TODAY IN ZAMBIAN HISTORY: THE 1980 COUP ATTEMPT

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Zambia's first cabinet

By Chainga Zulu

On October 27, 1980, both Zambians and the world were jolted when President Kenneth Kaunda made a startling announcement during a press briefing at State House. He revealed that on October 16, security forces had successfully thwarted an attempted coup d’état. According to his claims, this coup was allegedly sponsored by the South African Apartheid government and was originally planned for October 17. However, the intelligence services of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France dismissed the notion of South African government involvement, though individual operatives were not ruled out.
This raised questions of plausible deniability.

In this covert operation, a small group of Zambian professionals and Congolese dissidents had conspired to overthrow the increasingly unpopular President Kaunda. Miles Larmer identified the key figures within this diverse group of conspirators. Among them were Valentine Musakanya, a former governor of the Bank of Zambia and a prominent businessman who clandestinely financed the United Progressive Party (UPP), an offshoot of UNIP that posed a significant threat to the ruling party until its ban in 1972.

Another leader was Pierce Annfield, a white lawyer who had previously defended several opponents of UNIP, including Alice Lenshina and Simon Kapwepwe. Deogratias Symba, a Katangese militia leader, and Edward Shamwana, a lawyer and associate of Musakanya, were also part of this group. Additionally, Lt. Gen. Christopher Kabwe, head of the Zambian Air Force and Kaunda’s pilot, and Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda, who was providing military training to a private Congolese militia, were involved.

Interestingly, Yoram claimed that Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, who had passed away on January 20 of the same year, was aware of the plot and gave his blessings, even though he wasn’t involved in its planning.

According to Mumba’s account, other individuals directly involved included Elias Kaenga who was recruiting Zambian dissidents and Zaireans from Katanga, Col. Mkandawire, Major Macpherson Mbulo,Anderson Mporokoso, Albert Chilambe Chimbalile, Col. Albert Kaniki, Col. Modesto Kankunku, and Thomas Mulewa and Laurent Kabwita. Deogratias Symba’s militia had been in Mwinilung’a after being ousted from Katanga by Mobutu Sese Seko and his Western backers. Symba’s involvement was aimed at receiving reciprocal support to launch an attack against Mobutu.

Following the leak of details about the impending coup to the authorities, Annfield managed to escape the country. In contrast, his co-conspirators were less fortunate, lacking the necessary connections and ending up in detention. Andrew Sardanis, in his book “Zambia: The First 50 Years,” later claimed that Mundia Sikatana, one of the conspirators and Annfield’s law partner, acted as a government mole,reporting the plans to his cousin, who held a senior position at State House. Yoram Mumba interestingly attempted to exonerate Sikatana and instead pointed a finger at Andrew, alleging his involvement in the 1980 coup plot, subtly suggesting that he even sold the plan to Kaunda, the man who had provided him
with support and room to conduct business.

It was believed that Edward Shamwana, who was on the verge of being appointed Chief Justice of Zambia before the coup was foiled, would have led the subsequent interim government together with Musakanya.Musakanya and two other alleged conspirators suffered severe torture, an ordeal from which Musakanya never fully recovered. Four of the plotters, including Musakanya, were acquitted in August 1982, partly because evidence extracted during their interrogation was ruled inadmissible due to torture. Seven of the accused, including Shamwana and Symba, were found guilty in January 1983 and
sentenced to death. They were subsequently pardoned by Kaunda in 1990.

Charles Mwewa claims that despite their unsettling implications, coups provide an opportunity to understand the motivations of the plotters and give those in power a chance to honestly evaluate the state of the nation. Furthermore, coups offer lessons on pitfalls to avoid and issues that may lead to successful coups since politics often revolves more around perception than reality.

Kaunda would experience two more coup attempts, one in 1989 led by General Christon Tembo and the ‘controversial’ one in 1990 by Mwamba Luchembe. Kaunda responded with determination to these coup attempts but seemed reluctant to invest time in understanding their underlying causes. These coup attempts foreshadowed the defeat he would face in 1991.For most of the 1980 coup plotters, this event overshadowed all their prior accomplishments, as they are now primarily remembered for their involvement in the coup. For example, Musakanya had served as Minister of State, Governor of the Bank of Zambia, and Managing Director at IBM. While still the Governor of the Bank of Zambia, he famously criticized the one-party state and the tribal balancing system, claiming that the latter promoted tribal and ethnic-based politics at the expense of good
governance. His proposal for a limited term limit for the presidency ultimately led to his dismissal from the Bank of Zambia. Similarly, Shamwana was known as an exceptional litigator and one of the finest legal minds in the country.

My Thoughts!
1. Zambians have historically demonstrated their commitment to peaceful and democratic processes, notably by the ballot. It is essential to dispel any misconception that they may resort to violence or coup attempts when faced with grievances. Resorting to coups not only undermines the populace’s ability to determine their own fate but also establishes a concerning
precedent that subsequent generations might find difficult to resist replicating. President Kenneth Kaunda’s tenure, while marked by various achievements, constrained citizens’ capacity to exercise their democratic rights through the electoral process. The importance of safeguarding democratic principles and respecting the will of the people cannot be overstated in
a nation now known for its history of peaceful transitions and commitment to the democratic
ideal.

2. Interestingly, 3 out of 4 coup attempts in Zambia have been in October: 1980, 1988 and 1997.An intriguing pattern associated with the timing of such political upheavals.

3. Considering this year’s Independence Day theme, which emphasizes the acceleration of national development through the equitable distribution of resources, I firmly believe that General Godfrey Miyanda carries a distinct and vital responsibility to thoroughly document his life experiences and insights, creating a comprehensive literary legacy that would prove invaluable for future generations. Such contributions would not only provide profound insights into the events, challenges, and decisions that have shaped his lifetime but also align with the core principles of equitable resource distribution, including knowledge, history, and experiences. In this context, General Miyanda’s potential literary works would be a testament to his dedication to our nation and offer clarity on the seemingly contradictions that previous authors have offered on the 1980 attempted coup.

Bibliography
1. Gewald, J. B., Hinfelaar, M. and Macola, G. (2008) One Zambia, Many Histories: Towards a
History of Post-colonial Zambia. Netherlands: Brill
2. Larmer, M. (2010) Chronicles of a Coup Foretold: Valentine Musakanya and the 1980 Coup
Attempt in Zambia. The Journal of African History, 51, pp. 391-409
3. Lermer, M. (ed) (2010) The Musakanya Papers. Lembani Trust: Lusaka
4. Mwewa, C. (2011) Zambia: Struggles of My People. Lusaka: Maiden Publishing House
5. Mumba, G.Y. 2012. The 1980 Coup: Tribulations of The One-Party State In Zambia. Lusaka: UNZA
Press.
6. Scott, G. (2019) Adventure in Zambian Politics: A Story In Black And White. Lynne Rienner:
London
7. Mwanakatwe, J. (2003) Teacher Politician Lawyer: My Autobiography. Lusaka: Bookworld
Publishers
8. Magande, N.P (2018) The Depth of My Footprints. Atlanta: Maleendo & Co.

source: Lusaka Times

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