Magande’s memoirs: My entry to Civil Service

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Ng’andu Magande

“As instructed, I reported at NIPA on 2 January 1971 and met a number of other graduates to get more briefing on the novel induction course and to sign documents relating to employment in the Civil Service.
One of the important ceremonies we went through was the swearing of the ‘Oath of Secrecy’, that forbade divulging of information to outsiders. Each one of us promised to keep to ourselves any information that would come our way in the execution of our duties, unless disclosure was required by a court of law or was in the national interest. This was not new to me as I’d learnt to keep so many secrets on the activities in the bush while herding cattle. The difference was that, this time, the level of responsibility I had to safeguard had been elevated to the national interest.
The induction course was in three phases spread throughout the whole year. Phase one, of three months duration, was in the classroom and covered introductions to the systems and procedures that are used within the Zambian government management. We were given some background information relating to law, management, and development economics and instructed in special administrative skills relating to government work.
We were taught that a civil servant does not sign correspondence under their personal name but by the designation or title of the position they hold. The procedure of anonymity spreads responsibility to the whole department or ministry and reinforces the principle of collective responsibility.
During phase two, we were posted to provinces to undertake operational assignments. I was posted to the Cabinet Office in Livingstone, the capital of the Southern Province., which I knew very well. The provincial minister was Peter W. Matoka, who was assisted by Permanent Secretary (PS) Ilute Yeta, who became the Litunga IV of Barotseland in 1977. I assumed the duties of Assistant Provincial Development Officer under the supervision of Richard Lichaha, the Provincial Development Officer. I was happy to get back to Livingstone Town where I’d worked earlier in 1969.
During one of my provincial tours, I met Namukolo Mukutu, a former senior schoolmate at Munali Secondary School. Mukutu had just returned from New Zealand where he’d graduated in agriculture and had been posted to Choma to start his civil service career.
My duties included the planning and monitoring of development projects in the province. I wrote detailed tour reports that were submitted to the Provincial Development Committee (PDC) for discussion by the heads of departments.
The trips to Namwala were torturous because of the sand. During one of our tours, W.R.S Stride, the provincial road engineer and I discussed the innovation of mixing sand and cement to spread on the sandy road to harden the surface and a trial application proved effective. During a tour to inspect Munyeke Bridge in the Macha area in 1971, I met some villagers in the Mang’unza area, who recognized me from my earlier work in the veterinary department in 1966.
Being a university graduate, I was given special attention by the Permanent Secretary, who gave me tips on administration while at the office and during our tours. I accompanied the PS to Siampondo Village, the extreme south-western part of the Gwembe District bordering Zimbabwe, to check on the food situation before sending some relief food. At Kalomo Town, we were joined by Joseph Hamatwi, the District Governor and a kapaso (messenger).
When we arrived in Siampondo Village at 1000 hours, we found only women at the meeting place. Word was sent to a nearby homestead where there was a beer-drinking session going on. Within a short time, a large number of men, many in a drunken state, gathered at Headman Siampondo’s grounds for the meeting. The males did not appreciate the effort made by the government to provide them with relief maize. The village headman even used some insulting language in his comments, stating that the donated maize was used to brew beer as they preferred to eat sorghum.
The governor and I were disappointed with the behaviour of the people. In reaction, the PS advised us that ‘development’ was a difficult matter and one should be patient when taking new ideas to local communities. He advised that we should first study the social setting and historical background of the people before introducing a new programme or project. This is what was later christened as ‘environmental assessment’.
The advice by PS Ilute Yeta kept crawling back in my mind as I became more involved in planning development projects. I learnt that some development infrastructure built by the new government, such as schools and settlement schemes were abandoned by villagers in some parts of the country. The local communities did not feel that the projects were theirs but regarded them as belonging to the Zambian government due to lack of prior consultations.
