SYLVESTER MWAMBA CHISEMBELE
1st March 1930 - 5th February 2006
Requiem Mass and Body Internment conducted by
His Grace the Archbishop of Kasama, James Spaita
St Ignatius Church, Lusaka
Birth and educational background
The Hon. Mr Sylvester Mwamba Chisembele was born on 1st March 1930 in Fort
Rosebery (Mansa) in a devout Catholic family, his father, Michael Filalo Chisembele
having been both a Catholic teacher and lay preacher. The Catholic Church in Mansa was
established by his father Michael Filalo Chisembele and brother Romans Filalo Lupambo,
a fact that was recognised and certified by His Holiness the Pope in Rome. The Requiem
Mass for Michael Filalo Chisembele on the 7th March 1973 was officiated by the
Archbishop of Kasama, His Grace Clement Chabu Kasansha, and in attendance were
Archbishop His Grace Elias Mutale, then Bishop of Mansa; Archbishop His Grace James
Spaita, then Vicar General of the Diocese of Mansa; Bishop R. Pilloux and amongst the
other religious Fr. Jan Wessels. Bishop Pilloux, wrote to Sylvester Chisembele on the 20
May 1973 that: - “I have no doubt that your good father has received his reward in heaven.
The priests of my generation will never forget that it was he and Ba Romano Lupambo
who established the Catholic Church in Mansa, and that they did suffer in so doing.
Whenever I think of them, they remind me of Paul and Timothy...”.
Sylvester began his primary education in Fort Rosebery and in 1942 entered Lubushi
Seminary in the Northern Province where he completed Standard VI having done full six-
year Latin courses. In 1948 he was asked to leave the Seminary as his questions on racial
equality were considered to be too radical for that period in time. He left the Seminary
and returned to Mansa
As he could not immediately secure admission into Chikuni or Malole Secondary Schools
he decided to run himself a business. This quickly grew and expanded and in due course
enabled him to clinch a lucrative supply contract with A.J Patel of Ndola, supplying him
with 50 x 90 kg bags of finger millet twice per week. This trade alone brought him a net
profit per month of £400 whilst at that time the highest salaries for white miners was not
more than £200 while that for African miners was not more than £10 per month. He chose
to invest in properties and in 1952 he successfully applied for a plot in Fort Rosebery
Suburbs from the office of the district commissioner on which he constructed two
buildings, a Restaurant and a Bakery. He had also introduced Mikwau Fishing Nets on
Lake Bangweulu where he established camps at Nganda and Sosa from which he supplied
his restaurant with fresh fish for transportation on a motorcycle he had purchased for the
purpose. The surplus was used for trading in Fort Rosebery and the Copperbelt.
So successful were Mr Chisembele‟s enterprises that they drew the attention of the District
Colonial Office and incurred the wrath of that office. He was successfully competing with
the only other trader dealing in grains, a white man, Mr Steincamp, who was also
delivering co-operative grains to Kitwe. In order to guarantee the monopoly of this white
trader, the District Commissioner sought to interfere and frustrate Mr Chisembele‟s trade
by confiscating his merchandise and blocking his deliveries to the Copperbelt. Police
roadblocks were mounted to intercept Mr Chisembele‟s hired lorry from Mporokoso
District where he bought his grains and arrest him on trumped up charges and offload his
grains into a police warehouse. The hired truck was sent on empty to Ndola and Mr
Chisembele made to appear several weeks after before the Court of the same man, the
District Commissioner, who had directed the impounding of the grains. Instead of making
32 trips in four months as per the contractual obligation producing a net profit of £1,600,
he was reduced to making only 5 to 6 trips netting him only £250 or £300.
The harassment, frustration and strictures imposed on Mr Chisembele‟s trading
movements caused him pain and anguish prompting him to detest and hate the existence in
the country of colonialism and anything about it. He strongly felt that indigenous people
would only be recognized and treated with respect as human beings if they gained political
control of the country and he prayerfully hoped that God would one day liberate the
country “from the hands of such savages”. For this reason, he joined the African National
Congress (although the party had been banned in the Fort Rosebery District) and became
one of Zambia's greatest fearless freedom fighters, who put his call to freedom fighting
before his own personal life and family.
In 1953 the federation was imposed in central Africa and in the areas where chiefs had
stood strongly against the imposition of the federation, territorial Governors were ordered
by the federal Prime Minister to take stern action against those chiefs. So in Fort Rosebery
Senior Chief Milambo Chilyapa, Chief Mulakwa and Chief Kasoma Bangweulu were
deposed and banished and taken as captives and restricted in other districts outside the
province and politics were banned in Fort Rosebery. In Nyasaland (Malawi) Chief Philip
Gomani who was old and sick but strongly opposed the federation was deposed and
banished and he died in a foreign country a few months after his banishment.
By 1955, Mr Chisembele had organized a firm ANC base in Fort Rosebery (Mansa) using
his own resources of money and buildings to further the cause of the freedom fight, and he
spread out to Samfya. At Lubwe Mission with the full participation of Mr Sylvester
Muchengwa and Mr Protasio Kamayanda, both leading personalities and leaders in the
Catholic Church, the ANC spread rapidly and became so strong and powerful that by the
time the District Commissioner, Mr North, came to know about it, it was too late to stop
the spread of the party‟s influence in the area.
