A 42 year old Zambian investigative reporter who has been writing on sensitive topics has been found dead, 10 days after he went missing.
Humphrey Nkonde, an Assistant Editor at the Catholic-run Mission Press in the northern town of Ndola went missing on 22 September, a day before he was scheduled to fly to Germany for the Global Investigative Journalism Conference.
Nkonde, whose last stories in the Icengelo magazine focused on the escalating mealie meal and fuel prices, was found floating in a lake in the rural district of Masaiti.
Police confirmed picking the body on 26 September and subsequently buried it in Ndola at Kantolomba Cemetery in the absence of his family or employers.
This act by Police has led media bodies to question the speed at which the journalist was buried.
“How did the Police bury without anyone witnessing? Why did the Police claim it was unidentified body when they themselves revealed that he had his passport in his pocket? The Police must answer these questions,” said Clinton Masumba, the Secretary for the Northern Region Media Club.
Other media bodies put the blame on the Police.
“The Police must come out clean on this matter, we want conclusive investigations into the death of our colleague. His death is a big blow to the Ndola Press Club,” said Ndola Press Club President Chishala Musonda.
On October 5, Police officers exhumed Nkonde’s in order for a Pathologist to conduct a postmortem.
The procedure was completed after two hours and the body was reburied.
The Police pathologist, who came from Lusaka, carried samples from the journalist’s body to Lusaka for analysis.
According to Police sources, the results of the postmortem will be released in the coming days.
But Humphrey’s employer is suspicious over his death.
“There are too many versions surrounding Nkonde’s death. The family is insisting that its suicide. For us, we want conclusive investigations before we can believe anything,” said Mission Press Director Fr. Ferena Lambe.
The clergyman, who was close to the late journalist, says Nkonde was fearless.
“He was a courageous journalist who we promoted to Assistant Editor in June this year. He used to write sensitive and political stories. His last story was too sensitive, could it be the reason he is dead today?” asked Fr. Lambe.
Initially, the family objected to a postmortem but management at Mission Press insisted on it being done to find the cause of death.
Family members told the media that a day before he disappeared, he appeared was doing suspicious things like hugging his children and talking to himself.
They claimed he was being led by a demon.
However, in the 10 days Nkonde was missing, non of the family members reported the matter to the Police.
“On the evening of 22 September, he came home to say bye because the following day he was scheduled to fly to Germany for a journalism conference. He was in a good mood, he wasn’t confused as his family is claiming. I even suggested to him that when he is back, we will hold a workshop for Zambian journalists to learn from his investigatory skills,” said Mission Press Human Resources Manager Honorius Chilufya.
His fellow workers at Mission Press are devastated.
“He was a close friend of mine. I knew him decades ago before he joined us at Mission Press. If a reporter can work at the Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and now Mission Press, it just shows you how hardworking he is,” said Danny Chiyesu a Graphic Artist for Icengelo magazine.
Chiyesu reveals that Nkonde was in the process of writing a book on Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda and the project had advanced.
He adds that the book was supposed to focus on Dr. Kaunda’s life from his time in State House to his role in society after leaving office.
In November, Nkonde was scheduled to travel to The Netherlands to take a three weeks course in Investigative journalism at the Radio Netherlands Training Center which is located in the Dutch city of Hilversum.
Through out his career, Nkonde practiced investigative journalism and attended various workshops and conferences at home and abroad to perfect his skills.
Apart from his fulltime work at Mission Press, he was also a correspondent for several international publications specialized in aviation and business.