President Kaunda: First Time I Met Him- Part Two


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

(Names of people have been changed to respect their privacy)

“Your—- excellency, Sir, ehh!!!” I said still stuttering but regaining my composure. “My boss, President Hansen of Oakhill University College has sent me to ask if you could come and address our students at the college. The fifteen hundred students at the Christian school are mostly white. They would be honored and would learn a lot about Africa and Zambia if you visited us.”

“Mr. Mufwaya!” President Kaunda calmly called as I was talking. “Have you found it?”

“Not yet, Mukwayi,” Mr. Mufwaya replied from the kitchen. “I am starting to do laundry.”

Conversations went back and forth with his staff as the President and I talked. He said he and Mr. Mufwaya would look at his schedule. We can discuss the date and details later. As I was realizing my five minutes would be up soon, a spontaneous urge came over me about the numerous questions I had been curious to ask him for many years.

President Kaunda in his office in Lusaka in the capital of Zambia in November 2012.

“Sir, I have been curious for many years. What was it like to meet South African Prime Minister Vorster in the train car in the middle of the Zambezi railway Victoria Falls bridge in the fight against white racist apartheid policy in South Africa?”

President Kaunda’s face animated and eyes suddenly sparkled with passion. He began to describe to me that he had been doing everything or anything to fight and negotiate to dismantle apartheid. He knew that without the peaceful resolution of apartheid, there would be terrible bloodshed in the whole of Southern Africa. His sudden passion was as if my question had turned on a switch.

“Vorster was very treacherous… deceitful…insincere….” Suddenly President Kaunda paused in thought. It was as if he had realized something. “If you were……well young man….” His voice faded away.

“Mr. Mufwaya! Are you ready?” President Kaunda suddenly yelled.

“No!”  Mr. Mufwaya replied from the kitchen. “Mukwayi, I am busy doing laundry and doing some house work today. Can he take my place?”

I was not paying attention to the conversations because I knew my five minutes were nearly up and I was very happy and ready to leave.

“Young man, can you play golf?” President Kuanda suddenly asked.

I glanced around me because I thought the question was directed at someone else behind me. There was no one else behind me.

“You mean me?” I jabbed at my chest with my forefinger.


“Yes, of course!” my sudden emphatic reply shocked me. What was I doing?

“Mr. Mufwaya, can you get and lend your golf shirt to the Professor?”

Since I was a young boy from the village through secondary school, I was the worst person at sports. In the chifwayo soccer or football I played with other boys using a ball tied with rags and tree fiber, the choice of who would be on the two teams was always humiliating for me. I was last to be chosen. If the total number of players was an odd number like 7 or 9, I was last and the one player who both teams willingly said: “You can have Mwizenge on your team! He doesn’t matter.” The teams would then play with my team having 4 players against 3 or 5 against 4. One time when I was at the Prestigious Chizongwe Secondary School, I tried to learn how to play tennis singles with my classmates Charlie, Mike, Ben and Ruskin in 1970. I failed miserably.

For some reason, when I was doing my Ph. D. at Michigan State University in 1985, I decided to learn how to play golf. I took ten lessons. I thanked my stars because today twenty-one years later in 2006, I was going to be able to play golf with my hero President Kaunda.  What a lucky son of a gun? God sometimes blesses fools like myself.  I thought to myself.

When we arrived at the golf course for tee off, a 65-year-old African-American man was paired with his 30-year-old son. President Kaunda and I were paired. The President was going to drive our golf cart. At that moment, a million thoughts rushed through my head. There were no cell phones yet for me to take selfies. I wished at that moment that my parents, my brothers and sisters, family members in Zambia and America, my wife, and my childhood friends were there to see me play golf with President Kaunda. Who was going to believe this? Even I could not believe it. It felt like a dream.

After a few minutes of these fantasies, I made one important decision: to enjoy every second and minute of my 18 rare holes of golf with President Kaunda. I decided to talk little but see, hear, smile, smell, and laugh. You can never really enjoy special moments if you are trying to talk at the same time during the whole time.

I was not going to try to be a golf hero hitting the ball 300 yards or 275 meters. If you hit the ball too wildly as a terrible golfer myself, the ball would end up in the bushes under trees. You waste time looking for the ball in thick bushes. I decided I was going to play it very safe. I would drive the ball for about 100 yards or 91 meters in the middle of the fare way. And that’s what I did for 18 holes. I avoided embarrassing myself. President Kaunda had one of the smoothest beautiful swings in golf I had ever seen.

As we were motoring toward the 18th hole, it was getting dark, cold, and raining. I held our large umbrella as President Kaunda drove our cart. When we arrived back at the apartment, I was thoroughly content to leave. I told my hosts I was going to leave to find a motel room, sleep, and fly out of Boston in the morning at 8:00hrs. President Kaunda would not hear it. He said I was welcome to sleep in the one spare bedroom they had.

We did not call a taxi or get a limousine to go out to a restaurant for dinner. President Kaunda took a warm bath. All five of us walked, with President Kaunda in the middle, in a single file along the sidewalk of the busy city street at night in the  City of Boston, the way we walk on a bush path between rural villages in Zambia.

After four blocks, we arrived at an Indian Restaurant where we ate a delicious dinner amidst jokes and hearty laughter. When we arrived back at the apartment late that evening, I bid President Kaunda goodbye thanking him for the great wonderful time I had. When I hugged him good night, I noticed he was so tall that my forehead barely touched the bottom of his chest. Early the following morning, Mr. Phiri escorted me to the railway station on my way back to Boston Logan International airport for my flight back Washington, D. C. to Oakhill University College.

