Lucy Banda-Sichone (Zambia & Somerville 1978) was an influential Zambian human rights activist and today her life was honoured at Rhodes House through the unveiling of her portrait. This was a historic occasion since it is the first portrait of a female Rhodes Scholar to hang in Milner Hall, a key space in the building. The portrait was unveiled by two Zambian Rhodes Scholars from the Class of 2015, Karen Mumba and Kabeleka Kabeleka. They spoke passionately about the impact Ms Banda-Sichone had during her lifetime and the need for such life stories to be celebrated through visual representation.
The artist of the evocative and powerful portrait is Deirdre Saunder (Rhodesia & Somerville 1978), a contemporary of Ms Banda-Sichone and she spoke about trying to capture the essence of the 'Lucy she knew at Somerville' - an individual who was full of determination and passion. This project has also been supported by Charles Conn (Massachusetts & Balliol 1983), Warden of the Rhodes Trust, Ann Olivarius (Connecticut & Somerville 1978), Chair of McAllister Olivarius and Founder of the Rhodes Project and Tony Abrahams (Australia-at-Large & Balliol 1998), Chief Executive Officer of Ai-Media. Dr Olivarius had also been a contemporary of Ms Banda-Sichone whilst at Oxford, and she told moving anecdotes about her life, and commented on her honesty, self-sacrifice and ability to be a real advocate for change.
The Life of Lucy Banda-Sichone
In 1978 Ms Banda Sichone became the first female Rhodes Scholar from Zambia. Described as “a voice of conscience” and “a great daughter of the nation,” she was regarded as one of the bravest civil and human rights activists of her time. Notoriously outspoken, she made a name for herself by vigorously challenging and chastising government officials.Born Lucy Banda on 15 May 1954, Ms Banda-Sichone grew up in Kitwe, Zambia, then known as Northern Rhodesia. Over the course of her young life, African nationalist parties campaigned to secede from the federation under British rule, with Northern Rhodesia becoming the Republic of Zambia in 1964. Before completing the PPE at Oxford on the Rhodes Scholarship, she attended an all-girls secondary school and earned a BA in Law from the University of Zambia. When she came up at Oxford, she left behind her fiancé and daughter. During her second year of studies, she married her fiancé and had a second child before returning for her third and final year at Oxford. When Ms Banda-Sichone’s husband died tragically in a car crash shortly after she finished her exams, she returned to Zambia to find that local laws, following traditional norms, had allowed her husband’s relatives to seize her possessions, an experience that rallied her feminism and played a role in her decision to found the Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA).
Before founding the ZCEA, Ms Banda-Sichone ran for a position with United National Independence Party (UNIP), then Zambia’s ruling party. During her time with UNIP, she was appointed to the Central Committee as Chairperson for the Women’s Affairs Sub-Committee and the UNIP’s Constitutional Review Commission, and she served as Secretary for Legal, Constitutional, and Parliamentary Affairs. Upon leaving government work, she wrote a column for The Post, the only paper that was not state-owned, in which she criticized the government she had previously served. After a suit against The Post was brought and won against her, she went into hiding where she continued to write. Because of her strong belief that any democracy needed “a strong opposition and a well-informed citizenry,” in 1993 she founded ZCEA, which provided civic education and legal aid. ZCEA ran workshops and public meetings in rural areas where one of the most discussed topics was the 1995 Land Act. She taught citizens’ rights under the Act, represented several displaced villagers who had been accused of squatting, and represented Zambians in court as pro bono clients. In Sichone’s view, Zambia’s criminal justice system was replete with abuses of human and constitutional rights. Lucy Banda-Sichone died on 23 August 1998 at the age of 44, she left behind four children and many foster children. Newspapers printed letters from people mourning her passing, and prominent Zambians described her death as a tragedy and terrible loss.
Sishuwa Sishuwa, a Zambian Rhodes Scholar from the class of 2010 who attended the event, hailed the impact of Sichone’s work on his life.
“Lucy was not an imposing figure, but she had an imposing mind. As a Zambian, I feel the gap left by Lucy Sichone to this day and her life is a challenge to my own. Few people know that Lucy is the one who inspired me to start a weekly column in the very newspaper that gave her the very platform on which she conducted her advocacy, The Post. As a continuation of the Lucy on Monday column, in which she chastised ruling authorities and held power to account, I requested the newspaper editors to grant me the opportunity to write mine every Tuesday, which they did. Credit is due to The Post for this because without the newspaper, few people would have known what Lucy was doing. Lucy's was a life lived well and in the service of others. It was as if she knew that her life would be short and that she had to do a lot in the few years she was given and make every time count. I regard Lucy’s work as my heritage”.