New Internationalist

Interview with President Kaunda

March 1973

As the tension mounts in southern Africa, Zambian Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda talks to the New Internationalist about the Rhodesian blockade; the racial crisis on the continent; and the key issues facing Zambia itself. Interview by David Martin.

David Martin: Rhodesia’s Mr Smith has imposed an economic blockade on Zambia. What effects will this have on your country’s economy?

Kaunda: Well, let me begin the other way around and tell you that in my opinion if Mr Smith had known what it was going to mean to the economy he would not have done it. For us our policy has been very clear indeed; it has been to diversify our sources of conveying imports and exports from the rebels and racialist south to independent Africa up north. Now this blockade we are treating as a golden opportunity. We have been placed in a position where we are showing that we are stronger than we had ever imagined. So while there will be some growing pains not much damage will be done to our economy, provided of course we are all able to work hard.

Mr Smith decided to exempt copper from the blockade. You responded by refusing to accept this concession. Was this an inevitable political decision or were you aware of the fact that alternatives did exist?

To begin with we knew that Mr Smith was playing politics as well as an economic game. Politics in the sense that he wanted to show the British government that he was not going to tamper with their economy because it would have brought more wrath from the British government. And secondly he was playing an economic game insofar as his own followers in Rhodesia are concerned: because they know as well as we do that they cannot run Rhodesia railways without our copper; and to ask us to subsidize his railway and at the same time refuse to carry our imports is asking too much of any human being. We thought this over and decided we were not going to play his game and inevitably we played it our own way. I think it is an economic disaster for Rhodesia.

It is fairly clear that Rhodesia is going to suffer more in the long term than Zambia. But it does cut your southern trade routes. Of about 1,000,000 tons of imports about 700,000 tons came across your southern border from Rhodesia. Do you think that viable alternative trade routes exist at this time and if so what are they?

I have no doubt at all that we will find suitable alternatives and already we have been in contact with a number of sister African countries – Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Zaire. They have all responded favourably and now it is a question of working out the details. Ministers will be visiting all of these countries to work out the details. So all in all I am very satisfied that, while we may have birth pangs, we are in a very strong position. Alternative routes will be found and I would like to concentrate on those routes which will have some permanence rather than those which will have to be on an emergency basis.

If we found a small black minority oppressing a white majority anywhere in the world we would support the white majority against the black minority

The Tanzania Zambia railway should reach Kapiri Mposhi by March 1974. Given this fact and your decision to boycott Rhodesia as far as the copper exports are concerned am I correct in assuming at this point that you have decided once and for all to break Zambia’s communications with the south?

They would have to work very hard to get us back in that direction. I don’t know at the moment what they can do to take us back there. As you know, trade with South Africa increased after UDI. We had to find alternative sources and as loyal members of the United Nations we had to oblige in spite of the difficulties. But this meant of course that we had to increase trade with South Africa as we shifted from Rhodesia. This means a problem now for us because we will have to work very hard to find alternative sources to South Africa, but given hard work and the co-operation of our friends we should be able to find these alternative sources. Let me add that I prefer to find out what our friends can produce, even within their own countries, before we start getting alternative sources.

I really meant rather than breaking trade, which may take longer, breaking totally and finally with the routes through southern Africa. If necessary South African goods could be brought through Dar es Salaam, Lobito and Nacala.

I think in terms of South African trade that will come by air, or possibly through Lobito Bay in Angola or Nacala in Mozambique if the Portuguese continue to oblige. But in terms of Rhodesia railways I hope this is the last time we are using them.

The Tanzanians would let you bring South African goods through Dar es Salaam if you needed to but would you not ask them to do this?

I would rather not. I would not like to embarrass them. I like to believe that the present trade we have with South Africa is of a temporary nature. I would like to find other alternative sources. The southern African situation is becoming more explosive every day and it would be stupid of us to rely on trade sources from these countries.

Mr Smith said he wanted an assurance from you that you would no longer support the Zimbabwe liberation movements. What is your reply to this?

We in Zambia have always said that if Mr Smith wants our co-operation let him go to the people of Rhodesia as a whole on the basis of one man one vote and if he is elected on that basis we are quite happy to welcome him here in Zambia because to us his colour is immaterial. It is the system which he is using there which is wrong and we can never find ourselves co-operating with that type of system. We can’t. It is a matter of deep-rooted principle.