President Kaunda: First Time I Met Him – Part One


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

(Names of people have been changed to respect their privacy)

My intense interest to meet President Kaunda started 61 years ago in 1962 when I was eight years old. My father was a teacher at Mafuta Primary School in Chief Mafuta’s area 30 miles or 48kms north of Chipata along the Chipata-Lundazi road. There were political tensions, skirmishes and violence as the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and the African National Congress (ANC) were vying for power in the fighting for independence against the British colonial government in the then Northern Rhodesia.

President Kaunda in his office in Lusaka the Capital City of Zambia in November 2012

Violent clashes between UNIP and ANC supporters were common. As they were discussing what was going on in the country in animated, tense, and sometimes hash-hash tones in our house, I would hear my father and mother mention “AKaunda” and “ANkhumbula” “UNIPI” “KONGRESI” also “Welensky”. This is how my young ears were exposed to the political founders of independent Zambia such as Kenneth Kaunda, Harry Nkhumbula, Simon Kapwepwe, Reuben Kamanga whose home constituency of Chitandika was just west of Mafuta, Munukayumbwa Sipalo, and many others. As a child I often wondered what it would be like to meet some of our great legendary leaders such as Kaunda, Nkhumbula, Sipalo, and Kapwepwe.

After being elected the first President of Zambia at independence in 1964, President Kaunda often toured all parts of Zambia to unite the young fragile country. When I was in Form I or Grade 9 in January 1967 at the prestigious Chizongwe Secondary School, students from the school walked to the Lundazi-Mfuwe road to see, cheer, and wave our small Zambian paper flags at President Kaunda who was touring the Eastern Province. His fast motorcade was driving from Chipata Airstrip. Kaunda’s motorcade zoomed by in his black swift Mercedes Benz as he waved his white handkerchief smiling from the back seat. Later that afternoon, we students walked 5Kms to Mpezeni Park in Chipata where President Kaunda addressed a massive rally. I was fortunate to be close enough to the podium in the massive crowd that surged forward when the President arrived. The rally was a very electric political spectacle.

During my first year as a student at University of Zambia in 1972, I bought and read on my own Kenneth Kaunda’s “A Humanist in Africa”. It was his celebration of our Zambian/African culture and his thoughts about our African politics of liberation at the time leading to 1964. Kenneth Kaunda the President and his philosophical ideas began to intrigue me. “Who is this man?” I began to ask myself as I was to read all his five books the next eighteen years. I began to ask myself what would happen if I met this man face to face? What questions would I ask him about his ideas and about being President? He became my hero who I greatly respected and he became center of my admiration.

The opportunity to meet President Kaunda never occurred when I was in Zambia for 13 years in the 1970s and 80s. I was abroad most of that time doing my Masters and Ph. degrees which the Zambian people had paid for. The precious opportunity to meet President Kaunda did not occur until 2006. President Kaunda was to participate in the African President-in-Residence program at Boston University for one year. I was a lecturer or Assistant Professor teaching at Oakhill University College in the United States of America. The small body of 1500 students was mostly white. I thought that the students would learn a lot about my African or Zambian culture if the college invited President Kaunda to come and address Oakhill University College. This is how for four months, I called President Kaunda’s assistant Mr. Mufwaya to ask and arrange for President Kaunda to visit our college. President George Hansen, who was my boss at the college, was enthusiastic and encouraged me to work on inviting President Kaunda to pay our small rural Christian college a visit.

President Kaunda was a busy man at Boston College as so many organizations all over the United States were inviting him. This is when I suggested to President Hansen that I go to visit President Kaunda in Boston so that I could talk to him face to face about the invitation to visit our college.

As soon as my boss approved my trip to Boston, I was thrilled, scared, and nervous as hell. What profound thing was I going to say face to face with President Kaunda? This is the man who had been President of my beloved country for 27 years. He had dined with Kings, Queens, and Presidents. I was a nobody. I knew there would probably be a long line of dignitaries waiting to see him and I would be lucky to have even just five minutes to talk to him. My nervousness became worse when I realized this was my hero who I tremendously respected and was eager to impress.

During my one-hour flight from Washington, D.C to Boston, I carefully rehearsed what I would say to President Kaunda in five minutes. I caught a train from the airport to the City of Boston. Another of President Kaunda’s assistants, Mr. Phiri, met me at the railway station. We walked three blocks to President Kaunda’s flat or apartment. When we entered the apartment building, I realized the great moment had come. We had to climb 15 stairs to get into his apartment. My heart was thumping into my throat each time I climbed one step closer. I saw President Kaunda sitting upright in a dining room chair with a second chair next to him. He was not wearing a black suit with a tie. He was wearing casual clothes. There was no line of people waiting to see him? How lucky was I? Did I come too early? Nothing looked normal about meeting a former head of state. Something had to be wrong.

“How are you, Professor?” President Kaunda smiled as he rose and we shook hands.

“I am—-alright, Your—– Excellency,” I faintly stammered as I cursed my stupid heart as it was still racing and thumping in my throat. I was as nervous as hell. Remember what you have to say, remember what you have to say, I reminded myself. I feared my stupid heart was going to waste my five precious minutes with this busy man.

……to be continued.