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By Kennedy Limwanya
For the first time in 10 years, he gave in to an interview on the road to Zambia’s political independence, his involvement in it and how the country has fared during the last 38 years.
Since retiring from active politics in August 1991, he led a quiet life, rarely seen at public functions and unwilling to give interviews to the Press.
This is Alexander Grey Zulu, now 78 years old, who, for the 10 years leading to the historical 1991 multi-party elections, was first president Kenneth Kaunda’s right-hand man.
In fact, he had served in that position as secretary-general of that time’s only political party, United National Independence Party (UNIP) twice, which was a position equivalent to that of republican vice-president in the two-tier system.
During that time, he was always in the media, but two months before the 1991 elections which ushered in the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), Mr Zulu announced his retirement and, in a way, retired from the glare of the media.
“I prefer a quiet life. What do you want to hear from me, young man?” replied Mr Zulu with a light smile, when this writer approached him in Lusaka at his Makeni farm where he has lived for 34 uninterrupted years.
It was yet again Zambia’s independence anniversary, this writer explained, and it was only fair that such founding fathers as him shared their experiences with the young.
“You are the lucky one,” Mr Zulu answered back as he led the way to a seat under a big shade supplied by a giant tree he planted in 1968.
From the way he appeared, clad in a characteristic grey safari suit, a scarf, modest black shoes and standing by a white land cruiser, Mr Zulu had been preparing to leave the farm at the time the Times of Zambia team arrived around 09:30 hours.
Seated beside this writer, he soon opened up with carefully-worded and well-thought sentences typical of a patriot who had participated in laying the foundation of the Republic of Zambia.
“I deliberately decided not to involve myself much in politics as I had truly decided to retire from active politics. But that is not to say that I would not participate if I saw things going sour.”
But things, indeed, did go sour more than once over the last 10 years of Frederick Chiluba’s administration and Mr Zulu still remained quiet.
Why he kept quiet
“I didn’t want our colleagues to blame us for any of their shortcomings. But the last 10 years have been a great experience for our country.
“In comparison to the first 27 years, this experience has given us a lesson as a nation to differentiate between sweet words and the opposite of that, but practical,” Mr Zulu said.
The last decade, he went on, had taught Zambians to choose according to their thinking as opposed to individual gains they were promised during election campaigns.
Until 1991 when he left the political platform together with the likes of Elijah Mudenda and the late Reuben Kamanga, Mr Zulu had seen it all from the time he stepped into the steamy waters of public life in Kabwe in 1951while working as an assistant water development officer.
At independence in 1964, Mr zulu became the first minister of Commerce and, apart from later twice serving as “party secretary-general”, worked in several other ministries.
Dr Kaunda, who is 127 days older than Mr Zulu, also appointed him minister at Home Affairs, Power, Transport and Communications, and Land and Co-operatives.
Before his second stint as Party Secretary-General, taking over from the late Humphrey Mulemba, Mr Zulu had served as Secretary of State for Defence and Security, the third-highest republican position in the one-party hierarchy.
Whereas Dr Kaunda elected to stay on until he finally retired in 2000, Mr Zulu had chosen an earlier exit.
Eleven years down the line, Mr Zulu says he has enjoyed private life although he, like any other Zambian out of employment, has to do his very best to make a living.
“The last 10 years have been very enjoyable. But what has made it more interesting is that I have kept myself busy in order to make a living. Thank God, even when I have, sometimes, been ill, I have quickly recovered and started working,” he said.
Is Grey Zulu comfortable?
How comfortable is Mr Zulu, considering that many leaders in the UNIP government are barely able to support themselves now while others are destitute?
“You’re better off than myself. At least you have a salary. Even if they don’t pay you on time, you can make noise and you will be paid,” Mr Zulu jokingly replied.
“I’m growing vegetables. But this is only hand-to-mouth. I left government without benefits, gratuity or pension. Life has been a big struggle.”
At first, he bought buses but, soon after, was pushed out of business by bigger competitors.
He tried his luck at a bakery but not even that could go far.
Where did he come from?
On September 3, 1924 in Chipata, Grey Zulu was born and entered his first-ever classroom at Mafuta primary school which was, more or less, a prayer house.
Consequently, he was soon out of school for the next four years, which time the young Grey spent herding cattle at Chisanga village in Chief Misholo’s area.
Through hard work and struggle, Grey, like many of his political contemporaries, was later to go to Munali secondary school in Lusaka, the alma mater of his political career.
“I was committed to the liberation of my country. My guiding stars were countries like India and Ghana. At Munali, India inspired me. I asked myself, ‘If India could rule themselves, why couldn’t we?'”
When Grey left Munali in 1950, he became an active member of the African National Congress (ANC) in Kabwe and rose up to provincial level.
Encounter with colonial brutality
His encounter with colonial brutality soon followed when police arrested women (among them Mama Kalonde who still lives in Mpika) demonstrating against the ban on the brewing of local beer.
“When we went to check the following day, we were met with long batons. The arrest pained me. I wept. Why should women be arrested and when we ask, we are teargassed?
“It was the first time I inhaled teargas. It was terrible but for a good cause,” recalled Mr Zulu who has lost one son and now has four daughters and three sons.
Mr Zulu and others later broke away from the ANC to form the Zambia African National Congress, the forerunner to UNIP.
The struggle, he said, was fierce, leading to the restricting of members to various districts to cripple their communication.
“But that was the greatest mistake the colonialists made. It helped us organise more people who had been misinformed that we were Negroes and we could eat their children.”
In 1962, Mr Zulu was picked by UNIP to contest the Copperbelt Central parliamentary constituency covering parts of Luanshya, Mufulira and Chingola.
He polled the highest number of votes in the entire province, capturing 14, 000 votes against his opponent, a Mr Chindele, who could only manage 100.
And that was the beginning of bigger things to come.
He first worked as parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and later moved to the Ministry of Home Affairs in the same position.
Thirty-eight years after Zambia’s independence in 1964, a retired Mr Zulu advises Zambians to take a critical look back at the past performance of the country.
“We must reflect and find out where we went wrong. It is important that we know our mistakes. After that, we should think seriously as to what we should do in order to make Zambia the country it should be.
Words of wisdom
“The secrets to achievement are few and so simple, yet so difficult to be realised. The masses of peasants are the wheels of change or a revolution. If you don’t rely on them and they don’t trust you, you won’t develop.”
He further advises that the welfare of people must always be addressed honestly if meaningful development is to be achieved.
On agriculture, Mr Zulu says three quarters of the population need to be involved if food sufficiency is to be realized.
“The problem is that everyone wants to be a trader. Perhaps we want to go back to the barter system. Let’s draw a line between non-productive and productive services. Let’s find ways of making everyone earn a living from his sweat.”
Words do not come any wiser than this.
At last, Mr Grey Zulu has spoken, pinpointing the current grey areas of Zambia’s development.