We don't want to have anything to do with the Smith regime at all. They are in rebellion against the British Crown. They are in rebellion against humanity and all that is sensible and principled

I have put it in another way. I have said look, if we found a small black minority oppressing a white majority anywhere in the world we would support the white majority against the black minority. Therefore for Mr Smith to ask me to get rid of the representatives of freedom fighters who have offices in Lusaka… where else are they going to find an opportunity to speak and inform the rest of the world about the oppression which takes place in Rhodesia? This is all we are doing and if he thinks he can intimidate us to stop supporting what is justifiable spiritually, morally, politically, economically, he is barking up the wrong tree. We cannot stop.

Some people believe that all Mr Smith has achieved is to push you to a decision you could have made some time ago or would have made in the very near future. Do you think this is true?

I would say that he has given us a golden opportunity, a real golden opportunity, because it is embarrassing to us to have to deal with Mr Smith. There is no doubt about that. We had to use his coke. We have unfortunately the Kariba power, a joint project which we inherited from the Federal days. It is there, a fact, and there is nothing we can do about it. But in all areas where we can possibly afford to do so we don’t want to have anything to do with the Smith regime at all. They are in rebellion against the British Crown. They are in rebellion against humanity and all that is sensible and principled. We don’t like dealing with them at all and it is our geographical position which has made us deal with them in the past. But they have taken a decision for us so we are fortunate. It has come rather earlier than we would have done it, but it is most welcome.

Looking around the shops here in Lusaka I have noticed an amazing amount of luxury goods – the type of things you would not find in Tanzania. Do you think one effect of this blockade will be that Zambia will be much tougher in future about imports?

I have always believed we have had here what I like to call a false start. We have based our needs as a nation on the needs of a small expatriate population. Admittedly they were in control here. The whole thing had been geared in such a way that when we took over we acquired these foreign tastes and values. We have been constantly hammering on this point but it has not been easy to change the tastes of our people. There is a danger here that this may become a permanent feature of our lives. That would not be very in keeping with humanism and humanism deals with man and it is man without distinction. And therefore we are cheating ourselves if we think by literally aping expatriate habits and tastes that we are being civilized. It is a very stupid way of looking at things and I am afraid that what you have found in our shops here is the weight that a small well-organized group can have on a people. To me it begins to smell of disaster.

Arising out of the Rhodesian blockade, do you believe that there is anything that the British government could or should do?

I have always said that the right thing for the British government to do when UDI was declared was to move in troops and this would have avoided bloodshed. I am afraid I have been misunderstood – people thought I was bloodthirsty and I wanted to see bloodshed in Rhodesia. In fact I have said that it’s better if a legitimate government takes over control and uses a small clique of rebels and establishes its authority and develops Rhodesia towards a non-racial society, rather than allowing a situation to develop in which the Rhodesians Africans will become so annoyed that they will begin to behave in such a way that Mau Mau will look like a picnic. I am afraid we may be witnessing now the beginning of a racial confrontation in southern Africa, not only in Rhodesia.

If the British government had taken steps to contain this rebellion we might have contained this small group of people – diehards. But what I think we are now witnessing here is the beginning of a racial holocaust. I don’t know what the British government can do now but I hope what I have said so many times – if they don’t respond to the call of their responsibilities they will take a big share of the blame because in my opinion we are really heading for disaster in southern Africa.

If you ask me that question in terms of what they can do as far as Zambia is concerned I will tell you that whatever economic difficulties we suffer here can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the British government and they have a duty to respond. When we are ready I hope we will be submitting details of our costs and the British government should bear this cost to the Zambian economy.

If anybody should be made enough to come and attack us here then I can assure you that very many people are ready to sacrifice their lives in the defence of what is every man's desire - freedom, peace and justice

Sweden’s Prime Minister, Mr Palme, looked across the Zambezi last year and observed that it was a barrier of human decency. At the same time it has been felt that because Zambia needed southern routes this inhibited liberation movements, eg FRELIMO, and the possibility of blowing up the Biera railway line. At the same time there is a fear that the Zambezi is the frontline of a possible racial war. Do you think that this blockade and your disengagement has brought this potential confrontation even nearer?

