Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula and the One Party Participatory Dictatorship

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and when they tried to strangle and control the media, warned Zambia about where the country was headed; and when UNIP repealed a 1962 bill, that made it illegal to request party cards in public, Mr Nkumbula saw it as a means of forcing people to join UNIP.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.).

Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula and the struggle for Zambia’s Independence

Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula is a man whose name many Zambians will recognise, but as much as I recognise his name, I mainly remember him being briefly mentioned as a freedom fighter, sometime in Primary school. His name, was attached to a small paragraph in a social studies class and he now seems like the classic example of how “history favours the one who writes it”. Despite the United National Independence Party (UNIP) treating the ANC like something of no significance except tribal allegiance, and despite their attempts at discredit Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, the truth was not totally quenched. It is important to note that Mr Nkumbula was by no means a flawless man, something he himself is said to have admitted, yet I believe, that it is despite these flaws that he should be celebrated; after all, we are all on a journey, with flaws that we wouldn’t admit to.

Mr Nkumbula was born in 1916, (sometime at the beginning of the year, most likely in March, but no exact birth date exists on record),  to parents in a village called Maala in the Namwala district, who were members of the Ila, a tribe that is part of the Bantu Botatwe (three peoples), the other two tribes being the Tonga and Lenje. These three are said to have been the first of Zambia’s seventy-three tribes.

Mr Nkumbula was a student of the Methodist mission and this upbringing may have had a significant effect on his views on racial relations and the equality of all men. The Methodist missionaries are said to have viewed the Ila people, as well as other Indigenous Africans as human; with one Reverend Edwin Smith writing about how he endeavoured to see things through their eyes and referred to them as his people. It is interesting to note that Rev. Smith had great influence on Mr Nkumbula’s first teacher, Rev John W. Price who believed that it was never okay to assume a white man was right all the time, missionary or not . This man also opposed, Northern Rhodesia’s (now Zambia) informal colour bar and put people’s abilities and character above their race.

Mr Nkumbula was under Rev. Price untill he completed Standard II in which time he worked for Dr HS Gerrad. He went to the Kafue Missionary Mission, which was probably the most advanced missionary education institution to be enjoyed by the natives of Northern Rhodesia (NR) and it was there that he was to become one of the first Natives of NR to pass his standard IV exams in 1934, after which he taught at Kasenga mission in his home town for a year, and like Smith collected information about the norms and practices of the Ila–studies that together with his Methodist background, would later influence his ideals in politics. He was transferred to Kafue, where he taught till 1937 before being transferred to Kanchindu in the Gwembe Valley. Things did not go as well for him there as he suffered health problems and differed with his overseers, the clash most likely starting when he requested a salary increase. Mr Nkumbula showed a great awareness of his rights, but he ended up being dismissed for indiscreet conduct.

The dismissal did not last however, and Mr Nkumbula was sent to Mufulira on a probationary appointment in 1940; this would prove to be the beginning of his involvement in politics. throughout the 1940s, Mr Nkumbula lobbied against “settler nationalism” and the Central African Federation, on the basis that he believed it would prove catastrophic for the indigenous people of Zambia as Southern Rhodesia had a native policy that sought dominion over the natives. He was the founding secretary of the African Teacher’s Association of the Copperbelt which was aimed at increasing the level of cooperation between the African Teachers, Missionaries and the department of African education; they also sought to foster unity among the teachers and look into the problems that came with being African and work with any organisation that was interested in creating better lives for Africans. As early as the 1940s, Mr Nkumbula recognised the need for educating young girls and understood that their education would improve outcomes for all Zambians as they had great influence in the formative years of children.

In 1943, Mr Nkumbula moved to Kitwe where he became Secretary of the Kitwe African Society, representing them on the first Copperbelt Regional Council, which later became the African Provincial Council. At this time, he was making the authorities anxious due to his more active role, alongside Dauti Yamba, in challenging the unofficial colour bar, speaking against federation and defending the right to form trade unions. In 1944, the District Commissioner of Kitwe expressed his misgivings about Mr Nkumbula in a confidential report, suggesting ways of stopping him from spreading his views among the teachers and pupils, but concluding his suggestions to make him a government employee in order to control him would probably make Mr Nkumbula harder to deal with. Mr Nkumbula resigned and went to study in Uganda that same year and at the time was convinced the greatest hurdle for the African was the lack of leadership and unity.

