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From Dumisani Sibanda in Gwanda

ZAMBIA’s President Rupiah Banda yesterday made a sentimental return to his roots in Gwanda earning himself the title “man of the people” as he renewed acquaintances and made new friends.

The capital of Matabeleland South, Gwanda district — which is home to about 200 000 people — roared to life as the 72-year-old Zambian head of state and his wife Thandiwe were taken around Gwanda town. They later went to Vumbachikwe Mine, 16km from the town were President Banda was born and grew up following the migration of his parents from Zambia to work in Zimbabwe.

The visit marking the strengthening of bonds between Zimbabwe and Zambia was emotional from the start when President Banda and his delegation arrived at the Provincial Governor’s office in Gwanda town.

His benefactor, Mr Amratlal Naik, who paid his school fees while he was in Zimbabwe before his return to Zambia, met the Zambian leader.

The Zambian leader and Mr Naik hugged each other and shed tears of joy as they reunited.

The affable Zambian president was lively, speaking in fluent isiNdebele as he paid tribute to Mr Naik for supporting him with school fees up to secondary school level. In an earlier interview, Mr Naik explained that he met President Banda as a boy when his brother, Mr Major Banda, worked as a teller in his shop.

“Rupiah used to come and visit his elder brother at my shop and I discovered that he was intelligent and was so much into nationalist politics.

“He was full of potential, so I assisted him with the payment of his fees, even when he went to Sweden to further his studies.

“I am happy that the little help I offered assisted in changing his life and he is now an important man, the President of Zambia,” he said.

“His visit is really an honour to us the people of Gwanda and the Naik family in particular,” said the Indian-born former nationalist, who was detained for his political activism during the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

President Banda was over the moon when he met an old friend and Gwanda farmer, Mr Charles Boy Madonko, whom he grew up with in Gwanda and addressed as his “twin”.

“We were called twins because we were born in the same year 1937,” explained Mr Madonko after hugging the Zambian leader.

“Rupiah and I grew up in Gwanda and used to play football and do all other things that boys our age will do back then, but while Rupiah was benevolent of others, I can tell you that when l was in Zambia during the liberation struggle he was of great help to me.”

Mr Madonko said President Banda gave him money to set up a farm Zambia which, used to supply freedom fighters in Zipra camps in the neighbouring country with food.

“It was money from his pocket and I will never forget that gesture.”

The welcoming party included Governor Angeline Masuku, Zanu-PF National Chairman and Minister of State in the President’s Office John Nkomo, whom the Zambian leader described as an “old friend” as

well as several senior Government officials.

The second port of call for the delegation was Vumbachikwe Mine, were President Banda lived during the early years of his life and was shown around the mine by the management led by the managing director, Mr Morris Thompson.

“When I was growing up this area had a lot of mines. Gold is mined in this province,” said the Zambian leader showing he was no stranger to the territory, and still remembered a lot about it even though he was last here 36 years ago.

President Banda also had an opportunity to visit the mining compound were he used to live although new houses have been put up and the old ones destroyed.

He received a hero’s welcome at the adjacent Sabiwa Primary School were hundreds of mine workers, schoolchildren and villages from surrounding areas had gathered for his address.

Nyanja traditional songs and dances greeted the entourage.

In welcoming him, Mr Thompson marvelled at the Zambian leader’s humility.

“We welcome one of our own sons. When he arrived in Bulawayo they just filled the potholes on the road in anticipation of his visit. I wonder what would have happened to our road had the President not visited,” said Mr Thompson amid laughter.

He praised President Banda for his down-to-earth approach to life.

“One writer quoted father telling his son the following: if you can hope with things yet not lose a common touch then you will be a man my son.”

“Banda served as ambassador in different countries even at the United Nations and he is now president yet he is here with us. I am still here digging ores yet he is now president.

“At the time he was living here the mine was still owned by Lonhro and we had not taken it over and the mining was at level six. Now we are at level at 36,” said the MD.

Addressing the gathering, President Banda described yesterday’s event as the “most wonderful occasion”.

“I left Vumbachikwe when I was too young to go to school but I eventually went to Gwanda location school. Mrs Banda and I are honoured to be here. This is part of my 72-year history. My parents left Chipate, then Fort Jameson in Zambia, to Karoi in Zimbabwe working on mines and farms and then moved to Harare and there they were told the that real money was in Matabeleland,” he said.

“We then went to Bulawayo where we were told that the gold was in West Nicholson, so they took the Gwanda railway road. That is how they ended up in Vumbachikwe. I am very proud that I was born here. Ngazalwa lapha, ngakhulela lapha.”

President Banda said his rise showed that with hard work the sky was the limit.

“Your future is in your hands. You can decide to build a better future for yourself or destroy your future.”

He said some of the people he had met with in life were “poorer than him” but had managed to prosper because they were obedient and did their school work.

“You can draw inspiration from me: like you I was born here in this mine, but today I stand before you as the head of a country with a population almost the size of Zimbabwe . . . with a great potential like Zimbabwe. You are the leaders that will run this country or for that matter run the world,” he said amid applause.

“As soon as l retire in Zambia I will come back and stay a bit longer. Bazukulu kumele sihloniphe abazali. Silalele abazali..”

President Banda was given a ram by Chief Matema of Gwanda who with four other Zimbabwean chiefs have been invited to Livingstone next month for a traditional ceremony to be hosted by Chief Mukoni, who was accompanying the Zambian head of state yesterday.

Before winding up his tour, President Banda toured the Old Gwanda Zintec College and the new Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic where Governor Masuku announced a gift of 13 cattle from the province to the Zambian first family.

President Banda was also showered with other gifts including a pledge to name one of the streets of Gwanda town after him.

President Banda expressed his gratitude to the Government and people of Zimbabwe for their hospitality.

He said there was need for even more co-operation between Zimbabwe and Zambia including the idea of twinning cities in the two countries.

He had the gathering in stitches when he said he would build a special kraal called Matabeleland South where he will keep the cattle.

President Banda completed his tour by visiting Jahunda Township where his family lived after moving from Vumbachikwe but could not locate their house as the township was redeveloped after independence. He was, however, fortunate to reunite with one of his relatives, Gogo MaZulu.

“Litsho ukuthi libancane okokuthi akula muntu ongaziyo lapa,” he asked hoardes of people who had come to visit him addressing him by his first name.

They hugged and spoke about old times before exchanging contact details.

President Banda’s entourage then returned and is set to depart for Zambia today.

President Banda officially opened the 50th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair on Thursday.

Source: The Herald