There is no doubt at all that the situation is explosive. It has been building up over a period and whether or not it will explode depends entirely upon the whims of the settlers of Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa. We are not aggressive. We don’t want to destroy anything. We have not wanted to build up armies here which would invade these countries. Our small security forces are to defend Zambia. We do not intend to change our policy. But if anybody should be made enough to come and attack us here then I can assure you that very many people are ready to sacrifice their lives in the defence of what is every man’s desire – freedom, peace and justice. Whether or not the situation explodes therefore depends on what the settlers are going to do. We will not take aggressive action. It is they who are taking aggressive action against us.

One of the things I would like you to outline is the basis of Zambia’s foreign policy – the guidelines by which you operate.

It is based on the same principles on which we base our domestic policies. Our foreign policy is based on the appreciation that God’s man is important without distinction as to sex, status, creed, religion, colour or race. Man is important. Kaunda must accept as a person that things which he desires for himself are also desired by other people for themselves.

They want love for the human person – I want to be loved and therefore I am sure that other people want to be loved – they want peace, freedom and justice.

I am sure other people want the same things and therefore we like to say that as far as is humanly possible we should do to other nations and people what we would like them to do unto us. You can see where all of this is coming from – it is not original teaching. It is something from the Bible, from Jesus Christ’s teaching. This is just simple, but difficult. But you see why when anything happens our first question is not who has done it, but is this right, is it fair, is it just. If the answer is no, no matter who has done it we will condemn him and the action he has taken. Ever since we became independent, and even before, we condemned American presence in South East Asia. We have condemned all these steps taken by the Americans against innocent people. I think at one time the Americans believed we were almost pathologically against them until the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. We were one of the few small nations which said, and has insisted until now, that that was the invasion of an independent country. The Russians had no right to be there and we have said this without fear or favour. This is the basis of our foreign policy: if we cannot have permanent friends – well and good. But we don’t want to have permanent enemies. What we want is to help to build bridges between nations, continents and people. We believe this is the task of any nation, big or small.

I think that it is fair to say that there is a tendency in Africa to project the more outspoken aspects of foreign policy towards countries outside the continent. For instance during the recent racial decision to expel Asians from Uganda only you and President Nyerere spoke out against it. Many many people are being murdered in Uganda today. In Burundi at least 50,000 people were slaughtered last year and again nobody spoke out. Don’t you feel that for its own credibility Africa must begin to speak out and act more firmly on things happening within its own area?

We have a few problems over issues like this. The first is the lack of authoritative sources of information. In the main, people who give us information on matters of this kind are people whose motives we suspect and therefore when we don’t have our own representatives in say Burundi or Uganda we have little information of our own. In the case of Burundi we had no information at all. All we knew was that there was an uprising. In Uganda we condemned the racial approach because we could see clearly what was happening. But when we hear that the Chief Justice in Uganda has been dragged from his offices we are told that some rebel soldiers took him away. Of course nobody can believe that, but there is confusion as to what is going on. It makes it very difficult to find a solid base on which to make judgements. But where we have something clear cut we will not hesitate to speak our minds.

Your document ‘Humanism in Zambia’ is accepted as the political guideline in Zambia in much the same way as the ‘Arusha Declaration’ in Tanzania. Could you explain the reasons why you wrote the document, including its timing and the main points?

First of all the timing. We had to introduce it in 1967 for various reasons. I think the most important one is that if we had produced that sort of humanism before Independence, Zambian Independence might not have seen daylight. Even today people still confuse humanism with communism. What would have happened if we had introduced this before Independence? So the timing of this in 1967, as with many other things, was an important factor. We introduced it after we had had time to operate and people knew who we were. Don’t forget also that when we became independent such important institutions as the army, police, air force, the church, business and industry, farming, were all controlled by expatriates.

