Daily Nation Newspaper
THE ‘FALL AND RISE’ OF SIMON ZUKAS, EX-FREEDOM FIGHTER
HE was the first European to join the African National Congress (ANC) of the then Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia) way back in 1951. Soon, he was to get embroiled in the fight against the introduction of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, prompting the colonial government to find it necessary to deport him. His name: Simon Ber Zukas, who was later to become a cabinet minister in an independent Zambia following his return from forced exile. Arraigned before the Livingstone High Court in April, 1952, he was asked by the white Chief Justice hearing his deportation case: “Why are you so much involved in the political moves in this country?“And his prompt reply was: “I was educated here…I have always taken an interest in social affairs beyond myself. I am very interested in the affairs of the African people.” The white Chief Justice was apparently puzzled that Zukas, as a white man, should want to sacrifice the rights and privileges he was enjoying by virtue of his race by getting himself involved in the affairs of African politics. Mr Zukas was born on July 30, 1925, in Lithuania, which was then an independent state before it was fused into the former Soviet Union, and arrived in the then Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) on June 23, 1938 with his mother, his father having preceded him here the previous year. From 1938 to 1942, Mr Zukas attended schools in Ndola and Luanshya before he proceeded to Milton School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In 1944, he joined the East African forces and was demobilised in 1947, after which he was granted government ex-servicemen’s grant which enabled him to go to Cape Town University to study civil engineering. He returned from Cape Town in 1950, and the following year joined the then Ndola Municipal Council which was to dismiss him shortly afterwards for his involvement in political activities. The colonial government authorities were so concerned about Mr Zukas’ activities that they resorted to intercepting postal matter to and from him. Postal authorities were instructed to open these letters and photocopy them before sending them to their intended destinations. Copies of such intercepted material were later to be produced in court as evidence against Mr Zukas during the hearing of his deportation proceedings. In view of his fame, it was not unexpected that his case attracted a lot of people of all races during the six days it was heard. The case opened before Chief Justice A.W. Lewey, Q.C., on Wednesday, April 4, 1952. The State (or Crown as it was referred to then) was represented by the Attorney-General, Mr Edward Unsworth, while defending Mr Zukas was Mr J.C. Graylin who, ironically, was later to become Minister of Agriculture in Sir Roy Welensky’s government! Assisting the Attorney-General was Crown counsel, Mr Mervyn Dennison. Outlining the case for the Crown, the Attorney-General told the packed court that the business before it was an application to obtain a recommendation from the Chief Justice that Mr Zukas be deported from the territory (i.e. Northern Rhodesia). The grounds upon which the application was based were as follows: • That Zukas was conducting himself so as to be dangerous to peace and order; • That he was endeavouring to incite enmity between the European and African sections of the community; and • That he was intriguing against constituted power and authority. After giving a brief resume of the history of Zukas, Mr Unsworth said although the defendant was a Communist, the proceedings were not concerned with political views and the application was not made on political grounds. He explained that shortly after his return from Cape Town University, Zukas got in touch with Godwin Lewanika, then president of ANC, and inquired whether he could be permitted to address the Kitwe Committee of the Congress. This was arranged and Mr Zukas addressed the committee on June 29, 1951. At that meeting- it was the first time a European had addressed the committee – Zukas raised the question of racial discrimination and the proposed Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. “In his address to the committee, he (Zukas) talked of the manner of African opposition to Federation, that it should be by threats, general strikes and refusal to pay taxes and licences,” Mr Unsworth said. According to the Attorney-General, Lewanika was upset by what he had heard and asked Zukas: “Won’t this mean civil war?” to which Zukas replied: “Isn’t it civil war already?” Zukas agreed that many people would be jailed but that the government could not jail the whole country. The Attorney-General then referred to the Freedom Newsletter and pointed out that its real editor was Zukas. The paper was prepared and printed at his own premises. He read extracts from the second issue under the headline: “The People’s Struggle in Malaya.” It read: “After shouting for several years that they are fighting against bandits and terrorists, the British imperialists have been forced to admit that the war in Malaya (later renamed Malaysia) is a political war. For the Malayan people, this is a war to free themselves from imperialist domination. It is indeed a political war and the imperialists are losing it.” The Attorney-General told the Chief Justice that a Nyasaland battalion of the King’s African Rifles (K.A.R) left the country only a few days before this was published, for service in Malaya. The Northern Rhodesia Regiment was also training in preparation to go to Malaya. For this reason, he said, the article in the Freedom Newsletter would have a serious effect on the African forces. He further referred to an attack on the former chief secretary, Mr R.C.S Stanley, which appeared in the same issue, and asked: “Why was Zukas anxious to refer to Malaya? It could only be for the purpose of creating disturbance.” Mr Unsworth further referred to a letter dated February 5, 1952, to Mr Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, who had by then assumed the presidency of the ANC. The letter read:
