Nkoloso was still talking about it in his last year alive, so this can't have just been a gag or alleged cover for guerilla training. And both gag and cover mean that if the actual money or resources turned up, something would be done, and once you start...He seemed to take his father’s program seriously: “People were saying no, he’s mad, exaggerating. But, no, he’s a scientist, this is science.” Mukuka claimed that his father wasn’t just training the cadets for space travel, though; Nkoloso was also testing their “readiness for independence” in a political sense. “He was teaching for the program, but hidden from the British government. Teaching the youth so they could be active.” Before they had become astronauts, Mukuka said, Matha Mwamba and Godfrey Mwango had travelled to Tanzania to broadcast political propaganda when it was censored during Cha-Cha-Cha. “The Youth Brigade, you’d find in the morning ‘Vote UNIP’ written in paint on the tarmac,” Mukuka said. They even used explosives: “making bombs, burning bridges,” using “black cloth—they would put it in a sack, then they would mix it with petrol or paraffin, then they burn it.”
Describing all this subversive political action, Mukuka grew animated. “Miss Burton,” he said, snapping his fingers. “In Ndola, she was killed.” He was referring to one of the most famous moments of the Cha-Cha-Cha campaign. On May 8, 1960, a group of UNIP cadres in the Copperbelt had attacked a white British expatriate, Lilian Margaret Burton, by stoning her car and setting it on fire. Despite her deathbed appeal against retaliation, the accused were hanged for murder. “You know who killed her?” Mukuka said. “The astronauts, the scientists, the people who made bombs and some other things.” He imitated the sound of an explosion. “A bomb in her car. So when you wanted to jump in the car? Explodes!”
The space program, Mukuka seemed to suggest, was both a real science project and a cover. After independence, Nkoloso served as President Kaunda’s “Special Representative” at the African Liberation Center, a safe house and a propaganda machine for freedom fighters in other still-colonized nations on the continent: Angola, Southern Rhodesia, Mozambique, and South Africa. His son said that, beyond his management duties, Nkoloso gave military training to “those freedom fighters, they used to call them guerrillas,” in Chunga Valley—the erstwhile headquarters of the Zambian National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy. Zachariah Zumba, a colleague of Nkoloso’s at the Liberation Center, confirmed that freedom fighters had been trained “in the bush,” and that the astronauts had been drawn from the Youth Brigade. Zumba hinted that they may have served as bodyguards for Nkoloso, who was “a very feared man.”
I remember the Zambian space programme being a punchline in I think the Reader's Digest in the 1970s.There's an interesting look at the space programme by Namwali Serpell, looking at how it was seen at the time abroad* and in Zambia, and if this was a mad vanity project or satire or what. Serpell believes this was mostly satire, but interviews Nkoloso's son, and he definitely thinks this was serious. But the son also claims it was cover for something else:
Nkoloso was still talking about it in his last year alive, so this can't have just been a gag or alleged cover for guerilla training. And both gag and cover mean that if the actual money or resources turned up, something would be done, and once you start...
* He quotes A.K. Chesterson in 1965 saying Nkoloso's space plans show "the masquerade of the African in the guise of a politician able to take over the running of a modern state"