By Eugene Makai
When in 1943, Kenneth Kaunda was asked by the missionaries at Lubwa Mission to return to Chinsali from Munali School in Lusaka where he had spent two years from 1941 to take up a position as a Teacher and boarding master at his old school at Lubwa, he did not hesitate. He was 19.
He had been one of 30 students from all over Northern Rhodesia chosen to attend the First African Secondary School in Lusaka.
Even though he would have continued with his education for another two years there was a critical shortage of Teachers at the Mission School and he had by now acquired a higher qualification than most of the staff there.
This development put Kaunda on a trajectory that would affect all our lives, not least his own.
Lubwa was the centre of the lives of the Kaundas going back to Reverend David Julizya Kaunda, Kenneth’s father.
In those days, some of the visitors to Lubwa were John and Milika Kaweche Banda who were residents of Chinsali. They would take their daughter Mutinkhe, who was also known by her Christian name Beatrice shortened to its diminutive form of Betty, to receive medical treatment at the Mission dispensary.
The Kaweches later moved to Mpika where Mutinkhe went to school and completed her standards or equivalent of basic education.
Mr. Kaweche was a firm believer in girl education and opportunities for his daughter. So as soon as Mutinkhe was done she went to Mbereshi where she took an Elementary Teacher’s Course for which she received a certificate in 1946.
Mutinkhe was to take up a position at the Mpika school but Mrs. Helen Jengwera Nyirenda Kaunda Kenneth’s mother, was about to change her life.
Unbeknownst to Kenneth, Mrs. Kaunda visited the Kaweches in Mpika and saw Mutinkhe for the first time since her family left Chinsali when she was a girl. She enlisted the help of a friend who was a neighbour of the Kaweches and enquired into Mutinkhe. Satisfied with the reports she got and her own observations, she broached the subject of Mutinkhe being a suitable match for her son Kenneth to the Kaweches.
Kenneth Kaunda meanwhile was away in Mufulira attending a Scout camp with two of his closest friends, Simon Kapwepwe and John Sokoni. His mother wrote a letter telling him to call on the Kaweches in Mpika on his return to see his prospective bride.
When the trio arrived in Mpika from Mufulira in June 1946, Mutinkhe was told that they were resting in a hut. She went there but only found Simon and John as Kenneth had wandered out. She returned later and met him for the first time.
Kenneth’s friends excused themselves after which he introduced himself to her. As Mrs. Kaunda ( Mutinkhe) recalled later, he went straight to the point catching her rather off-guard. She was speechless.
He asked her some questions but she remained silent as a sign of consent as custom dictated. After a few minutes she excused herself and went home.
The following morning, Kenneth called on Headman Chitulika and gave him Five Shillings (5/–) to be taken to the Kaweches as a token of betrothal (insalamu). Mutinkhe was informed of the formal proposal for marriage and asked if she was willing to engage Kenneth. She agreed.
The Kaweches then formally accepted the generous token of 5 Shillings considering that Six Pence (6d) or 1 Shilling (1/–) was usually enough for the purpose.
Their wedding took place in August 1946 and was celebrated first in Mpika and then at Lubwa in Chinsali. They travelled to Lubwa on the back of a lorry with their belongings. A reception was held at Lubwa with dancing into the wee hours. Kenneth’s pupils also attended the event. Donations amounting to Three Pounds (£3) were collected.
And so three months to her 18th birthday, Betty Mutinkhe Kaweche became the lifelong wife, friend and companion of 22-year-old Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda with whom she was destined to shape the future of Northern Rhodesia.
☆The Kaundas – one of the most enduring couples of our time and an iconic first couple of Zambia.