The central point of the philosophy is man in all we do. We do not want to put anything above man. We believe that when you think in terms of ideology without man there is no ideology. There is no wealth without man. So man is the key factor in all that we do. In all of God’s creation we believe man is central. From there all sorts of policies are worked out. If it is economic policies, then we don’t want exploitation of man by man. We are moving towards a situation where all forms of exploitation of man by man are removed. It is a long long journey but we have begun. Foreign policies, social policies and others are dictated from that point. We are beginning with free education, free health services. It does not mean yet that everyone has the chance to go to school but if we had delayed any more in making that decision we would have landed ourselves in more trouble. This question of class would have emerged and would have stuck with us. All of our policies come from man’s importance in society.

Why humanism as opposed to socialism?

Well this is partly to do with some of the things which have taken place in history. We believe that humanism is more embracing than socialism. Socialism in my opinion is mainly a way of organizing your economy and society as a whole. You are mainly wanting to put the means of distribution and production in the hands of the people. But it does not convey the same meaning as humanism. Sometimes we see socialist countries which put ideology above man. This we believe is wrong and the concept must be brought out – this concept of the importance of man. The only way we could do it was by naming our philosophy as humanism. Socialism seems to be more limited in understanding and appreciating the importance of man.

The most recent of the continuing measures from 1967 is a leadership ethic debarring leaders from doing certain things. Why has it become necessary at this time? Is it because the leaders are indulging themselves?

We should have done this in 1970. We set up a committee on the question of leadership code. But because of divisions in the party, government and National Assembly as well as the nation as a whole, I had to postpone this. Now I believe the time is right because the leadership in the party is more united after certain elements in the party left. Now it is a much happier, stronger, more united party. All the qualities one would like to see in leadership are now coming out again as they were at Independence. There is no doubt at all that one has felt leaders indulging themselves increasingly. It’s not simply their fault. These people had given up everything they had in life before Independence. While others were working for the colonial government etc these people were busy fighting for Independence. They got in trouble because not only were they required to look after their families and their extended families but after their friends. This meant their own security was a worry to them.

I believe the ethic will prevent leaders owning businesses, farms above 25 acres and houses to rent. When will it come into effect?

Within five years nobody will be allowed to rent houses at all in the country. I am working on a paper which is going to embrace the whole question and the code will come into effect long before five years are up.

Will a qualification for the parliamentary election later this year be that you have complied with the code already?

Yes, it will be a very important factor in determining who will become an MP.

Are you in Zambia suffering a problem felt elsewhere on the continent of an élite group from the urban centres and universities who put themselves above the common man?

In all of God's creation we believe man is central. From there all sorts of policies are worked out. If it is economic policies, then we don't want exploitation of man by man

This is one of the things which makes me very sad. The idea that a man who yesterday was himself oppressed cannot have the moral and spiritual courage to stand up to temptation. This puzzles and saddens me, sometimes. I must admit, it sours me. This élitist approach to life is a cancer which must be fought. I am afraid it is here in Zambia; some people will not even accommodate their own parents in their own homes because they do not regard them as suitable human material to live with. Others would like to have separate schools, hospitals etc for themselves and their children. They think they are a separate class. This is a sin – for these people who were oppressed to turn against their fellow man, to want to establish another oppressive regime where others do not matter. This we will fight and the leadership code is one way.

In most African countries the so-called élite have sought to maintain their high salaries and differential, increasing rather than decreasing the gap with the peasant farmers. Between 50 and 75 per cent of the monetarized income finishes up in their pockets. Here in Zambia mine workers’ wages rose 50 per cent from 1964 to 1968 while at the same time the earning capacity of the rural peasant rose only four per cent. What steps are you taking to arrest this trend?

This is a very difficult question (and by the way, mine workers are negotiating for more this year). There is no doubt at all that much has been done in the rural areas. But the ‘two nations in one’ is a real problem. We must attack it from various angles. The first one is political education. What does humanism mean to a worker? A true humanist will not be happy to see that in his society there are upper and lower classes. A true humanist must not allow this development to continue indefinitely. He must individually as well as collectively do something to beat this gap between rural and urban areas. This is one way. The second way of course is through being harsh – not harsh really, but by taking the necessary measures. One step was in 1969 when I imposed a wage freeze on workers. But I also imposed a freeze on prices. So that it was not a one-way traffic. This existed for a year before we lifted it. I am afraid what exists between the rich nations and the poor also exists between the rich areas and poor in Zambia. That is why I said we are two nations in one. We must wait until the policy is agreed for the next couple of years on this subject. We are very much concerned about this problem and we have economists working on it so that when the time comes to take a decision, the right decision will be taken.

