We have discussed how Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula influenced the struggle for independence and how it was rooted in a belief in human equality. Mr Nkumbula’s, and indeed the ANC’s fight did not end at independence. They were committed to the achievement of freedom from all forms of slavery, and in the case of Zambia, power was transferred from the white elite to the black elite. Reading the writings of Hitchcock, you get the impression that the first president, assumed as the colonial rulers had, that Zambian’s did not know what they needed or wanted. After Independence, UNIP started on a trajectory towards a one party state, a dictatorial form of government that was hidden behind the words “participatory democracy”.
As early as the day that President Kaunda returned to Zambia after signing what declared Zambia independent, declared that the government would rule strongly and put down trouble makers. Mr Nkumbula, warned Zambians of the dangers of a one party state, calling into question the claims by UNIP, that a one party state was a continuation of the traditional forms of government, and when they tried to strangle and control the media, warned Zambia about where the country was headed; and when UNIP repealed a 1962 bill, that made it illegal to request party cards in public, Mr Nkumbula saw it as a means of forcing people to join UNIP. Later when government introduced the Mulungushi reforms that gave it controlling shares in major companies and restricted the types of business that individuals could enter into, Mr Nkumbula rightly predicted it would result in disaster; Zambia today is still suffering the effects of that disastrous undertaking.
Mr Nkumbula’s belief that people had a right to choose their thoughts and associations, expressed itself in his defence of the Lumpa, a great number of whom found themselves exiled from Zambia, as well as the Jehovah’s witnesses, who, due to their choice to not sing the national anthem, found themselves as UNIP’s target. The ANC, as a whole, saw government and the laws of the land as a way of defending individual freedoms and not as a means for control, and when the UNIP youth went around terrorising people, called for the need for them to be disbanded. They also advocated a foreign policy that put Zambia’s economic interests above Pan Africanist solidarity.
Mr Nkumbula’s ANC, despite facing great financial difficulties and destabilising forces from within its ranks was still able to provide the people of Zambia with a better sounding form of governance that, while at the time was scoffed at by many, finds greater popularity among Zambians today. It is important to note that the political future he offered Zambia, grew out of political views that were influenced by his Methodist background and norms of his initial constituents, the Bantu Botatwe, and further developed as a reaction to UNIPs dictatorship.
When UNIP raised the cost of being in opposition to its governance, the ANC still stood its ground and maintained its stronghold in Southern province. Its members had trading licences revoked, property taken from them, were refused travel and suffered beatings, among other ills. In 1966, UNIP was so brutal in employing intimidation as a campaign tactic, that only a third of Mazabuka’s population turned out to vote the following year. That same year, an ANC-MP for the North Western province of Zambia, from Mwinilunga was arrested for high treason, and when he was released, returned with a compromised mental capacity. The same year, when four ANC MPs from the South of Zambia joined UNIP, and were forced to resign their seats by law, the ANC’s new candidates still managed to hold on to those seats, proving that it wasn’t mere tribal alliances that caused them to follow the ANC. That year, Mr Nkumbula and his deputy were jailed for insulting the president during their campaign; the latter pleaded guilty and was given eighteen years with hard labour. Mr Nkumbula was released and it was proven a fraudulent police report was used as evidence against him.
Discontent was building within the ranks of UNIP, with people resigning in large numbers, and by 1967, United Party (UP) was formed by Lombe and Mumbuna, taking a lot of members with them. Despite UP’s more radical stance, Mr Nkumbula managed to negotiate a merger. This did result in the radicalisation, to an extent of the ANC, but also lead to the doubling of the seats in parliament in 1968. The following year when UNIP went on a rampage, taking homes from ANC members and subjecting them to beatings, violent clashes became common place and the ANC found itself banned, on the 17th of June, the same day that the referendum—that saw the government taking power from the Zambian people, in regards to making constitutional changes and putting them in the grips of the government—was held, which gave UNIP the power to pursue a One Party state.
Two years later, the United Progressive Party (UPP) was formed and it was Mr Nkumbula, who despite the history between them, allowed Mr Kapwepwe to use the ANC headquarters for UPP purposes. They tried to negotiate a merger, but decided in the end, that it was better to work alongside each other. Legal action was launched by Mr Nkumbula and Kapwepwe to try to stop the inception of the one party state, but the UPP, found itself banned in 1972, and their leader, Mr Kapwepwe, who is said to have been the president’s biggest threat, spent the rest of the year in jail. That year, Mr Nkumbula is said to have helped the cause of those detained. Mr Kapwepwe issued a directive for UPP members to join the ANC, however, by then, it was too late. On December 8th that year, UNIP won the two-thirds it needed, in the National Assembly, to put in place a one party state, and six days later, the ANC’s lawsuit was dismissed. THE ANC, WAS LEGISLATED INTO NON-EXISTANCE!
