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OPINION: Nikiwe Bikitsha reflects on what remains of the ANC in Lusaka

28 March 2017 2:27 PM

Journalist Nikiwe Bikitsha shares her experience of trying to find the old ANC headquarters in Lusaka recently.

I saw the ghost of the ANC last week.

When the ANC and PAC were banned in 1960, they operated in exile. One of the countries which gave the ANC refuge was newly-independent Zambia. I was in Lusaka last Tuesday, 57 years to the day, after that horrific bloodbath, the Sharpeville massacre, which subsequently led to the banning of the two liberation movements.

It being my first visit to Lusaka, I pestered our fixer to show us where the ANC headquarters had been. Like many South Africans, I have been wrestling with what the ANC has become. I had to pay homage to what it once was, and what it once stood for.

As we begin our hunt for the building, no-one seems sure where it is. You see, there is no shiny monument or neat brown tourist sign to point the way; there is no buzz among the locals, to say, "there at that corner turn left, and there you will find it".

We tracked down Patience, a woman who does the Southern Africa freedom trail, an informal tour which points out some of the significant landmarks in the fight for freedom.

Zambia played a critical role in supporting freedom fighters from SA, Namibia and Mozambique. We pick her up in our sturdy white 4x4. As we drive around town, she makes a few calls and from her conversation, we hear, that there seems to be a bit of guesswork about the location of the building, which once housed Africa's oldest liberation movement.

After watching her nod several times, it's clear she's found what we're looking for.

We park near a shopping centre in the rustic looking but bustling CBD. We walk past street hawkers, and brightly painted shops. Outside one store there is an exuberant salesman with a loud hailer, offering cheap prices on all manner of trinkets, clothes and even a framed picture of Zambian president Edgar Lungu, neatly placed on the sidewalk. We eventually pass this cacophony of city buzz. The streets and alleys become narrower and potholes larger as we move further away from the bustle of the Main Street, Cairo road.

The tar starts thinning out and morphs into dirt roads. We have been walking for a while. A film of sweat starts forming on my face as we continue to search for what was ANC HQ. Eventually we turn right down a craggy, dusty road. The shouts of street sellers have died down and the din of metal and scrap starts to take precedence.

We now have to walk in single file so as to avoid water-filled potholes which take up the bulk of the road. On my left is something that looks like a warehouse, I can't be sure because it's unmarked.

That's when Patience starts talking on her phone again, gesticulating with her finger towards the rundown building down the road. At the corner where she stops is a brown nondescript concrete building, it has a blue metal door which is wide open. Brown rust is starting to set in at its corners. Above the door is a faded white sign, which reads Zambia police.

Patience shouts animatedly, that this is it! A police officer working inside the building, confirms that indeed this was ANC house. At least I assume he is a police officer since this is a satellite police station, but I can't be certain because he is in civilian clothes. He is the only person inside the small building and his task seems a lonely one.

He explains that we can see the rest of the building if we walk around the block and ask the people at the trading store to go through the shop, out the door, to the backyard. We do that. The Sun trading store is like one of those general dealer stores that could be found in most rural towns in the Transkei when I was growing up. It's small and cramped and sells everything from pink body lotion to electronics to clothing and food. An item which catches my attention is a blue overall, that’s typically worn by workmen and women. It has an SA flag attached on the lapel. I wonder how it found its way here. We wade through the maze of people and shop paraphernalia and are shown through to the backyard.

The yard is packed with heaps of scrap. There is a broken down truck, which partially blocks the path. If you squeeze through you can make it. Inside the building are heaps of old TVs covered in dust, and other detritus

The paint is peeling from the walls. It looks a faded blue. The only noise as I look around, is the click click click of the photographer, otherwise it's as quiet as a grave. We do not talk, we do not gasp, we do not share reflections. It is eerily quiet. After lingering for a while taking in the silence and the clutter, we leave. We still do not talk. We leave the ghost of the ANC, beneath the rubble, under the debris of grey, dusty TVs.

28 March 2017 2:27 PM