In 1956 Mr Chisembele along with three of his colleagues, were all sent to prison in Fort
Rosebery and later transferred at the back of a lorry, in chains, to Ndola‟s Bwana Mkubwa
prison. They were imprisoned for 9 months with hard labour. They were released from
the prison on acquittal in the Appeals court but after they had served the entire sentence.
Upon their return, Mr Chisembele continued organising the ANC and was elected
Provincial General Secretary of Luapula Province in 1957.
In May 1958 there was an assassination attempt on his life by two security officers armed
with two long batons leaving him permanently disabled with his right eardrum shattered
and only partial hearing in his remaining ear. Severe and chronic headaches remained with
him for the rest of his life.
In 1958 Mr Chisembele was called to Lusaka to accompany Mr Harry Mwaanga
Nkumbula, leader of African National Congress, on a tour of Luapula Province. In spite
of the assurances of the overwhelming support of the province, Mr Nkumbula would not
address the huge crowds unless he had seen a permit from the police with his name
included. The tour was not a success and it was apparent that the ANC leadership was not
strong enough to take the struggle to its logical conclusion. When there was a split in
October 1958, people in Luapula province only made an about-turn and joined the Zambia
African National Congress (ZANC) party. There was no problem in taking them along as
Mr Chisembele and his friends had so very well organised the province politically. UNIP
was built on the ashes of the ZANC, which the British colonial governor banned.
On the 12 March 1959 Mr Chisembele was arrested and detained at Kalabo, in the Barotse
Province, now Western Province, for 9 months under the restriction order of Governor Sir
Arthur Benson. In his absence, Mr Chisembele‟s 3-roomed Restaurant and 2-roomed
Bakery were demolished. All the property, equipment and building materials were taken
away to the Public Works Department depot. It was never known what happened to the
property after that. His source of livelihood was gone for the sake of freedom for Zambia.
In June 1961 Mr Chisembele together with his Deputy, Mr Evans Mulenshi, were arrested
on a fictitious charge of harbouring explosives in the thatch roof of their homes.
Following a public outcry and the intervention of the Catholic Parish Priest, Fr Clement
Chabu Kasansha, later to become the Archbishop of Kasama, they were released but only
after being detained in custody for three weeks.
Acknowledging that he was a lead author of the UNIP Five Point master Plan, the
Governor of Northern Rhodesia, Sir Evelyn Hone, specially flew from Lusaka to Samfya
to confer with Mr Chisembele. Mr Chisembele who had been in the remotest part of
Samfya District in Senior Chief Kalasa Mukoso‟s Chiefdom, where he had been
organising, was summoned by the colonial administrator to meet the Governor at Samfya
Boma, an honour and respect not extended to any other freedom fighter. Shortly after this
meeting, Mr Chisembele was arrested and detained.
Writing of Cha Cha Cha, freedom fighter Mr Nephas Tembo in his book on the freedom
struggle published in 1984 describes the period of Cha Cha Cha as follows: “over seventy
people lost their lives in this noble cause, the fiercest fighting having taken place in
Luapula and Northern Provinces under the able leadership of Sylvester Chisembele and
In July 1961, Mr Chisembele successfully organised the burning of the colonial identity
cards commonly known as "Chitupas" throughout Luapula Province. It was the only
province in Zambia where it was completely successful. The I.D cards were considered as
“symbols of slavery”. For this, Mr Chisembele was imprisoned for three months with
hard labour in Milima prison in Kasama District.
Between 1956 and 1962 Mr Chisembele was many times imprisoned ranging from one
month to three months for addressing meetings without a permit and on some occasions
for addressing indoor meetings without a permit, although these meetings were of Party
members and did not, by law, require any permit.
For further interest a quotation below is an excerpt from a book published by the Oxford
University Press called `Zambia - The Politics of Independence 1957 - 1964' by David C.
“...boycotting the Monckton Commission, gained wide acceptance in Luapula.
..................... Thus by the time Mr Chisembele, perhaps the most widely known and
respected of Luapula‟s ZANC restricted persons, returned to Fort Rosebery on 8 January
1960, bearing a duplicating machine and 1,000 new UNIP membership cards, an
important advance had been achieved by UNIP in Luapula. Chisembele sent 500 cards to
Kawambwa, began organizing UNIP branches and appointing delegates to UNIP‟s
forthcoming national executive meeting in Lusaka.....”
“...A security report from Luapula Province in September drew from the Chief Secretary
the comment: „I don‟t like the sound of UNIP‟s ideas - they are learning too fast.‟ The
Governor agreed, and a few weeks later a meeting, which included Roberts, took place at
“ Between April and December 1960 the total number of UNIP branches registered rose
from 28 to 482 of these Luapula Province alone, accounted for 305 with an estimated
membership of 69,000”
This highest degree of political organisation prompted the UNIP National Council to
select the Party President, Mr. K.D. Kaunda, to stand in the Luapula constituency in the
ensuing controversial 1962 Ian McLeod 15, 15, 15 Constitution and Mr Chisembele was
asked to be his election Agent. Mr Chisembele asked Mr Kaunda to campaign for UNIP
candidates in other provinces, since he, Mr Chisembele, was able to deliver all the
Luapula seats to UNIP.
