British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by John Hannah
(Provincial Administration, Northern Rhodesia, 1955-1969)
Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Alice Lenshina
This is an account of my personal involvement in a clash between the supporters of UNIP, a political party which was confident that it would be successful in the forthcoming elections, and the supporters of a Church recently started by Alice Lenshina, during my time in Chinsali District in the Northern Province of Northern Rhodesia, firstly as a District Officer and subsequently, three years later, as the District Commissioner.

It was in the late fifties that an ordinary middle-aged woman called Alice Lenshina, of very limited formal education, and who apparently was subject to epileptic fits, let it be known that she had died, gone to Heaven and been told by God to return to earth to start a church for Africans only, which came to be called the Lumpa Church.

For good measure. He also was said to have given her power to absolve anyone from any witchcraft influence. This gave a tremendous boost to her popularity, and it was believed that at one time she had over 60,000 followers within Northern Rhodesia but also extending to Nyasaland, Tanganyika and the Belgian Congo.

Her followers showed their loyalty to her church not only by building small churches in their own villages, but also by making a pilgrimage to her village of Sione, where a huge brick building, copied from the White Fathers’ mission church twenty-five miles away but a foot bigger in every direction, had been constructed. At the peak of her popularity about 1,000 Africans a week would walk to the village, attend services there and hand over their charms and amulets, plus a small fee, thus absolving themselves from the influence of witchcraft. When the movement was disbanded I found a building in her village about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide, piled high with these charms and amulets, which I had burned down.

The hymns they sang were largely taken from what she had learnt when she was a lay member of the Church of Scotland, but she also borrowed a few ideas from the White Father missionaries. There seemed to be no depth to her teachings, and so the feeling - and the hope - was that it was one of these ‘fly by night’ religions and that her followers would tire of her movement which would collapse as quickly as it had started.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Lumpa Church
Also about this time, political parties were coming in to existence, and one of them, UNIP (United National Independence Party), which eventually formed the government under Kaunda, was particularly strong in the Northern Province. Their tactics were the same as so many political parties in other African countries - undermining the authority of the Chiefs by laughing at them and disobeying their orders, intimidation, criticising the Colonial regime, and promising that as soon as Independence had been achieved everyone would become as wealthy as the Europeans. No attempt was made to explain how this would be achieved, but this did not seem to matter to the villagers.

Not surprisingly the politicians saw the Lenshina, or ‘Lumpa’ movement, as a threat to their authority, and so accusations were made against them, often without foundation, and from this it was only a short step for clashes to occur, frequently resulting in fatal casualties.

Meanwhile the Lenshina supporters were beginning to feel threatened and so started building their own villages, in many cases either putting up a stockade around them or making access to them very difficult. These settlements were being built without the Chiefs’ permission, and because they felt that no support against UNIP was being given by the government, the Lenshina followers were refusing to pay their taxes. There were frequent occasions when they too would attack UNIP supporters.

At this stage (September 1961) I went off on leave, taking my car to Dares Salaam where we caught a ship to Venice. We found out later from the White Fathers that the UNIP supporters had learnt of the route we were taking to leave the District, and had waited until we had passed before destroying one of the bridges on the road as part of their campaign to disrupt the government.

When I returned from leave six months later I had two peaceful and enjoyable appointments in the Southern Province, until in March 1964 I was summoned to Lusaka and asked if 1 would be prepared to take over as District Commissioner Chinsali. I first thought that it was because I could speak the local language and because I had served there before I knew the Chiefs and many of the Headmen, and perhaps also because I was known by some of the headmasters of the schools, having in my spare time organized sports competitions amongst them.

I subsequently discovered that two other District Commissioners, senior to myself, had been offered the post but had had no hesitation in turning it down. One of them had said that it would have been like sitting on a keg of dynamite which was about to blow up. How right he was! There was a hint that if I accepted, and if all went well, I could expect promotion. Nothing was said about what would happen to me if things went badly.... My wife did not seem too worried about going there, and so I accepted.

As soon as I arrived it was clear that all was not well. I travelled around the District to form my own opinion and see if I could work out a plan to try and prevent the situation deteriorating any further. The Chiefs were fed up and discouraged at having their authority undermined by both the UNIP and the Lumpa Church troublemakers, and also they did not feel that the government was supporting them. The villagers were frightened of both UNIP and the Lenshina people, and were being intimidated by both.

The Church of Scotland missionaries were uncommunicative and in any case were always very critical of government. The White Fathers had their ears to the ground as they all spoke the local language, Bemba, fluently, and spent much of their time visiting the viiiages. They were concerned that there wouid be a major showdown, and that it wouid occur sooner rather than later.

