Lusaka: A Brief Cultural and Political History

To kick off my Zambia blog, let me take you on a brief cultural and political historical tour of the city in which I grew up Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia.

If you look closely enough, Lusaka‘s, and to a great extent Zambia’s, history is apparent in its monuments, buildings, and roads places like the Freedom Statue, the National Assembly, Mulungushi Hall, the University of Zambia, the National Museum, the Cathedrals and Cairo Road.

Lusaaka village/Manda Hill

Lusaka is spread over a series of hills covering an area of 70 square kilometres, but was originally built on the site of the village named after its headman, Lusaaka. The village of Lusaaka was located near Manda Hill one of the highest hills and which today is in the north-eastern part of the city.

Manda Hill with the National Assembly just visible behind the shopping centre and Great East Rd in the foreground

The National Assembly

Manda Hill is the site of Zambia’s National Assembly building. The building is reachable from Parliament Road, off the Great East Road and houses the country’s Parliament, which opened in 1967. It is one of the first sights visible to the east as you approach the city from the north, a sight worth seeing at night as the copper-clad outer façade of the building is flood-lit and reflects a spectacular orange glow.

Mulungushi Hall

Also located on Manda Hill, and close to the National Assembly, is the Mulungushi International Conference Centre. Mulungushi Hall, as it is popularly know, was built in the record time of four months to host the third Summit Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in September 1970. It is the government’s preferred host site for significant conferences and gatherings.

Its name too has significance in Zambia’s history. The Hall is named after the Mulungushi river, which runs north of the town of Kabwe located in central Zambia. In 1960, a rocky area by the Mulungushi River, which later came to be known as the Mulungushi Rock of Authority, hosted a conference that led to the formation of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) led by Kenneth Kaunda. The party went on to lead the country to independence in 1964.

University of Zambia (UNZA)


UNZA Great East Rd Campus

A short distance east of the National Assembly lies the University of Zambia (UNZA), Great East Road campus and the main site of the university. The University also has another campus site, the Ridgeway campus, housing the Medical School and School of Pharmacy, which is located near the University Teaching Hospital south of the city.

UNZA officially opened in 1966 with the


UNZA Great East Rd Campus entrance

Ridgeway Campus and with then President, Kenneth Kaunda, as its first Chancellor. The day after his installation, President Kaunda laid the foundation stone for the Great East Road Campus.

Over the years, the student body of UNZA has been at the forefront of protests in support of democracy within the country and in support of other resistance movements in southern Africa, resulting in several closures of the campus over the years.

Cairo Road

Cairo Road

Cairo Road

At its most western point, the Great East Road joins Cairo Road at the roundabout marking its northern extremity. Cairo Road, the main road running through Lusaka city centre, is part of a long highway that runs north to south through several Central African countries. It was part of Cecil Rhodes’ dream to build a highway through Africa stretching from the Cape in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt, and Cairo Road lies along that route, hence its name. Today, the road is a thriving mixture of retail outlets and commercial businesses liberally populated with vibrant throngs of pedestrians and cars.

The Freedon statue

The Freedom statue

The Freedom Statue

Towards the western end of Independence Avenue, which branches off Cairo Road at its southern roundabout, proudly stands the Freedom statue. The sculpture, of a man with arms raised clutching broken chains, symbolises the struggle for freedom from colonial rule and is dedicated to the victims of the struggle for independence. The statue, by British sculptor James Butler, was erected in 1974 during celebrations of  the 10th Anniversary of independence from Great Britain.

Lusaka National Museum

Lusaka National Museum

Lusaka National Museum

Lusaka National  Museum, also on Independence Avenue, is located a stone’sthrow from the Freedom Statue. The exhibits tell the cultural history of Zambia under the sections of ethnography, witchcraft, history and contemporary art.

The ground floor exhibits contemporary work by Zambian artists, while the upper floor displays historical and cultural artefacts, including the witchcraft exhibit an interesting peek into the cultural beliefs that have a strong, if unspoken, influence on the life of the ordinary Zambian.

These traditional beliefs somehow manage to co-exist with the seemingly contradictory imported Western and Eastern religious heritage that are also a firm part of Zambian life and are reflected in Lusaka’s landscape.

The Anglican Cathedral

At the corner of Independence avenue and Chikwa Road is the imposing Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Built between 1957 and 1962, the foundation-stone was laid by the late Queen mother. The cathedral has often hosted commemorative services and is popular for funerals and weddings.

The Catholic Cathedral

A more recent addition to the landscape and set in the suburb of Longacres is the Catholic Cathedral of the Child Jesus, located at Pope Square (Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at the site when he visited Zambia in 1989 and laid the cornerstone for the cathedral). The cathedral was officially opened in April 2006.

Other Places of Worship

Other Christian denominations are well represented including some long-standing congregations like the Northmead Assemblies of God in Northmead residential area, the Dutch Reformed Church in Kabulonga and many more recent pentecostal and evangelical churches scattered throughout the city.

Other faiths are also represented including the Muslim faith, with several mosques in Lusaka, including Kamwala mosque on Independence avenue, near the town centre. And within shouting distance of the mosque at Kamwala is the Hindu hall, which is the centre of Hindu activities in Lusaka.

This, then is a very brief (and selective) introduction to the history of the city of Lusaka. In subsequent blogs I will be taking a light-hearted look at modern-day Zambia, but highly biased towards life in Lusaka, for obvious reasons. 🙂

I hope you will call back, let me know what you think and add your own observations.

Map of Lusaka


2 responses to “Lusaka: A Brief Cultural and Political History

  1. Hi, Kalemba, staff is informative. thought i should give you a pat.

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