The Musakanya papers; rare insight into 1980 coup

Kapwepwe (in red robes)

Book Review By Emmanuel Mwamba

Like a powerful explosive, this book is packaged in poor material, but its explosive force is only known upon its release and impact.

In the absence of balanced, alternative and accurate reading material relating to Zambia’s independence struggle, The Musakanya Papers provides rare and in-depth insights into the birth of a nation and the evolution of its first leaders.

More so this insight comes from a critical, educated eye and insider during the times when Zambia’s leaders were of poor education but were driven by patriotism and a sense of nationhood of the era.

Edited by British historian and Sheffield University lecturer Miles Larmer who is a passionate commentator and extensive writer on Zambia, The Musakanya Papers are a compilation of Zambia’s foremost intellectual and independent thinker, Valentine Shula Musakanya’s own views, reflections, criticism, and advice on Zambia and its governance.

Larmer has achieved a good balance by deftly combining Valentine Musakanya’s own writings with his review, summary or context. Larmer who has written on Zambia and his recent historical project “Mineworkers in Zambia; Labour and Political Change in Post-Colonial Africa” expertly arranges the autobiographical writings of Musakanya into a logical and unbiased memoirs resulting into a good piece of work.


Musakanya wrote frequently on national and important topical matters that have formed the foundation of this book. The book has extracts as appendixes from his papers written during his entire life on the economy, civil service, Kaunda and Kapwepwe, Managing Zambia’s Finances, the Mining Takeover, Rural and Urban Development and other topics.

However, it’s his writings and explanation of his involvement or lack of it, in the 1980 Coup Plot that evokes most interest and probably the centerpiece of this book.

The book reveals that the coup plot stemmed from the 1970s. The feelings to remove Kaunda were heightened when he constitutionally barred Kapwepwe from challenging his presidency at the party conference of 1978.

Although Kapwepwe always believed that Kaunda could be removed peacefully, those around him grew impatient especially that Kaunda had sought more crude, brutal and lethal method of dealing with his political opponents. But Kapwepwe’s lawyer and longtime friend, Pierce Annfield encouraged Kapwepwe to seek more direct methods.

The Book reveals that while the initiative was in its early stages, Kapwepwe died suddenly in 1980 (the book shies away from the allegations then that the State had eliminated Kapwepwe).

The feeling of despondency against an autocratic regime grew and the collapse of the economy was now apparent. Musakanya had become very close to Kapwepwe in the 1970s when he was a private citizen through Annfield. Following the death of Kapwepwe, Musakanya was viewed as heir apparent to take over from Kapwepwe for the ‘’disgruntled’’ group.

It is unknown whether Musakanya participated in the plot, but he was a prominent suspect for his open disdain and contempt for Kaunda’s regime. He did not bother to hide his indignation and he offered his strong criticisms openly even when a culture of silence had befallen the country because of the lethal tactics Kaunda’s regime had resorted to.

Musakanya was accused of fomenting the plot because of his international links and his early associations with British and American Intelligence.

The allegation was that the Plot involved bringing a band of foreign forces from Congo who were to be organized by a Congolese, Deogratias Symba. Symba had led a failed invasion of Shaba Province with his Katangese forces from Angola. Symba wanted a base to attack Mobutu’s regime and Zambia appeared a suitable front. This provided his motive to help the Coup plotters.

Some members of these forces were moved to a farm in Chilanga.

Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda was to bring in army support and also divert weapons imported for the Zimbabwean liberation movements to the farm. Air force Chief, Christopher Kabwe was to divert Kaunda’s plane to a military base and force him to surrender and resign.

In April 1980, Elias Chipimo, as Chairman of Standard Bank, and a close friend of Musakanya issued a public statement condemning the one party state, urging African leaders to abandon this political system if they were to prevent Coup D’états against them.

Kaunda quickly accused Chipimo and other members of the flying club (discussed later), of being involved in plot to remove him. Kaunda also forced Standard bank to fire Chipimo.

Ostensibly, despite the public warning, the plotters proceeded to attempt to carry out the plot.

Annfield’s law firm partner,Mundia Sikatana who appears to have been the leak of the plot to the State, later stated that either Musakanya or Edward Shamwana (who was at the verge of being appointed as Chief Justice by Kaunda), was to be the leader of the government if the plot succeeded.

Musakanya, although later convicted and sentenced to death like many accused persons, challenged his conviction to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court acquitted him because the statement upon which he was convicted was obtained through torture.

The torture was a window to Kaunda’s precarious rule at this stage, and the degeneration of an environment that took away political and civil rights and freedoms.

The book also reproduces Musakanya’s sensational application to the High court which challenged his own detention calling detention laws as belonging to a primitive political system used by unpopular governments against the majority. It has a Nelson Mandela feel and was done by Musakanya himself since his lawyer Pierce Annfield was detained too.



Born in 1932, Valentine Musakanya was a man of humble background and his beginnings are typical of anyone born during this era. Yet his life turned dramatically different and cast him into immediate social privilege after acquiring a university education, at the time when many Zambians were barely educated.

