggle for independence through hiding them when they were being pursued by the colonial authorities for their political activities.

The Kankasas continued to be active in ANC until 1959 when Mr Mainza Chona formed a break-away party, initially called ANIP, later changed to UNIP. That was the same year when Mr Kankasa was transferred to be Township Secretary of Twapia Township, in Ndola.

Mama Kankasa continued with her participation in the struggle for independence in Ndola and was elected chairperson of the Women’s League for Twapia Branch at the end of 1960.

Mama Kankasa actively campaigned and mobilised women to participate in the UNIP civil disobedience campaign of 1961 and 1962.

One of her fond memories is organising women to obstruct the road during the visit to Ndola of the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Reginald Maudling in 1961. A journey that should have taken 35 minutes ended up taking three hours. Another incident was just before a big golf tournament at Ndola Golf Club. Mama Kankasa mobilised women to go and dig up the golf course and to plant maize.

This was one of the ways of conveying their dissatisfaction with colonial rule, with the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and with the proposed Constitution at the time. Mama Kankasa and her husband Timothy were particularly instrumental in arranging a massive UNIP rally in Twapia in 1961, which was attended by most of the national leaders in the struggle for independence. The speakers included the party president, Dr Kaunda.

Mama Kankasa was a delegate to the pre-independence UNIP National Conferences held at Mulungushi in 1960 and 1961 and also delegate to the UNIP General Conference held in Magoye in 1962.  The year 1962 was a momentous year for Mama Kankasa also in other respects.

She was elected as the first woman councillor for Twapia Township and was chairperson of the Human and Social Amenities Committee. She served in this position until 1969.

Again in 1962, Mama Kankasa moved from the local to the regional stage as she was elected chairperson of the UNIP Women’s League for the Ndola region, being popularly known then as “Ba Mama Region.” This was the position she held at the time of Zambia’s independence. She held this position also until 1969 when the family moved to Lusaka.

Mama Kankasa had great capacity to mobilise and organise women to participate in the struggle for independence. Her contribution to the liberation struggle included organising rallies where political messages were imparted as well as civic education.

This entailed encouraging the African population to register as voters and teaching them how to vote. Her activism also went beyond the political realm. She also influenced and persuaded women to participate in, “Shibukeni.”  This word literally meant, “Wake up.”

This was the adult literacy campaign, whose main objective was to teach the Africans to read, so that they could read the Constitution. She also campaigned for women to take their children to Under-five and themselves to Antenatal clinics.


From 1969, Mama Kankasa moved onto the national stage when she was appointed Secretary for the UNIP Women’s League. From 1972 to 1988, she was elected a Member of the Central Committee of UNIP, which was the highest decision –making body of UNIP.

When Zambia became a One Party State in 1973, Mama Kankasa became Member of the Central Committee and was appointed chairperson for Women. This was a position more senior than that of a Cabinet Minister put her squarely at the centre of fighting for the rights of women in Zambia.

Mama Kankasa was chairperson for Women from 1973 to 1986.

During this time, she spearheaded the revolution for the equality of women and men in Zambia. Mama Kankasa was an active participant in the United Nations Decade for Women 1976-1985, starting with the First World Conference held in Mexico City in 1975, during International Women’s Year.

She led the Zambian delegation to Mexico City and was elected president of the Africa International Women’s Decade. Mama Kankasa used the United Nations Decade for Women themes of Equality, Development and Peace to draw up a programme of action for Zambia.  She then set out to domesticate it into the Zambian environment.

During the Mid-Decade Conference held in Copenhagen in 1980, Mama Kankasa signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is considered the International Bill of Rights for Women, on behalf of Zambia.

Her leadership was recognised beyond the Zambian Borders when in 1983, she was elected president of the Conference of the Women of Sub-Sahara Region of Africa. Mama Kankasa also led the Zambian delegation to the World Population Conference and was one of the five initial signatories on the Mexico Declaration on Population in 1984.

During this conference, she was awarded a Gold medal by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in recognition of support for the participation of women in the field of population.

Among her many achievements, was attainment of three months paid maternity leave for working women in Zambia, implemented in 1975 and the induction of The Women’s Desk in the National Commission for Development Planning in 1979.

Mama Kankasa was transferred as Member of the Central Committee to the Eastern Province from 1986-1988. Her formal public service concluded with the position of High Commission to Kenya, Uganda and Somalia from 1988-1992. 


During her lifetime Mama Kankasa received many honours and awards. Prominent among them were the UNFPA Medal in Grateful Recognition of Support for the Participation of Women in the Field of Family Planning, Gold Medal for Contributions to Peace (Prague, Czechoslovakia), The Order of the Eagle of Zambia Second Division by President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa and the Woman of Substance Award from Generation Impact.

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