Mainza Chona Unheralded Hero of Zambia


The year 2006 is the fifth anniversary of the untimely death of Mainza Chona, the veteran Zambian politician and lawyer. To honour his legacy and keep his memory alive, his family and friends have decided to construct a "living" website for that purpose.

Mainza Chona (1930 to 2001) is truly one of the unheralded heroes of Zambia. He neither courted publicity nor exalted status within the Zambian political establishment. Although Mainza Chona liked to present himself as a simple and humble villager from Nampeyo in Chief Chona country east of Monze in the Southern Province of Zambia, Chona was a tough, highly sophisticated and urbane lawyer and political operative If he did not kill you with his smile, appearance of simplicity and humour, he killed you with powerful arguments uttered amidst joyous laughters.

John Mwanakatwe in his autobiography entitled, ‘Teacher Politician Lawyer: My Autobiography” (2003) writes that Mainza Chona “was a patriot per excellence…he was extremely popular with party officials because of his sense of humour”. Humble he was, simple, he was not. You just have to take into consideration how long he lasted in politics and the various political positions he occupied from 1964 to 1991 in Zambia. According to one authority, Mainza Chona occupied more and varied political positions in Zambia than just about everybody else.

Chona was the first President of United National Independence Party (UNIP) which became the ruling party at Zambia’s independence in 1964. In his own humble way, he ceded the position to Kenneth Kaunda when Kaunda was released from detention. He could have fought to retain the position but he did not. Chona’s loyalty to Kaunda, UNIP and Zambia remained constant throughout his political career. Despite the occasional frictions within Zambian politics and between President Kenneth Kaunda and Mainza Chona and others, Chona’s loyalty to Kaunda, UNIP and Zambia and not necessarily in that order could never be doubted.

I witnessed Chona’s loyalty to Zambia at first hand. One time in 1982, Mainza Chona came to Washington, DC. I was living in Washington DC at the time. He asked me to escort him to the airport on his way back to Zambia. We waited for the Zambian Embassy to send a limo to take Mainza Chona to the Washington International Airport (now Reagan International). We waited for a long time for the limo to come. Time was running short. I pleaded with Chona to just take one of the numerous taxis that were around otherwise he would miss his plane. He insisted on waiting for the limo. I thought he was living the trappings of power. Eventually the limo came and he smiled and told me, “I knew they would come through”. But I chided him by stating that he would have missed his plane just waiting for a limo, which may never have come, when a taxi could have done. His explanation for his behaviour was simple but overpowering: “I did not want to embarrass the Zambian Ambassador and therefore the Zambian Government by leaving for the airport on the assumption that they were unreliable by not sending the limo”. It was Mainza Chona quite alright, always placing others above his own interests, always making others look good. He did this without rancour, year in year out throughout his political life.

Mainza Chona died without having accumulated vast amounts of wealth like some of his contemporaries did. In this sense, the first generation Zambian politicians were much ahead in terms of moral suasion than the contemporary crop of politicians whose raison d’etre seems to be the accumulation of wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens and the country as a whole. Anyone who expected to discover a pot of gold at the death of Mainza Chona was solely disappointed. There was none. I remember visiting him at his small house in Lusaka in 1992: compared to the houses of his contemporaries, Mainza Chona may as well have been living in the village. When you went to his village, you did not find an imposing mansion or mansions as you would fin d in the villages of quite a number of his contemporaries. The contemporary politicians have mansions that resemble universities or hotels or similar structures. But what you found at his village was a simple clinic for the benefit of the villagers and not for his benefit. The road to his village and the clinic is not even paved. This is a man who was once the Prime Minister of Zambia, Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Justice, Secretary General etc. etc.

Yet Mainza Chona had an opportunity to amass as much wealth as he wanted. He was the first Zambian to be qualified as a lawyer. He qualified at Grays Inn in London during the fifties. Instead of just studying and returning home to open up a law practice (restricted though it was) and make some money, he joined the political process and he never looked back. After independence he held so many positions which he could have used like others to accumulate private wealth but he did not. No one can ever point to any corruptive practices on the part of Chona throughout his political life. This speaks volumes compared to what has been written or said about his contemporaries and especially what has happened in relation to the new crop of Zambian politicians.

Mainza Chona paid dearly for his political dedication to Zambia, like a lot of the first generation politicians. Simon Zukas reports in his excellent autobiographical book of his life and Zambian politics entitled, “Into Exile and Back” (2002) that Mainza Chona established the London Office of UNIP while he was in the UK to avoid arrest in Northern Rhodesia on a charge of sedition”. So we had Zambian refugees like Mainza Chona well before independence. The sacrifice here is that, Mainza Chona could have been prevented from practicing law precisely because of this criminal charge of sedition. A lawyer should have no criminal conviction against him at all. You cannot run from the long arm of the law. Mainza Chona was eventually charged with and convicted of sedition in a case reported as: R. V. CHONA (High Court of Northern Rhodesia, 1962). This case is reproduced in here as well as in the book entitled,” A case Book on Criminal Law” compiled by John Hatchard and Muna Ndulo (1983) at pages 306 to310. at the outset of this ironical decision, we are told that Chona was charged with sedition for publishing” a document describing the evils of colonial rule” while in his capacity as National Secretary of UNIP. The colonialists did not want the evils of colonialism to be described. Would that not be laughable today? In those days, it was no laughing matter. I am sorry I never talked to Mainza Chona about that charge and conviction. But brushes with the law then were regarded as a badge of honour and I am sure Mainza Chona wore it with pride.

The pinnacle of Chona's political career is perhaps his Chairmanship of the Commission of Inquiry into the Establishment of a One Party State. He made a lot of recommendations which could have democratised Zambia but some of the most significant recommendations towards that goal were not accepted by the government. The website contains more information on this.

After he left politics, Chona went into full-blown legal practice, the first time he really practised lawyer since he qualificationas a lawyer in England in the mid-fifties. He defended such luminaries as former president Kenneth kaunda when the ne government of Frederick Chiluba attempted to take away the Zambian citizenship from Kaunda. Kaunda lost power in 1991 after having ruled Zambia since 1964.  Most of the cases Chona did were either pro-bono or paid very little because the people could not afford to pay the high fees befitting his stature as State Counsel, the equivalent of Queen's Counsel in some jurisdictions.  The website is there to provide more information on Mainza Chona's legal career among others.

Mainza Chona would not be proud that a website has been designed to honour his legacy. He was a private man who did not want publicity centered on himself. But it is the only thing his family to whom he was undividedly devoted to after his politics can do to honour the memory and legacy of this quiet and unheralded Giant in Zambian politics.

This website is a feast for the eyes, ears and mind. It is divided into several sections and like any website can be read according to one’s interests. It is hoped that a full blown account of Mainza Chona’s life will be published some day in the future. Given the dearth of good autobiographies and biographies of Zambian politicians, especially the first generation politicians, this website and a full blown biography later are significant contributions to our understanding of our political past and the genesis of the future of Zambia.

Any information that anyone wants to share regarding Mainza Chona can be emailed to Because of his humbleness, Mainza Chona ought to be nursed as a continuing living tree. Contribute to that goal.

Munyonzwe Hamalengwa
Barrister and Solicitor

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