Perhaps the most notorious dissenter in the history of Zambia is the late Adamson Mushala, whose rebellion lasted from 1975 to 1982. He was initially a “UNIPist” and prior to Zambia’s independence was sent to China for guerrilla training with a view to coming back to overthrow the colonial government. But upon his return, Zambia was already independent. He then asked to be given the job of chief warden, but was turned down by the UNIP government. Mashala then joined the opposition UP out of frustration. But when the party was banned, he decided to go into exile in South Africa with a band of his followers.
His wishful dreams were diminished and he became disgruntled. He later become inspired by Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA’s activities in the pre and post independence Angola . He waged “war” against the Government of Kenneth Kaunda and actually agitated for the secession of North-Western province. Mushala carried out terrorist activities in mostly rural areas; he burnt villages, abducted women and children and “enlisted” child soldiers. He was particularly known for his magical prowess; he evaded
detection by Kaunda’s soldiers when sought for, by “disappearing in thin air”. There is even a story about him having flirted Kaunda at State house several times in his invisible state. But his days were numbered! He was tracked and gunned down by a young Zambian corporal after a tip off from one of his “wives”. The secret was for his pursuers to strip their clothes naked to find and hit their target which had turned out to be true. The “Terrorist” had gone on his routine daily activity of hunting and bee honey collecting. His body was displayed for the nation to see. There were suggestions from some members of the public to have his body cremated so that the ash remains are put in museums. The group of young soldiers who had been sent for this almost impossible mission (for such missions were normally futile, ending up in heavy casualties on the side of the Army) were honoured for having achieved this feat.
In 1975, he transformed his group into a combat force and returned to Zambia to wage a guerrilla war, which ended when he was gunned down by Zambia Army soldiers on November 26, 1982. His second-in-command, Alexander Saimbwende, took over the reins and continued the terror campaign until September 25, 1990, when he surrendered to the late Alexander Kamalondo, then a member of the Central Committee for North Western Province, and was flown to Lusaka where he was later pardoned by President Kaunda.
By the late 1980s, historic and economic forces had seriously undermined the legitimacy of Zambia’s one-party state. All the countries in the sub-continent had become independent. Namibia was free and there were signs that apartheid in South Africa would eventually come to an end. Democracy was equally taking root in Eastern Europe and communism had crumbled in the Soviet Union. The economic situation in Zambia was also deteriorating: low standards of living, lack of basic food stuffs, rising unemployment, poor social infrastructure and the rapid depreciation of the Zambian Kwacha.
On October 31, 1980, a “Mister Cheese” informed the then Director of Intelligence Services that some people at a farm in Chilanga, a few kilometres south of the capital, Lusaka, were plotting to overthrow the Zambian government. The second battalion of the Zambia Army was ordered to raid the farm. After exchanging gun-fire, eight suspects were arrested. They included State Counsel Edward Shamwana, the late Valentine Musakanya, Godwin Yoram Mumba, Anderson Kabwili Mporokoso, Thomas Mpanga Mulewa, former vice president in the Third Republic Lieutenant General Godfrey Miyanda and some Zairean citizens — Deogratis Symba, Albert Chimbalile and Laurent Kanyembu.
After a trial which lasted 11 months, trial Judge Dennis Chirwa, acquitted Lt. Gen. Miyanda and found the rest guilty. But this did nothing to change the depressing situation. The economy continued to slump while the standard of living spiralled downward. Also, the acute shortage of essential commodities, glaring nepotism and corruption continued. The price of the staple diet, mealie meal, also continued to increase steadily, while workers’ salaries stagnated.
On October 5, 1988, another group of 16 men were picked up for allegedly trying to unseat the Kaunda government. The group included late former Vice President Christon Tembo, Ex-energy minister Benjamin Mwila, High Commissioner to South Africa Colonel Bizwayo Nkunika, former ministers Bob Litana and Wilfred Wonani and former Zambia Railways managing director Emmanuel Hachipuka. Others were Peter Vundamina, Harrington Kayela Chishimba, Major Patrick Shula, Major Knight Mulenga, Major Nixon Zulu and Captain Wamulume Maimbolwa. The late John Kalenga, Donald Sadoki and Matiya Ngalande were also part of the group. Warrant Officer Christopher Chawinga and others were also picked up days later, accused of trying to rescue the group.
In May 1990, government increased the price of mealie meal, triggering a wave of riots in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. These riots seriously undermined the political atmosphere and an army lieutenant, Mwamba Luchembe, took advantage of the opportunity and announced on July 29, 1990, that the army had taken over. Three hours later, the attempted coup was crushed and Luchembe and a number of his alleged accomplices were detained. An outspoken politician, Chiko Bwalya, was also arrested for celebrating Luchembe’s coup attempt. But they were all released months later following a presidential pardon.
This coup attempt, coupled with growing public pressure, and pressure within the UNIP for democratisation somewhat rattled Kaunda, who immediately set October 17, 1990, as a referendum date to decide on whether to return to multi-party democracy or to maintain the one-party system.
At about the same time, a new political force was born. The national interim committee of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) was formed to mobilise public opinion to support the return to plural politics. In July 1990, advocates for plural politics met at the Garden House Motel, in Lusaka, to press the government to return to multi-party democracy. This saw the birth of the MMD, which comprised mostly disaffected members of the UNIP government, some trade unionists, academics and other professionals, and aimed to sensitise people on the need for a return to “full” democracy.
With clear public support in favour of the restoration of multi-party democracy, President Kaunda cancelled the referendum and instead announced constitutional changes for a return to multi-party politics. Kaunda also set October 31, 1991, as the date for multi-party elections. The MMD, led by trade unionist Frederick Chiluba, won the elections and Kaunda, in a rare act of benefaction, handed over power.