The final communiqué of the recent London conference clearly says that they have to go ahead with the Federation. They have decided to have a big conference in April instead of July. The purpose of this conference, it is clearly stated, will be to prepare a final scheme for Federation. It is not a conference whose purpose will be to find out who is for, and who is against, the Federation, as at V.F. (Victoria Falls). The statement was published on Monday. Last night we had a public meeting in Ndola attended by Yamba, Sokota and even Fox-Pitt (another white man who supported the African cause) and we were all of the opinion that this statement should mark the end of the talking stage. Clearly, Federation is to be enforced. A decision was therefore taken to begin immediately to organise the people for mass action. We agreed on principle on the following forms: • General strike and exodus from towns. • Periodical (weekly) paralysis strikes. • Non-cooperation. Yamba and Sokota are to cover the Copperbelt during the week explaining the significance of the communiqué and arranging for a Copperbelt conference at Mufulira on Saturday February 16, where mass action could be prepared for a meeting with T.U.C. (Trade Union Congress) which will be taking place immediately. We are on the move. Do not lose a minute; get back to the line of rail and start campaigning in the Midlands (Central Province). If possible, try to get to the Copperbelt for the meeting on Saturday February 16. It will be a most important conference and I feel you should not miss it.
With Best Wishes, Yours fraternally, (Signed) Simon.”
Commenting on the letter, the Attorney-General said a political strike aimed at causing disorder in the country was clearly intended to incite the people against the government. He noted that in the letter, Zukas told Nkumbula not to lose a minute in getting to the line of rail and begin organising in the Midlands and asked him to be present at the Lusaka meeting on February 16. The Attorney-General said that what this meant, in effect, was that Zukas, rather than the president of ANC, was in control of things in the party. Mr Unsworth also said that later in February that year – at the Lusaka meeting – Zukas put forward a resolution that was intended to force through Federation against the wishes of the Africans and as the Africans had no power to prevent it, there should be mass protests, general strikes and mass action. “The power of directing those steps was to be in the hands of an Action Committee of nine, four members from rural and five members from urban committees of the African National Congress. Thus, the power of directing a national work stoppage was to be in the hands of nine people.” It was a long trial during which Zukas denied authorship of the Freedom Newsletter and other allegations made against him. However, the Chief Justice found him guilty and recommended that he be deported. Accordingly, he was locked up pending his deportation. Not satisfied with the High Court’s decision, Zukas appealed to the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Court of Appeal in Salisbury (Harare) but the appeal was dismissed. Consequently, in mid-September, 1952, Zukas was put on a London-bound plane-deported. In Britain, he continued his activities on behalf of the African nationalists in Northern Rhodesia. And after UNIP was formed in 1960, he became chairman of the party’s London committee. When Zambia attained self-government in January, 1964, the then Minister of Home Affairs, the late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, immediately lifted Zukas’ deportation order to facilitate his return. Zukas returned to Northern Rhodesia on Thursday, February 13, 1964, in the afternoon from London. He arrived through Ndola Airport, which at the time was dealing with international flights. He was met at the airport by his old friend and former executive member of the Anti-Federation Action Committee, Mr Reuben Kamanga, who was then Minister of Transport and Communications, and other prominent party officials. Shortly after alighting from his plane, Zukas was anointed with nkula, an African perfume used when crowning a chief or hero. Among the women who welcomed him was the veteran freedom fighter, late Mama Julia Chikamoneka (real name Mary Mulenga Nsofwa). Please reply explaining plans and whether you will try to be there. The most moderate people have been struck as if by lightning by this surprise attack. I have never heard (Reuben) Kamanga so aggressive; nor Yamba. I hope to organise an immediate march of ex-askaris on the Copperbelt. We are meeting with miners to obtain funds.