The Freedom Struggle and the Aftermath: Sophena Chisembele’s book on the personal story of Sylvester Mwamba Chisembele

By Elias Munshya

In the book Zambia: The freedom struggle and the aftermath, Mrs Sophena Chisembele chronicles the personal story of freedom fighter and leader Sylvester Mwamba Chisembele. It is a fascinating story. But more than just being the story of her husband, it was actually her own story as well.

Contrary to what I had known all along that it was KK who partitioned Northern Province to create a new Luapula, Luapula had been a province during the colonial period. It was pretty enlightening to learn this new fact from the book.

The book naturally emphasises the oversize role that Luapula played in the freedom struggle and the subsequent sidelining of Luapulans in KK’s subsequent governments. Chisembele and his friends are arrested arbitrarily during the freedom struggle. He gets beaten to the point of losing his hearing. He is jailed and persecuted. And yet, he goes on to organise Luapula for independence. He steers the province support to the new UNIP party. However, when KK tries to impose “democratic centrism” in UNIP, Luapula under Chisembele becomes the only province to oppose this dictatorial tendency at the Magoye Conference before independence. You don’t cross Kaunda, and this particular resistance registers in KK’s mind that Luapula is hot and isn’t that pliable.

This book confirms what I have read elsewhere – that Simon Kapwepwe was an extremely controversial figure. Had he the opportunity to lead Zambia, it would have been total chaos. I want to read more on Kapwepwe’s story, though, because there’s no way all the stories would cast him in this light.

The book is the sad story of how government machinery can be abused to persecute leaders who have had a fallout with power. The Chisembeles struggled to keep their Chisamba farm during the various administrations, from the Kaunda times to the Levy Mwanawasa times. Fascinating that even during the corruption-fighting rule of Levy Mwanawasa, the Chisembele’s were at the receiving end of corrupt practices at the Ministry of Lands.

In the book, it is revealed that President Chiluba had an uncle known as Frederick Titus Chiluba. Who knew? Chiluba always pulls surprises. It appears like there will always be new things to discover about the late President. Did President Chiluba, who had been known as Titus Mpundu, adopt his uncle’s Frederick Chiluba names?

If the appendix written by Valentine Kayope is true, then Luapula has played and continues to play a vast political and cultural role in the new Zambia. Be it in music, politics, and football.

The book also gives a hint of the heritage of one Dr Simon Mwewa. If Chisembele is correct, it could explain why one of Dr Mwewa’s children is such an outspoken Facebook commentator and general trouble rouser. It is like all Luapulans have been drinking from the same well of big talk.

After independence, the batubulu insult appears to have been a game-changer in the Luapula – Northerner dynamics among the Luapula Bemba-speaking peoples and the Bemba-proper (aba Bemba nkonko) of the Northern Province. Luapula politicians didn’t take kindly to this insult, and implicating Kapwepwe is all the more not surprising.

Given the batubulu insult, though, Mrs Chisembele doesn’t chronicle how Kapwepwe’s UPP got significant inroads into Luapula Province and its diaspora. Did Kapwepwe reconcile with the tubulu such that Luapula would become his stronghold? How could Kapwepwe win in Mufulira- kwa Milambo – when there was this tubulu story making rounds? The book doesn’t explain that dynamic, but maybe Luapula was more amenable to Kapwepwe following the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. One thing is sure, though – Kwa Milambo, Mufulira, had elected Kapwepwe without campaigning.

Chief Milambo appears to have been a real figure during the freedom struggle. He was banished by the British for this very reason. However, after independence, he didn’t claim the leadership back, claiming that the new leader at State House was as foreign as the British they had chucked out. With this Milambo visibility, I see why some Ushis consider him the Senior of all Ushi chiefs. Matanda has claims of his own – he is the custodian of the door the Lubas used to populate Luapula and Northern Province.

As I have stated above, this book is also the story of Mrs Chisembele. Her white mother and Indian father. She grew up with questions about identity. She embodied diversity. It is, therefore, not surprising that she becomes one of the key players after independence, either on her own or through her husband. Just how she would think of returning Kaunda’s cash gift back to State House makes for a good movie for sure.

Mrs Chisembele appears loyal to her husband. She is fascinated by his antics. She stands with him during persecutions and encourages him to seek reparations from all angles – UN, Europe, Zambia, Courts, etc.

On one night in 2009, Sylvester Chisembele passes away in a dilapidated hospital ward at UTH. No one from the government of the Republic of Zambia attended his burial. That, perhaps more than anything else, in my opinion, shows the curse of our politics. It is 2021 now, and I hope our nation can find a way to heal this unfortunate incident.

Elias Munshya can be reached at


  1. This is a interesting story my mother use to tell us story like this.Thank you for opening my eyes again

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