In his own words, the book reflects his meteoric rise and captures ‘’thirty years, a life beginning from virtually iron-age surroundings, through to the explosion of the electronic age, not merely as a bystander but a participator. It has meant crushing classes, cultures and technologies of my individual beginnings”

The book is poignant as it was written in 1981 in Chipata whilst Musakanya was in detention and imprisoned for his alleged involvement in the attempted Coup Deta’t of against Kaunda’s regime.

Musakanya who was rapidly influenced by his parents and taught at school by historical figures such as Harry Mwanga Nkumbula in Kitwe, and his own quiet ambition helped become the leading intellectual, thinker and political figure that he was. His fierce sense of self independence is captured in great light. This quality was responsible for his rise to eminence but also proved to be a recipe for his dramatic political downfall.

He believed in himself so much that his professional and political life always hung and survived by a thin thread. He appeared oblivious to the realities of his times and was quick to risk a strong opinion than to submit to a band of praise singers or succumb to an atmosphere of political correctness.

When he was appointed as Secretary to the Cabinet at Independence, he resisted the politicization of the civil service and Foreign Service. He was determined to keep it a professional and independence entity at a time when his masters where dishing out and doling jobs to political followers as automatic fruits of independence.

Like John Mwanakatwe, working as a senior civil servant at a time when many Zambians decided to join the independence struggle always provided a conflicted image. Suspicions endured between figures with freedom fighter credentials and intellectuals that were serving the colonial government and later managed the transition.

His role to set up a competent, neutral and professional entity was constantly disturbed by Kaunda’s and UNIP’s interference who viewed the civil service as a normal plum for jobs to reward themselves and their followers. Musakanya appears so politically naïve at this attitude that he expected people to rise through merit at a time when the population was not educated and the political and social need demanded that Zambians take over white roles which were more important than the competency that came with job!

The book catalogues Kaunda’s increasing dictatorial and autocratic tendencies due to his inherent insecurity as a man of foreign parentage. The psychological make-up of Kaunda is exposed by his own insecurities.

The 1967 party convention saw Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe defeat Reuben Kamanga as Vice-President. This earned Kapwepwe the position of Republican Vice-President but opened internal ethnic divisions. This also marks the beginning of Kaunda ruthless grip on power and his intentional persecution of Bemba leaders. The relationship between Kaunda and Kapwepwe became extremely fragile and ended in ruins by 1971.

The Bembas themselves including Musakanya did not help matters as their fabled ‘’arrogant’’ and ‘’aristocratic’’ attitude towards political power threatened Kaunda’s survival. Following the 1968 elections, Kaunda appears so vulnerable that his support shrunk and became limited to North-Western and Eastern Province.

The book also captures the gradual fall-out between Kaunda and Kapwepwe. Witnessed first hand, Musakanya gives a personal example of the growing rift between two previously close friends on a trip to Tanzania.

While flying over Chinsali, Kaunda and Kapwepwe nostalgically recounted their childhood, remembering every “anthill, stream or thicket”.

Musakanya recounts that While Kapwepwe displayed “careless” confidence and showed complete trust in Kaunda, during the journey, Kaunda in his view, constantly gave false or contrived laughter.

This was more so when they met Nyerere who was a hearty and ideological close friend of Kapwepwe. In his own analysis, Musakanya felt that Kaunda was so insecure that he constantly pretended to Kapwepwe that the two were co-leaders when in fact not. Kaunda was preoccupied with undermining and alienating his friend, while plotting and manipulating his exclusion and downfall.

Kapwepwe responded with resolution to challenge the leadership of his erstwhile friend.

In their early lives, Kaunda was always treated as a foreigner. Kaunda’s father died when he was eight but the family did not return to Nyasaland but continued to live in Chinsali at the charity and benevolence of the Church of Scotland.

Following the death of the Kaunda patriarch, the family and young Kenneth Kaunda in particular experienced heightened insecurity. Although the family could not establish its roots among the Bemba community they lived amongst them, their integration roots were lightly deepened by the friendship and kindness derived from the families of Kapasa Makasa, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Malama Sokoni.

When they moved to the Copperbelt, Kapwepwe helped Kaunda meet other Bembas from broader Northern and Luapula Provinces such as Changufu, Chimba, Chileshe, Nkonde and others. They were later to challenge Harry Mwanga Nkumbula in the ANC and form the break-away Zambia African National Congress (ZANC).

Kaunda’s sense of belonging to the country only grew when the two migrated to the Copperbelt which was cosmopolitan, multicultural, multiracial, multi lingual and multi tribal. Kaunda’s later but greatest achievement of promoting unity in-spite of the diversity of its people in the country clearly arises from his upbringing and foreign parentage that was always a threat to his hold on power, but also gifted him with the ability to unite factional and tribal forces.

Kaunda’s moderate leadership was deemed fair favoured by other leaders and colonialists that feared the fervent, radical and strongly socialist Kapwepwe.

Since his retirement, Kaunda could not settle in Chinsali where he built a monolithic and imposing structure designed to be his retirement home called “Shambala kale”. The Book sheds light on Kaunda’s autocratic path and traces it well albeit through Musakanya’s eyes. From 1967and to succeed in politics, Kaunda shifted his loyalties from the Bembas, who he now persecuted and increasingly relied heavily on his Malawian roots and Eastern Province the heritage of his wife, to govern. Kaunda also began to rely upon other tribes to help him govern.