In 1946, the Foundation of African Societies in Northern Rhodesia was formed in Mr Nkumbula’s absence. While in Uganda, he experienced life without the colour bar, with people interacting across cultures and races, before going to London where he was drawn into political activities even further, and developed a socialist view of politics, to the dismay of the Northern Rhodesian authorities, who became very anxious when in 1949, he wrote a letter to a Southern Rhodesian newspaper called the African weekly, opposing federation. When he failed his exams, unlike other students who were given a second chance at the exams, his scholarship was withdrawn and he had to go back to Northern Rhodesia.

While the authorities probably thought that Mr Nkumbula being sent home would reign him in, he became even more involved in politics. He rose to prominence between 1951 and ’53 after being elected to the Northern Rhodesian African Congress, and aligned himself with the people of the Southern Province, who funded most of the ANCs projects, more out of need of funding than tribal affiliations. In opposing the federation, they launched the lands rights case, which they lost, and while it seems like a defeat, may show a man who made calculated moves and understood the rights provided under the law.

He was the first ever politician to bring the chiefs together to fight federation and is hailed for bringing order and organisation as well as better methods of record keeping to the ANC, as well as made membership easier to acquire, leading to an increased membership from the hundreds to probably the thousands in 1952,  It was during this time that the ANC brought in provincial organising secretaries, the first President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda being one of them, stationed in Northern province. All the provincial Secretaries were picked by Mr Nkumbula based on the qualities they possesed and how commited they were to the fight for independence. Ba Kaunda was elected to the executive of the ANC in 1953, and together with Mr Nkumbula, spent two months in prison for the possession of banned printed material, relating to the freedom struggle. Despite once referring to Mr Nkumbula as a National builder and liberator, their friendship soon became strained and eventually, Ba Kaunda and others left the ANC to form the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC).

There are claims made by Ba Kaunda and Sikalumbi that after the stay in prison, Nkumbula became less committed to the cause, however, the ANC leader’s speech upon release and events at the time paint a different picture. Mr Nkumbula left Ba Kaunda in London on a mission to meet up with the Colonial secretary, Ba Kaunda stating that Mr Nkumbula gave no explanation and was in a bad mood, and that his move, left Ba Kaunda unable to speak to Boyd who would only speak to the ANC president. Upon his return, he would not discuss matters with Mr Kapwepwe, who he had left in charge. Later Ba Kaunda would claim that their leader, while on a solo trip to meet Mr Boyd again, preferred to rest in his hotel room rather than meet the Colonial Secretary and instead sent the memorandum intended for the Colonial Secretary via post.

After the stay in prison with Ba Kaunda, Mr Nkumbula stated that they would not give up and were more determined to fight for freedom and encouraged others to keep fighting. Hardly a speech by a Lion that had lost its teeth. It seems more likely that he was willing to pursue diplomacy as a means to independence, something that did not suit the  members of the ZANC, a more militant party than the ANC. Also, considering that his party insisted he go to London, then in his absence allowed a violent protest to take place, his mood when he left Kaunda in the UK and his refusal to confer with Mr Kapwepwe are given a different perspective, especially when you consider that the ANC believed in non-violence. As for no meeting Boyd on his second trip, it could possibly have been a protest. It seems more likely that it was tribalism and destabilising forces within the ANC that led to the split and not Mr Nkumbula’s shortcomings. ZANC later became UNIP, and though Mr Nkumbula was never actively tribal, he never discouraged other members of ANC from using tribalism to discredit UNIP, to a point that they even took on an anti-Nyasaland stance.

Due to the financial problems that plagued the ANC after the ZANC split, Mr Nkumbula turned to Tshombe over the Congolese border for help; an alliance that he broke when, after convincing the United Federation Party (UFP) to endorse his candidates in the 1962 elections, was left in a position to choose between the UFP and UNIP as to whom to form government with. He chose UNIP; leaving the ANC in financial difficulty again as UNIP was anti-Tshombe, and adding the UFP to his list of enemies. What his choice meant however, is that the Central African republic that he had fought so greatly against became history. The UFP worked with Michelo, an ANC member to create the People’s Democratic Congress (PDC). This haemorrhage of members did not help the ANC and added to their administrative and financial problems. Michelo rejoined the ANC but still worked as a destabilising force and after the loss of the 1964 elections that saw Zambia gain independence from British rule, there were more people, including Michelo who left to either join UNIP or form the United Front (UF).

It is clear that Mr Nkumbula was had an extraordinary influence on the fight for independence, rising up and seeking to instil a sense of worth in his fellow Africans. He fought while still respecting the rights of all men and without considering himself above other races. The fight for Independence had ended, the fight for Zambia’s future had started.


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.).