In memory of those children who were injured and killed by South African police and in honour of the gallant youth who directly confronted the dreaded apartheid state machinery and exposed it as a mere paper tiger, the African Union (AU) in 1991 made a decision to designate June 16 as the International Day of the African Child.
It has been marked as such ever since. It is an important day for reflection on the plight of the African child, notably poverty, poor health, human trafficking, vulnerability and lack of education.
In 2012, members of the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ) and others, instead of joining the rest of Africa in one way or another to mark this important June 16 day, were deep in mourning. They were unable to contribute to efforts aimed at finding lasting solutions to problems which continue to afflict the African child.
All roads were leading to the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the spacious centrally located church considered the befitting venue for funeral services of departing important personages. Mourners were paying their last respects to the RCZ patriarch, the doyen of Protestantism in Zambia, Reverend Foston Dziko Sakala, who died on June 12, 2012 at Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospital (UTH). He was 78.
The funeral dirge resounded in all directions of the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross:
The tunes were unmistakable. All, within hearing range, because of the impact RCZ has created over a period of time, could tell that those were the tunes of RCZ or, going by popular usage, tunes of the ‘Dutch’.
In these parts, the word Dutch, with reference to the domain of religion, has refused to die. It is used interchangeably and is synonymous with RCZ. It is not unusual for reference to be made to Church ya a Dutch, ( Church of the Dutch, ie RCZ), Nyimbo za a Dutch, ( Dutch songs), or Maliro ya a Dutch ( a funeral of the Dutch) .
The day, June 16, 2012 saw the biggest maliro ya a Dutch of recent times. For RCZ congregants and others, it was virtually a national funeral. Which RCZ reverend was not there? As if by design, it was a case of Who is Who in RCZ! Women clad in black skirts, white blouses complete with black doeks on their heads, the RCZ uniform, were prominent. So were men in their resplendent black suits, white shirts and ties visibly marked ‘Reformed Church in Zambia’.
For Reverend Moses Mwale, president of the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) and moderator(other churches prefer to use overseer) of the whole RCZ, it was a tragic loss. The departed patriarch was his father-in-law and because of his premonition, he had expressed his desire that Moses should deliver a eulogy during his funeral. Moses did not disappoint. He lived up to expectations and if the departed do see what is happening this side of eternity, Rev Sakala remains proud of a son in law he could rely on.
On his part, the Kenya-based flamboyant Japhet Ndhlovu, another gifted RCZ reverend, in humbling himself before the departed patriarch affirmed, in a nutshell, that : "All of us are his children…he contributed greatly in making us what we are today...” Realising that apart from the Zambia Daily Mail news story report of the sad news, there appeared to be a blackout in the media, he used his own initiative to release a tribute which saw light of day on the features page of the Sunday Times of Zambia.
In his tribute, he noted that "Zambia recently lost a great son of the soil. A Zambian giant of family, religious, political, and moral conscience stepped off the stage into the arms of God… Reverend Sakala touched more lives than most will ever realise, in his excellent service to God and humanity… "
The outspoken Archbishop John Mambo, retired overseer of the Church of God, in his homage in the Cathedral, took a swipe at the Zambian government for failing to honour the distinguished clergyman by means of declaring a state funeral.
He wondered what criteria is used in arriving at the decision to accord anyone a state funeral if such a distinguished personality of high calibre as Rev Sakala could be denied the honour. Many applauded the sentiments of Archbishop Mambo as they held the view that Rev Sakala’s monumental work was deserving of the honour. The funeral reunited RCZ with the breakaway Bible Gospel Church in Africa (BIGOCA) of charismatic Bishop Peter Ndhlovu who also came in full force.
Basically, Rev Sakala received his calling as a minister of religion and it is not out of this world to expect him, a man endowed with rare talent, to have served the religious world in countless capacities both at local and international levels, including that of president of the Christian Council of Zambia.
But Rev Sakala’s contributions were not restricted only to the sphere of religious matters in the strict sense. He left landmarks in the political development of our country. In 1991, there were periods of great doubt and uncertainty in Zambia more so the period in the run up to the make or break polls.
For purposes of transparency, President Kenneth Kaunda announced the formation of a purportedly independent group to monitor the elections. The opposition dismissed the names announced to constitute the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT) as nothing but Kaunda allies planted to compromise the electoral process and rig the elections.
A new body had to be born to give assurance that all was well, hence the birth of the Zambia Elections Monitoring Coordinating Commitee(ZEMCC), forerunner to the Foundation for Democratic Process( FODEP). Rev Sakala was privileged to head the group as its first president. Under the keen eye of ZEMCC and other international observers, the elections were given a clean bill of health as free, fair , transparent and credible.
The opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) ended the unchallenged 27-year rule of Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP). Thanks to the pivotal role in 1991 played by Rev Sakala and other key stakeholders; the seed for a peaceful transfer of power had been sown and it was possible 20 years later in 2011 for the MMD, which had outlived its usefulness by far, to be swept out of power by the Patriotic Front(PF) with no trouble.
At the attainment of the retirement age of 65 years, Rev Sakala decided to move on. It is here on the outskirts of Lusaka that he decided to spend his last days. A snakelike convoy of vehicles could be seen leaving the Anglican Cathedral heading for this farm block where his mortal remains were finally put to rest at a common graveyard.
An original clergyman, he believed in being one with the people. Instructively, it was out of his own volition that he was put to rest there as opposed to the elite Mutumbi cemetery or Leopards Hill Memorial Park. That’s remarkable for a man who obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Zambia in 1977, having joined the university at the same time as the author in 1973.
He followed up this academic achievement, not common for a man of his age at the time, with further studies with the University of South Africa (UNISA) among others.
Before people could recover from this loss of great magnitude, another heavy blow hit the RCZ community on June 23,2012. Reverend Lucas Zandonda B. Mwale followed Rev Sakala in going to fulfil his appointment with God. He too was a luminary of RCZ, having served, like Rev Sakala, as Principal of the Justo Mwale Theological University College (JMTUC), RCZ’s highest institution of learning, among other functions. He was the biological father of Rev Moses Mwale.
Coming , as the two funerals did, within two weeks of each other, one would not wish to imagine the trauma the CCZ president was going through. In paying homage to Rev Mwale, the father, Rev Mwale, the son, remembered that he had the additional quality of ”not only being a good father but a good dad as well”; a disciplinarian who saw to it that his children had sound upbringing.
Not to be outdone, the JMTUC Newsletter 2012, noted that "We will always remember these two heroes who helped make JMTUC what it is today.”
The departure of the two patriarchs marked the end of an era in the development of religion in Zambia, especially in RCZ circles. Their lasting significance lies in the fact that they belong to that generation that took over from the departing white clergy and managed the transition well.
In the post-independence euphoria, there were many changes which came in order to underline the pronouncement that we truly were able to stand on our own. The field of religion was not spared. The United Church of Zambia (UCZ), not at the exclusion of abundant political will, was constituted , continuing with the 1958 merger of a number of churches.
Kaunda’s Church of Scotland family church was one such constituent. The Dutch Reformed Church/African Reformed Church changed its name to Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ). In 1966, long before the change in name, it had become independent of outside control. The role the generation of Rev Sakala and Rev Mwale played in managing the transition was critical. It is noteworthy that the numbers of congregants, instead of dwindling, have continued to swell and new congregations have been springing up all over. There was no collapse; there were no empty churches on Sundays; all because of the able leadership provided during the period of transition.
RCZ traces its roots to the July 5, 1899 establishment of a mission at Magwero, prided in RCZ circles as the cradle of the church in Zambia, by Dutch missionaries. Nyanje mission, where in later years a hospital was constructed, was established in 1905. Today, RCZ boasts of the JMTUC, many schools, and hospitals.Having shifted its headquarters from Katete to the capital,Lusaka, it is apparently one of the biggest protestant churches in the country, both numerically and extensively. Thanks to the work of the transition period by the generation of the two departed patriarchs, both born almost at the same time as the first black priest from Zambia, Justo Mwale, was being ordained by Dutch missionaries in 1929.
In October 2011, the 77-year-old Rev Sakala was in Chilenje to grace and participate in the annual special service for Senior Citizens, classified as all those above the age of 70.
Zambia Electoral Commission chairperson and Deputy Chief Justice Ireen Mambilima visited Chilenje on October 9, 2011, less than three weeks after the landmark tripartite elections and congregants were anxious to listen to what she had to say.
She revealed that it was not an easy period for her; what with the tension in the country. During those periods of great uncertainty, her guiding verse, so she explained to the congregants, was Micah 6 verse 8:
"He hath shewed thee,O man what is good;
And what doth the LORD require of thee ,but to
do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly
with thy God?”
So 2012 marked dark days in RCZ. It has been known that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Divine providence had it that both Rev Sakala and Rev Mwale depart from this side of eternity in the month of June, whose 16th day was designated by the AU as International Day of the African Child. The child signifies the future, regeneration and renewal. Hence the African saying: "Imiti ikula empanga.”
In the years of renewal, the example of civility, humility and peace bequeathed to us by the two departed patriarchs will live on as reference points.