The events that led to Musakanya’s arrest can be traced back to 1964 when he set up the Zambia ’64 Foundation which initially was designed ‘’to the promotion of highest achievements in national affairs in the arts, learning and other apart from politics.”

Its members reduced this affair to regular luncheons at Lusaka Hotel. This included eminent, educated and senior civil servants  at the time such as; Andrew Kashita, Elias Chipimo, Bruce Munyama, Patrick Chisanga, Dunstan Kamana, David Phiri and Edward Shamwana.

Over the years, the group became increasingly critical of Kaunda’s policy and populist nature of his politics while decrying the centralization and authoritarian nature of UNIP and its leaders who resorted to these methods at the pretext of building and uniting a nation.

The Book reveals that Musakanya was a brave and candid man even at the risk and peril of his own life.

He did not hesitate to write to Kaunda of his strong but dissenting views. Some letters were utter protests.

For example, Musakanya confronted Kaunda over his proclamation of Zambia as a humanist state asking a seemingly blank leader which humanism he meant. He found the proclamation vague and an unconvincing philosophy for mass political mobilization querying President Kaunda;

“What sort of humanism he meant? The ethnocentricity or medieval theology, academic/literary of medieval scholarship or homocentric of the seventeenth century?”

This must have sounded as political arrogance amounting to ridiculing Kaunda, who was a man of humble education. Musakanya was promptly removed as Secretary to Cabinet.

He was a victim of Kaunda’s leadership style. Kaunda had built a reputation of skillfully inspiring loyalty and confidence. But while building this false relationship and encouraging Musakanya about his many development suggestions, he was preparing for his surprise removal.

But Kaunda proceeded to nominate him as Member of Parliament and appointed him Minister of State (Deputy Minister).

Musakanya also opposed such policies as cooperatives. He envisioned better and effective methods of developing the rural areas. He constantly condemned UNIP’s rising economic policies that promoted patronage and were according to him, incoherent.

He was an elitist par Excellency! He feared crowds and couldn’t bring himself to addressing them. He was also a member of an exclusive Flying Club. He was among few Zambians that owned personal planes. When he was a Deputy Minister of Technical and Vocational Education, he pursued the job so seriously and was instrumental in the creation of many technical colleges which he supervised by flying himself to the sites! He was also instrumental in setting up a training program for Zambian pilots.

Sometimes his own outlook on modernity alienated him from UNIP Bemba leaders who disapproved of his non-traditional outlook and regarded him as an outsider of UNIP “without freedom struggle credentials.”

For example, his treatise in an open letter on the raging debate on miniskirts is a case in point. He chose to support the mini dresses and condemned the hypocrisy displayed by traditionalist who were arguing that customary and traditional modesty required that women wore longer clothes.

He ridiculed them for their ignorance insisting that, in fact traditional dressing was more skimpier than the minis. He railed them for ignorantly mistaking the “calico” distributed by missionaries to cover our women as dressing, of our own.

He strongly wondered how nakedness could evoke such barbaric acts against women who were being stripped or their dresses cut by scissors by unruly party cadres saying that he had seen his own grandmother or sisters in the nude without raising any immoral or untoward feelings. He called the debate a waste of words insisting that he was only forced to comment because the debate on national dress was claiming to a glorious past of traditions and culture which was not.

But Musakanya was always fearless and refused to be cowed by the existing political environment. Whilst still holding the position of Bank of Zambia Governor, he submitted to the Chona Constitution Review Commission in 1972, far reaching proposals. He condemned the proposed one-party state. He also condemned Kaunda’s tribal balancing arguing that it promoted a tribal and ethnic based politics at the expense of a good government.

In his proposals to the Chona Commission, he advocated for the retention of multi-party system. He referred to the one-party state proposal as the culmination of “the Rape of the State”!

In addition, he proposed for a Constitution that limited presidential powers. He called the publication of government records to stem the rise of corruption and bribery in government (Freedom of Information), he also advocated for a constitution that would provide specific guarantees for civil liberties and human rights. Clearly, he was a man way ahead of his times.

The clause remembered by many his proposal for the presidency to be limited to two terms and that such a presidential candidate should be born from indigenous parents! Clearly the proposals were directed at excluding the now all powerful Kaunda.

Kaunda promptly fired him as BOZ Governor.

Although, he was later to be a successful private businessman, joining computer company IBM and later running the Honda Franchise, Musakanya never left Kaunda’s watch list. In 1977, his passport was seized together with that of Vernon Mwaanga.

It was therefore not surprising that he was arrested with others on the dawn raids of Independence Day, October 24th 1981 accused of plotting to remove a legitimate government.

Although this is poorly packaged book, with only 125 pages, and selling for only about US$10.00, it however provides a refreshing look at Zambia’s past through the eyes of one of her own recalcitrant and famous son.

Larmer has promised that this is only the first volume of Musakanya’s memoirs and has enough material to produce other volumes.

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