The opposition leaders were given a short period to either join UNIP or leave political life altogether, and Mr Nkumbula, is said to have stated, he would not be joining UNIP, however, he and Mr Mungoni Liso, his deputy, signed the Choma declaration between 1972 and 73 and joined UNIP. There have been reports that he was bribed or promised a high position in UNIP, however, it is hard o imagine that a man who fought so hard against UNIP, even when the slogan “it pays to be in UNIP” rang true, would in the end take a bribe then, and if a high position was promised, it never materialised. The other line of thought that could explain his change of mind, could be that he thought that he could bring reform from the inside of UNIP. Yet the difference in ideals that had become ANC, were different to those espoused by UNIP, and as such, Mr Nkumbula is said to have never fit into the party. In the mid-1970s, Mr Nkumbula started thinking of challenging Ba Kaunda for the highest job and joining hands with Mr Kapwepwe announced, at different times in August, their intentions. This was despite Mr Nkumbula having a stroke and his health starting to deteriorate in 1977.
UNIP acted to stop their intentions by amending the party constitution and using intimidation, and was successful; Ba Kaunda was left the sole candidate of the elections, which he won. The two individuals came together in mounting another fight in High court, stating the election was unlawful but it was thrown out, and so was an appeal to the Supreme Court. This is said to be what convinced the former ANC president that reform could not be achieved by being a member of UNIP. While Mr Nkumbula never incited it, former ANC members began to campaign for a ‘NO’ vote and were highly successful, as Southern province recorded a majority ‘NO’ vote.
Evidence exists that there were efforts to revive the ANC, with Mr Nkumbula stating it was still alive and Mr Japau, an ANC member still loyal to Mr Nkumbula, was detained in 1980 when he tried to get a permit to hold a rally. He was tortured for three days and tortured, in order to get him to admit that he had been printing ANC cards and trying to hold meetings. Another man was arrested in Monze for selling old ANC cards. Mr Nkumbula, was readmitted into hospital in 1981, after which he maintained he would still try to get his seat of Bweengwa the following year. Mr Kaunda, honoured him with a first division order of the grand companion and allocated him a house in woodlands near state house. He lost his battle with cancer the following year. He is said to have had Zambia on his mind even as he breathed his last, a family member stating that he was in anguish over the state of his country.
It is important to point out that the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, the party that won the 1991 elections that saw the end of the dictatorship, may have its roots in UPP and the ANC. Mr Nkumbula’s son is said to have funded a substantial amount of MMD’s activities and Mr Kapwepwe’s daughter was also a part of the movement. There are many others who had been members of these two parties who were part of the team that toppled UNIP. That being the case, Mr Nkumbula was not a failure as a lot of literature has stated, but that he lived up to his vow to challenge President Kaunda even if he lay in a coffin. Though the Lion had fallen, his legacy still goes on. He challenges us to fight till our last to bring freedom to the masses, to free Zambia from the chains that hold it back. He inspires flawed men to keep walking, at all costs, to achieve freedom for
Hitchcock, B. (1974). Bwana – go home (1st ed.). London: Hale.
Macola, G. (2010). Liberal nationalism in Central Africa (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mwangilwa, G. (n.d.). Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula (1st ed.).
This is probably the first year since my Uncle died four years ago that I have not woken up feeling low and depressed, or felt the need to feel that way. Today is my other Uncle’s birthday. So rather than focusing on what’s lost, I choose to give thanks for what I do have. In constantly focusing on what we will never again have, we sometimes forget that every single day, is a blessing and that we can be what that loved one was to us, to someone else. While there might always be a struggle for joy because of loss, it’s a struggle worth having. While sitting in the dark the whole day because of grief might seem attractive, if we allow ourselves to see it, there is a whole world out there that is more attractive than the depression death brings.
Celebrating life, requires we get up and live it, not drown our sorrows in alcohol or drugs or waste it spinning wheels of death as we do burnouts or encasing ourselves in darkness refusing to take part in the land of the living. I’m glad that when God chose to take Isaac, he did it on my other Uncle’s birthday because it gives us something happier to celebrate. Today I can look and say, today God decided to call Uncle Isaac home, but today also marks the day that he gave us Uncle Solo, a man we love to bits and vice versa. I can celebrate the man who was Isaac and also celebrate a man who is Solomon. There is no shortage of blessings and even in death, Uncle Isaac continues to be a blessing, so I will enjoy the day, rejoice in it and be glad in it.