The Tanzanian policy of ‘ujaama’ seems to be the most logical to emerge in the decade since Independence, emphasizing re-grouping of people so services can be channelled to them and their efforts into the economy. Does Zambia have any similar policy?

We have. We call it village re-grouping. It is more or less the same approach to life. But we want to also retain the basis of the villages and not destroy their values and tradition through transplanting. We have been doing this since 1965. Some experiments have succeeded and others have not. We now have a fairly clear policy as to where we are going.

All African countries at Independence inherited an educational system which took little account of the fact that over 90 per cent of children entering primary schools were destined to return to the land. The object of the system was a university degree. What changes have you made to the education structure you inherited and what chances do you feel are still necessary?

We inherited a system geared to white collar jobs and the result has been terrifying. Working with one’s hands is something which was looked down upon. Now we are emphasizing the importance of manual work. This is based on first agricultural production and secondly on industrial production. We are emphasizing the need for almost every primary school to have some sort of agricultural activity. They are producing vegetables, maize, cotton, or they are looking after pigs or cattle. All this has been done to give the right type of orientation to little ones in our schools. We have problems with this in urban areas – but we are insisting that they look after poultry. And we are emphasizing technical educational training.

One of the big problems other countries trying to do this have found is the attitude of the parents. Are they too being politically educated?

We have a department of National Guidance. This comes under the Vice-President and he has under him through the urban areas, officials who do nothing else but political education. The attitudes are changing but it will take a long time.

Copper provides about 90 per cent of your export earnings. Prices are falling. Is some sort of organization like OPEC to the oil producers possible?

We have CIPEC but I am afraid we have not achieved very much. But we are under considerable foreign influence, for those who came to develop the copper industries initially were not us. But our position is becoming stronger.

Copper has obviously been very important to you in being able to develop the country and have much more money than most other African leaders at Independence. But equally has it been something of a curse creating a maldistribution of wealth in the society with too much accumulation of wealth around the mines and possible neglect of rural activity?

There is no doubt at all: copper has given us a lopsided start – a false start. It is a false start that the majority of people do not benefit through employment. It gives too a false sense of security; you have only to look at the towns to see that little thought is being given to the rural areas. But the leadership has not forgotten them and copper has allowed us to build good roads to them. These roads are important to marketing. We are now constructing district roads to open up these areas. So while in a sense copper could be said to have been a curse through giving us a false sense of security and affluence, it has also given us a good base for building the infrastructure we need in the country – plus schools, hospitals, clinics etc. Most rural area districts now have a secondary school and hospital. So while on the one hand copper has been a curse on the other it has been a blessing.

I am afraid what exists between the rich nations and the poor also exists between the rich areas and poor in Zambia. That is why I said we are two nations in one

I believe that in the Sixties you were quoted on a number of occasions as saying you would not make Zambia a One Party State unless it was the will of the people through the ballot box. Now during the latter part of 1972 you decided to do so at a time when the tribal and political divisions publicly appeared more marked than before. Why did you move at this point and why did you ban other political parties?

I think I followed my earlier statements to the letter because this was the will of the people. They did it through the ballot box. You may say there were a few pockets where other parties had some influence. But if you look at the whole voting structure from 1964 to 1972, when we had by-elections, you will see how much support UNIP enjoyed as a party. You can look at the parliamentary, presidential, local council elections; all these support the point of view I am making. I was meeting the demand of the people which they had expressed through the ballot box. We had to legislate sooner or later interpreting what the people had said through the ballot box and putting that into law. These figures are there and you cannot argue against them. And it cannot be said we manufactured the figures as the electoral commission comes under the Chief Justice and as you know we have independence of the judiciary.