Mr Chisembele was a democrat of great repute and distinction. At the earliest stages of
freedom fighting he allowed democratic elections at all levels of the party under his
domain. For this reason Luapula Province delegation at the UNIP Magoye Conference
stubbornly opposed democratic centralism whereby political leaders were to be appointed
by one man. Mr Chisembele registered that opposition in a fierce protest but as a
professed democrat he accepted the pusillanimity of the rest of the provincial delegations.
For this stance he was never pardoned and at Independence, notwithstanding his
unequalled contribution to freedom fighting, he was invited into Government as a junior
Minister to Mr. Elijah Mudenda who held the Agriculture Portfolio.
Service in Government
After independence, Mr Chisembele served in many portfolios in government in different
ministries and at Cabinet Minister level in various provinces. His irrepressible, confident
leadership qualities imbued with his calm, modest, gentle and unassuming disposition
made Mr Chisembele readily distinguishable as a potent and indispensable factor in
conflict management and resolution, and an unrivalled natural peacemaker. For example
in 1966 he resolved a burning issue in Balovale district of North-Western Province
between the Luvales and Lundas that could have led to bloodshed. As a result the district
name was changed from Balovale to Zambezi.
In 1968 general elections, the ruling party UNIP lost all seats in Barotse Province to
opposition ANC. In 1969 Mr Chisembele was transferred from Copperbelt to the Barotse
Province as Cabinet Minister. He established an excellent working relationship with HRH
the Litunga, Mbikushita Lewanika and enjoyed the support of his KUTA and the
Ngambela SUU. By 1970 he not only won back the province to UNIP but also had all the
MPs cross the floor to UNIP, a feat that drew him congratulations from all his colleagues
including telegrams of congratulations from Hon. Sikota Wina amongst others. Apart from
the Copperbelt and Western Province, he served as Cabinet Minister in Eastern Province.
Mr Chisembele was a highly principled man who throughout his political career shunned
everything that had to do with corruption. Mr Chisembele never ceased to advise the
country on national issues.
Retirement from politics
Mr Chisembele retired from active politics in 1983 and concentrated on running his
private businesses that included restaurants, The Garden Restaurant in Cairo Road,
Lusaka; Ethel‟s Restaurant in Cha Cha Cha Road, Lusaka; and Filalo Farm in Chisamba.
The farm was purchased in 1972 and heavily invested in, in terms of new infrastructure,
renovations and farming equipment. During this period he was the largest indigenous
poultry farmer in the country. An outbreak of Newcastle Disease persuaded him to
expand his avenues of income and so he decided to invest into restaurants, which would
also be outlets for his produce. This arrangement was very successful and enabled him to
clear his farm mortgage and agricultural loans. He was always available to government for
advice were it needed, but his forthrightness and stance against corruption was not always
acceptable and made him enemies.
History repeated itself, from 1993 to 1997 both his restaurants were expropriated and his
farm destroyed and repossessed by government. In October 2004 it was published in the
press and stated in Gazette Notice No. 640 dated 22nd October 2004, that he had been
awarded the Order of the Eagle of Zambia 4th Division, this was a lie. Mr Chisembele
had refused to accept the Award, on principle, as he could not accept an Award from a
Government that has persecuted him, confiscated his property and denied him his human
rights. He had been promised that this fictitious Award would be de-gazetted, but all these
issues he was still fighting up to the time of his tragic death.
Contribution to the Constitution process
Mr Chisembele had for the past months been studying and writing his contribution to the
Constitution, a document which he completed writing although its distribution has not yet
been finalised due to his ensuing ill health.
At the Newsmakers Forum organised by the Post Newspaper at Chrismar Hotel on the 20
November 2005, he emphasised the need to adopt the Constitution through a constituent
assembly and for the new Constitution to be ready before the 2006 elections. He urged all
Zambians to be courageous and fight for a new Constitution. He said a proper people
driven constitution would solve most of Zambia's problems including corruption. He said
cowardice was equal to stupidity. He said most problems Zambia faces were due to the
one-man driven constitution.
In his final words at the forum, Mr Chisembele said: -
"Zambians, be courageous and don't be afraid of participating and
contributing to this crucial uttermost subject of changing the
constitution. You have to do it Now or Never!!! Forward ever,
backward never. May His Almighty God bless you and guide you
and may He protect this country which is the only one we have,
His illness, death and burial
Mr Chisembele started suffering ill health in October 2005 and his condition had not been
fully diagnosed, despite undergoing several tests up to the time of his death, on the 5th of
February 2006 in the UTH.
Mr Chisembele is survived by his wife, Sophena, together for 38 years, and three
The mourning and burial of this great National Hero were not acknowledged or attended
by any Government representative or any active or serving politician. The usual tribute
and respect paid to Freedom Fighters, Leaders of his stature, were denied.