Rhodes House, home of the Rhodes Trust, last week unveiled a portrait of Lucy Banda Sichone. Rhodes House hosts a significant collection of paintings, including the portraits of a number of prominent Rhodes Scholars.
The Rhodes Scholarship has been open to women since 1977. Sichone is the first female Rhodes Scholar to be depicted in Milner Hall in Rhodes House.
Described by contemporaries as “a voice of conscience” and “a great daughter of the nation,” Sichone was regarded as one of the most influential human rights activists in Zambia. Sichone was born in Kitwe in the North of Zambia, and was accepted to read Law at the University of Zambia in 1978, before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to study Politics and Economics at Oxford.
After completing her degree, Sichone returned to Zambia and ran for a position in UNIP, Zambia’s then ruling party, and held several positions in government; however, after leaving the party, she decided to write a regular column in The Post, Zambia’s only independent newspaper at the time. There she incisively criticised the government which she had previously served. After a particularly inflammatory article condemning the government and particularly the then Vice President, Godfrey Miyanda, Sichone was sued by the government and forced into hiding in 1996. Sichone later founded the Zambian Association for Civic Education to promote awareness of citizenship and provide access to legal aid, and she continued to provide pro-bono representation to Zambians throughout her life.
Ann Olivarius, a friend of Sichone and Chair of the Rhodes Project, said that “the (Rhodes) scholarship showed Lucy that life could be different”, encouraging Sichone “to feel that she had a responsibility to make the world better, that she was worthy and could make a difference.”
When contacted about their decision, Rhodes House said they were “delighted” to have unveiled Sichone’s portrait. Aliyyah Ahad, co-Convenor of the Black Association of Rhodes scholars, said that Lucy Banda Sichone was an “excellent choice”.
She added, “As a non-head of state, activist, black, African woman, born in Northern Rhodesia, Lucy Banda’s smiling face is reaffirmation not only that women and black women’s lives matter, but also that leadership and courage take many forms.
“When she came to Oxford as the first female Zambian Rhodes Scholar, she was one of few women in her course. While things may have improved since then, we are still living in a time where there are less than 100 black professors in the entire UK–and only 17 black female professors according to one study. I therefore encourage everyone to view this unveiling as progress but not as the end goal…Nevertheless, as a black woman and a Rhodes Scholar, I am grateful to the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Project for working towards creating an inclusive and diverse environment where those fights – whether they be forward-looking or seeking to redress the past – can take form.”