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John Matshikiza is a writer, director, and associate editor of the Mail and Guardian in Johannesburg. He was educated in Britain and Zambia, and has worked extensively as an actor in Britain and America. He returned to his native South Africa in 1991. His hugely popular With The Lid Off weekly column for the Mail and Guardian is funny, perceptive, and provocative. These three essays are personal reflections about space, in the widest sense of the word. What ties them together is the forty-year quest for the liberation of a continent. The Zambian space programme was developed by Mr Mukuka Nkoloso in 1964, which is when John's family moved to Zambia, when he was ten years old. Mr Nkoloso was eccentric but that didn't stop President Kaunda appointing him commander in chief of the Liberation Centre in Lusaka, from which all the liberation movements of Southern Africa (including the ANC) had to operate. But what of the space programme? Nkoloso posed for the cameras with Zambia's first astronauts who took it in turns to climb into an empty 44-gallon petrol drum to be launched from a tree.
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Actor and journalist John Matshikiza reflects on African space in the widest sense of the word, and Zambia's eccentric 1960s space programme in particular. John Matshikiza's return to southern Africa after nearly thirty years in exile came about by accident. Flying in a small aircraft over the vast landscape, John comes down to earth in Windhoek.