As for banning political parties and detaining some leaders – one has to go back to 1964. All along we had grown up as two parties (UNIP and the ANC). Before Independence there was a lot of friction; a lot of violence between the two parties. This was very serious. We got through the struggle for Independence but the friction remained. You can look at the High Court records and see these cases of political murder. I did nothing until about three or four years ago when there was a flare up of violence when there was a third party led by Mr Mundea. He had been expelled from the government after irregularities in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry where he was Minister. He and another Minister were expelled and he formed his party. It became very violent and ended up killing some of the UNIP supporters on the Copper Belt. Human life was being endangered so I banned that party. I detained the leaders and for some time there was peace. I released them after about six months. Then came the time when the African National Congress began a violent campaign in Livingstone, our tourist capital. Six UNIP members were killed… they were using pangas, cutting people’s necks. I banned the ANC in Livingstone alone and there was peace. Then in a district west of Lusaka I was on an official tour and members of the ANC cut trees down across the roads to act as barricades. They burned foodstores belonging to UNIP supporters and other things. I warned them that if this continued I would ban the party in that area and it did not so I banned them. As a result peace was restored in that area. All these were lessons I was learning.

I lifted the ban and trouble began again. So it went on election after election and there was growing support for UNIP. The former Vice-President, Mr Kapwepwe left us in August 1971 and I gave him and his colleagues six months within which to tell us what they were going to do for the country. I thought perhaps we had gone wrong so I let them tell us where we had gone wrong. At the time when I took steps against them, they had done nothing of the sort. There is no record they can show or party pamphlet to show what they were going to do for the country that was different from what we were saying. Then violence flared up again on the Copper Belt. Our party chaps summoned me there. On a Saturday they said if you do not ban these people some of us will be killed. On Sunday one of our party people was beaten unconscious. Various houses of party leaders and our offices were petrol bombed. So I detained the UPP leaders and again there was peace in the country. Recently I released them again and only last week there was petrol bombing again on the Copper Belt. Now what am I supposed to learn from this?

Even the most democratic leader would find himself in an impossible situation when people deliberately use violent methods to achieve their objectives.

Now not only that. At this moment our security forces, following mine explosions on our border last weekend and which killed three of our people, have arrested five men who have admitted being organized by the ANC to help Smith’s men in Zambia. It’s treason, it’s treason. Is the type of politics we are going to entertain in Africa – helping Smith’s men? First of all they fire at an island frightening our people there. Then they cross and together with these people they lay mines in Zambia which kill people. It just happens that the first victim of these mines was a nephew of one of the people who helped to lay them. This is how it came out and fortunately we have been able to follow them up. Chipangu, a former UNIP mayor of Livingstone, was sacked, for disciplinary reasons. He joined ANC. And then there is a magistrate and a bank official. They have all been dealing with South Africans and Rhodesians. I cannot say more.

We have now caught them. Eleven of them had recruited men in Zambia to go and be trained in Namibia by South Africans in military operations. All this is coming to light. I hope there will be court cases. And I should hint here that I hope we find a way of dispensing justice in such a way that these people will be seen for what they are; treasonable fellows who are able to sell their own country to our enemies. Eleven of them are in custody. I have also detained eight more people, organizing from Mungu. So when things like this are happening – and it is not guesswork – these people were recruiting Zambians to be trained by our enemies to come and undermine our authority, to destroy Zambians. We cannot allow this. We have a responsibility.

These people failed to produce alternative policies for this country. The alternative for them is go and be trained by the Portuguese, the Rhodesians and the South Africans, to kill their fellow man. Mr Kapwepwe is found with two rifles he cannot account for, one semi-automatic. These other three people I have mentioned are found with revolvers. Today (16 January) we searched certain areas here in Lusaka and an African Rhodesian was found with a .176 rifle, a revolver, and several hundred rounds of ammunition.

These things are a pointer. Why are these people running with guns? What opposition are they providing? In my opinion they have no right at all to claim to be leaders in this country. Here I will not give them the opportunity to destroy innocent Zambian lives. So there you are – Rhodesian mines on Zambian soil, revolvers, rifles, all these things. Evidence is there. They will have to explain in courts of law. But how does a man who was Vice-President of Zambia, or Mr Nkumbula who was a Minister, sink so low as this? Before they have denied this but now they have been caught red-handed with weapons. What have they to say about it? This is not the type of opposition we can tolerate in Zambia. There is freedom of speech, of assembly and of association. The judiciary and the church are independent. They must be a mirror to tell us when we go wrong. We accept criticism but not opposition – opposition in Africa is destruction.

This feature was published in the March 1973 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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