Travelogue by Sandra Machima

AS I took a walk in one of the streets of Maputo, I found myself along Dr Kenneth Kaunda Avenue, where I bumped into a Zambian woman whose powerful story of how to turn tragedy into opportunity is one of the most fascinating I have ever heard. 

Muchimba Sikumba-Dils, 53, is the daughter to former Zambia’s ambassador to Mozambique, Cox Sikumba, who died in a plane crash on October 19, 1986, with Mozambican President Samora Machel and others, while flying from Mbala in Zambia to the Mozambican capital Maputo.

The moment she introduced herself, I could feel my face sweating and my eyes full of tears.

Ms Sikumba-Dils explained that Mozambique became her home after she lost her father in 1986, when the Mozambican government, with the help of the Zambian government, adopted her in honour of her father.

Ms Sikumba-Dils was born in 1963 at Chikankata, Southern Province, from a family of five and got married at 27 to Steve Dils, a Belgian, and was gifted with three sons.

She narrated how it all started of how she found herself in Mozambique for the rest of her life after the demise of her father.

‘‘I remember the day we heard about the news that President Samora Machel and my father Ambassador Sikumba and others had died in a plane crash on October 19, 1986.

‘‘I was coming home from graduating my first degree in Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Lesotho and my father was geared to give me a welcoming graduation party at home, but all the hopes were shattered.’’

And that fateful day, I kept on wanting to put on anything black so that I can take a walk, and I kept on heaping clothes on my bed to find something to wear, and that is when I could hear our housekeeper (George) screaming that, “the plane has disappeared” but nothing appeared to be clear.

“And when I took a walk down the streets near our residence, I could see every Mozambican walking with a radio trying to get news, and with that waiting mood, not until at 11 pm in the night, we heard an announcement from Springbok radio,” she narrated.

She said on that day it was officially announced that the Zambian airspace would be closed to international aviation but no details were given; she could only see Zambian and Mozambican officials arriving at their residence to break the news.

The Zambian government later made arrangements to pick up the entire family from Mozambique to Livingstone where Mr Sikumba was buried in his birth village Sikumba.

Ms Sikumba-Dils said she found it easy to grow up in Mozambique because of the overwhelming generosity she received from the people of Mozambique and that persuaded her to start another life in a foreign land as an orphan at the age of 23.

“It was not easy to be an orphan at that age, but I had no option but to accept the situation and considered everything was possible with God, and that was a platform for me to forge ahead with a new life,” she said.

The host government offered her a job through retired President Joachim Chissano, by then a foreign minister, who tabled her situation before the Mozambican cabinet.

“I was considered and I worked as an assistant, planning and logistic officer, in the Ministry of International Cooperation, in honour of my father, and this is the time I was exposed in that Mozambique at that time had reports of war and I was on the ground to take the first hand information, and also help those families who lost their families because of war,” she said.

Ms Sikumba-Dils said that was how she was propelled to explore various situations such as war and famine and other disasters for four years when she was only 23 years old.

I also joined the United Nations under the World Food Programme (WFP) as programme assistant officer, in charge of feeding 200 centres of war-displaced women and children.

That was my first experience of war, something I witnessed with my own eyes.

“I knew it was important to stay in Mozambique to help my family than adding to the burden after we lost our father,’’ she said.

Ms Sikumba said her father must be remembered as a patriotic citizen who was dedicated to the cause and foreign policy of Zambia, saying she would pursue her political ambitions in future be it in Zambia or Mozambique for the sake of development.

Ms Sikumba-Dils worked with various NGOs, the UN and other organizations where she came into contact with former South African and Mozambican first lady Gracia Machel who was running a foundation looking after vulnerable children and women support groups in Africa.

“Because we were close to the first family by then, and the former first lady engaged me at her organization as a programme assistant, and with that exposure and experience in looking at the welfare of children and women in society, I was connected to various networks where I gained more knowledge because I was working with communities especially with those devastated families.

‘‘We lobbied for women participation in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, as Africa hinges on its ability to find resources to benefit women, especially in the communities at large.

“I am in love with Mozambique, its traditions, its cultures, its vibe and most of all its opportunities for adventure, and I still have much to offer for the development of Africa.”

At the age of 27, she met her husband Steve Dils where they married and have three children, Yuma, Olivier and Chipo Dils.

She said discovering the secrets and  attractions of that beautiful land was not always easy, but when she did it was a rewarding experience, adding that with a bit of patience, peace, love and determination it became a journey of a lifetime.

“Everyone is capable of fulfilling their dreams in a lifetime, by not giving up but pursuing and chasing what belongs to them in life,” she said.

Ms Sikumba-Dils urged women to strive towards the goal of self-empowerment, to bring to an end the ‘dependency syndrome’ if African women were to be recognized.

She said the participation of women in society had added value and highly contributed to the development of Africa.

And Muchimba Sikumba-Dils – a Mozambican, Zambian and citizen of the world – is a classic example of the new, self-asserting, intelligent and persuasive African woman.


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