Celebrating the Centenary of The Salvation Army in Zambia

In the run-up to the Centenary Congress in Zambia I honour some of the people of earlier days:

Major Alf Erikson, with his wife Hyacinth, was the divisional commander for Mazabuka in the 1940s. He was my uncle and provided a quiet influence during occasional visits to our family. He told us of his work in what was then Northern Rhodesia. He told me of walking the Zambezi escarpment in search of a suitable site for the mission, how he'd arranged the slaughter of a cow at Chikankata before the opening of the hospital. He told me of Chikankata, the man. His stories glowed with the adventure of a pioneer and the humility of a truly saintly man of God. Did I want to be like him? Yes!

He had previously served at Urungwe, south of the Zambezi where men from the north worked in the mica mines. They had come to faith in Christ and been sent back with a Tonga New Testament and a Tonga reader and were told to teach the children in the day and the adults at night. And that's what they did. I once met one of those men at Syakalyabanyama. What an inspiration! His photo is below.

Today I honour their memory, as I honour the memory of my uncle, Brigadier Alf Erikson, as I do also the memory of Headman Chikankata (Charlie), along with pioneer officers: Major Kunzwi Shava and Captain Paul Shumba.
I'd already committed myself to cross-cultural ministry and was a candidate for officership when, in 1962 I'd paid a brief visit to Chikankata as a medical student. I wanted to see the kind of place in which I might one day be working as an officer-doctor. Dr Sidney Gauntlett was there when I visited. It was an inspiration to see him at work. He seemed tireless. Here was commitment to the full. There had been a couple of doctors before him - the Mortimers and McAllister, each had made their contributions and plans for the development of the hospital, but it was Gauntlett who oversaw its growth to become the very significant place it is today, not only in Mapangazya, but throughout Zambia and indeed, the world.

Today I honour the memory of Colonel Dr Sidney Gauntlett.
Zambia was not on very good terms with our home country of South Africa at the time, and we wondered whether we would really be welcome when we were appointed in 1968. I spoke to Major Ben Musambila, the hospital chaplain. 'We welcome you for who you are, not from where you have come,' was his reply. He was our corps officer. He dedicated our first child, Catherine.

He was proudly Zambian in his stand for what was right and just. If he applied those principles to us he applied them to others. He might have rejected racist attitudes, but he stood firmly behind expatriate staff under threat. Not always popular at a time when colonial attitudes lingered, he nevertheless became the first Zambian officer to hold a senior leadership position.

Today I honour the memory of Major Ben Musambila.

As a young and inexperienced officer I was appointed to great responsibilities well before my time, I needed someone to whom I could turn for advice. That person more than any other, was Salvationist teacher, Ken Maguswi. He had continued the Tonga lessons we'd started in London, adding fascinating explanations about local traditions and cultural values. We developed a vocabulary for everyday village life, its courtesies, its rhythms. But he was more than a teacher. Yes, I was the doctor who did all he could to keep him going as his bilharzial liver disease worsened, but he was my trusted confidant and adviser.

Usually it was me going to see him, but that night in the 70s was different. He and the local corps officer came to see me. A former Salvationist had applied for a liquor license for his store just outside the mission boundary. They were especially concerned about its impact on both students and the long-term leprosy patients. When we discovered the Army's lawyers wouldn't represent us, Ken insisted I should lead the case. Two stormy appearances before the board in Livingstone followed by an unexpected visit to the local headman, the store and the mission by its chairman, and the board ruled in our favour. We were delighted.

Just before we left Chikankata many years later the unsuccessful applicant invited us to a meal. Several mutual friends were present when he stood up to thank me for preventing him from 'making a big mistake'. He handed me a ceremonial axe, which I still treasure 'It wasn't really me,' I said, pointing to his other guests. 'It was us!' I wish Ken had been there too.

Today I honour the memory of Mr Ken Maguswi.

With ancestors which included native South African Koisan, she was proudly African. But she also had a strong European background with definite Salvation Army commitment. She read sociology, psychology and social anthropology but was also passionate about local history.

She spent hours researching early editions of The War Cry while on holiday in Cape Town, discovering interesting facts about the beginnings of The Salvation Army in Zambia. She told me that the first explorations north of the Zambezi had been by the 'outriders' - Salvation Army officers in search of financial support, and that the first recorded Salvation Army meeting had been on the verandah of a Livingstone hotel. Could her great-grandfather, who was one of those 'outriders' been the one?

She read reports by Colonel Fred Clark, missionary secretary in South Africa, who went on exploratory missions into Northern Rhodesia. I was fascinated to hear of them crossing the Zambezi in a local canoe, eating stale bread, probably 10 days old and much more. But most of all, seeing the need of the people of the Gwembe Valley and concluding that there was a role for the Army there.

Her background interest in anthropology grew and while at Chikankata, met visiting American anthropologist researching the impact of the relocation of people in the Zambezi valley after the construction of Kariba, Professor Ted Scudder. She persuaded him and his colleague, Professor Elizabeth Colson to conduct a seminar for expatriate staff at Chikankata.

There's so much more I could write about her, but I know she would have been thrilled to celebrate with the Salvationists of Zambia as they celebrate their centenary this coming weekend.

Today I honour her: Commissioner Margaret du Plessis along with the many others who have contributed to the growth and development of The Salvation Army in Zambia.

August 2022