On Saturday 5 June 1971, I returned to the University of Zambia for the graduation ceremony. It was a pleasure to meet my former lecturers and fellow students. On graduation day, I was adorned in my newly-acquired green gown with a golden hood. I recall the pompous walk up the steps onto the rostrum where the chancellor of the university, His Excellency Dr Kenneth David Kaunda and Vice Chancellor Professor Lameck Kazembe Haza Goma were standing. Professor Goma, a renowned scientist was the first indigenous vice chancellor of the university.
It was with a sense of great pride and triumph to kneel and be capped by the chancellor of the university. I set an unbeatable record of being the first university graduate from Namaila. I wished Teacher Kazwida had been present to see the product of his works.
I went back to Livingstone and continued my assignment and everywhere I went, I was showered with messages of congratulations. There was jubilation amongst my relatives when I went to Namaila to show off my new attire and the nicely crafted certificate. In those days, success was enthusiastically shared by even people one was not related to, as one was regarded as a child of the community.
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By the end of my attachment to the Southern Province administration, I was fully knowledgeable of the administration systems and procedures of the Zambian Government. The pipe-smoking administrative officer, John C. Mandona and Lichaha took me through all that there was for me to learn. My work exposed me to the economic, social, and political status of the Southern Province.
While on tour of Lake Kariba at Sinazongwe in September 1971, in the company of Alfred Chiponda, Assistant District Secretary, I was briefed by the fisheries officers that the waters of the lake were still too fresh to sustain some breeds of fish. Some of the soils, trees, and plants that submerged had not rotted and neutralized and could be poisonous to the fish. At that time, there was no commercial fishing of the kapenta (limnothrissa miodon) in the lake.
I became aware that Choma Town, which is centrally located in the province, could not be the capital of Southern Province due to lack of a source of adequate water in the area. Livingstone had become the capital after Kalomo Town in 1907 because of the abundant water in the Zambezi River. I recalled my geography lessons, when I learnt that most of the world’s major towns were built on the banks of rivers as they provided water for drinking and as a means of cheap transport for local and external trade.
Towards the end of 1971, I was back at NIPA, where I joined my colleagues for the final phase of our induction training. This consisted of an intense course in development administration, covering topics in law, economics, management, and administrative skills. We were informed that on satisfactory completion of the course, we would be assigned to various ministries according to our aptitudes, preferences, and the requirements of the civil service.
When asked to indicate my preference, I chose the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as there was a requirement for economists in the missions abroad and I had been interviewed for such a post. I then went to the Cabinet Office to confirm my choice. To my utter shock, the expatriate Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Economics) informed me that I could not be an economist because my economics courses at UNZA were shallow. He continued to state that in order to practice the discipline of economics I needed to have a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the subject.
When I got back to NIPA, I informed our lecturer Mrs Turnbull of the humiliation I’d encountered at the Cabinet Office. She advised me that in view of the favourable report from the Permanent Secretary for the Southern Province on my performance during my attachment, I should still consider joining the Zambian Civil Service.
I wrote my first protest letter in the Civil Service to the Secretary to the Cabinet stating that,
“If the Government’s policy is to encourage those with little knowledge of a field to improve, then I ask that I be allocated to development planning. If the idea is to continue to import people with PhD in economics and frustrate the Zambian who is interested in this field even giving him no chance to get experience before attempting a PhD, I am at the service of my country’.
The deputy secretary to the cabinet summoned me to his office to discuss what he called my ‘rude letter’. During our meeting, I informed him that I intended to stay in the civil service with the hope that I would one day take over his position when he decides to return to his country. I also told him that I will never study for a PhD in economics in my life, but that I will work hard towards becoming one of the reputable economists in the world. I have not studied for a PhD, but the observers are at liberty to assess what I have accomplished in the economics field.
When the induction course was over, I was assigned and reported to the Permanent Secretary for the Southern Province in January 1972 and was appointed as an administrative officer (cadet) in the civil service. The title did not bother me much, as I had already set a vision for my professional career to become an accomplished economist”, from “The Depth of My Footprints”

Ng’andu Peter Magande is former Minister of Finance

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