The few other Europeans in Chinsali, including two police officers, were all a little apprehensive, and I felt were watching me very closely. I started by asking the Police to carry out regular and frequent patrols in the District and for my part I arranged a series of meetings to which I invited representatives of the Lenshina, UNIP, White Fathers and Church of Scotland and Watchtower, to see if we could try and solve some of the problems together. Sermons were the order of the day. One used as his text ‘Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’... Another spoke about the need to turn the other cheek. It soon became clear that we were getting nowhere. There was absolutely no give and take by either the UNIP or the Lenshina representatives. They were not just suspicious of each other - they hated each other.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Two Police Bodies
It was not long before one of the police patrols was attacked as it walked through a Lenshina village. There was a large crowd waiting for them, so the patrol decided to withdraw - in considerable haste! The European police officer tripped and fell as he was running away, and as he was lying on the ground a Lenshina supporter went for him with an axe and he was slightly wounded. The attacker was shot by one of the other policemen.

As soon as they arrived back and reported to me I could see that they were all badly shaken. What was more serious, however, was that they had heard that the Lenshina supporters were planning to march on the Boma that night. (The ‘Boma’ was the district headquarters where the European government officers were based and usually consisted of half a dozen or so officials and possibly about fifty African civil servants plus a police compound.) I decided to commandeer all the government vehicles, issued a rifle to each of the officers and told them to drive round the Boma all night with their drivers, and if they saw anything suspicious in the headlights of their vehicles, to fire off three or four rounds and then head for the district headquarters building, which would be the rallying point for all the wives and children. We would make our last stand there! When dawn broke, everyone was a little tired but relieved that we had not been attacked.

A few days later another police patrol consisting of a young European Assistant Inspector, Derek Smith, and his platoon of 28 were attacked when going through a large Lumpa village, Chapaula. He was last seen with a spear in his back, and one of his constables was hacked to pieces. Derek Smith’s body was subsequently found with over one hundred stab wounds - apparently the work of children. The rest of the platoon ran away, and when they arrived back at the Boma they were, not surprisingly, very scared.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Government Spotter Plane
I immediately set off with about ten policemen to try and recover the two bodies. When we arrived at the village, about four miles from the road, I saw that it had been fortified with an eight foot high stockade so it was impossible to see inside. I shouted to those who were peering over the top that I was the District Commissioner and I wanted the bodies handed over immediately, but I was met with verbal abuse. I then decided to order the police to advance in line abreast as a show of force, but not one moved. It was clear that they were terrified, and so I quietly gave the order to retreat slowly. We were relieved to reach the road where we had left the landrovers without being attacked.

The following day the Provincial Commissioner, Mr Baker, and the Provincial Police Officer, Mr Bird, arrived. Mr Bird said he would ask for 100 European police officers to be flown into Chinsali to deal with Chapaula village. Meanwhile the Provincial Commissioner asked me to go and try to reason with Alice Lenshina, so I set off with my driver (having first handed over my wallet, watch and keys to a friend, just in case...). When we arrived at Sione, about five miles away, there was a certain ‘atmosphere’. I did manage to see her, although at first I was told she was in the bush looking for medicine, and then I was told she had gone to the Copperbelt, and finally I was told that she was ill in bed. I asked to see her and was ushered into her house and then into her bedroom. As soon as I walked in, she hopped out of bed, fully dressed, pulled her blue plastic shoes out from the bedclothes and said “I knew it would come to this!” However, my visit was of no avail. She was adamant that the UNIP were the cause of all the trouble, and that she and her followers only wanted to be left alone.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
John Hannah with Alice Lenshina
The next day the force of European police officers arrived by air. It was agreed that I would go with them to Chapaula as I was the District Commissioner and could speak the language and could try to reason with the people. However, as the village was surrounded by a stockade, the Provincial Commissioner said he would fly over the village at the same time as we arrived, and fire a red Verey cartridge if he saw the villagers defending the stockade, or a green one if not. A simple plan, but his Verey pistol would not work, and so instead he threw out of the window his handkerchief containing a message. Again a good idea, but unfortunately it landed in a patch of cassava and although we spent a while on our hands and knees trying to find it, we were unsuccessful.

So we decided to risk it, and a small gap was made in the stockade and we squeezed through one by one. For those few minutes we were very vulnerable, but fortunately the Lenshina supporters had gathered at the far end of this very large village. As soon as we were through, the police advanced line abreast. They stopped when they were near a large anthill, so I climbed to the top of it and with my loudhailer I explained who I was and ordered them to surrender and hand over the bodies. Afew minutes later one of the police. Inspector Jordaan, shouted to me that one of the Lenshina people was levelling his rifle and taking aim at me. At that point I decided to make myself slightly less conspicuous, and came down from the anthill, and the police officer in charge gave the order to open fire and advance. Sadly, as far as I can recall, about 28 were killed on that day.

The following afternoon I was standing outside my office talking to Mr Baker and Mr Bird, when the government Cessna suddenly appeared overhead, and having first circled my office building a couple of times dropped a message in a handkerchief. The message was brief: ‘Inspector Jordaan, whilst on patrol, has been speared in the back and killed.’

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Evelyn Home and Kenneth Kaunda
At this stage I began to wonder if we were heading towards a Mau Mau type situation for which we were totally unprepared, and where those of us living in Chinsali were very vulnerable. Not a day went by without a report of a clash between the UNIP supporters and the Lenshina people, or of a dead body being found by the roadside. Even a White Father arrived one morning on the back of an empty 5-ton tipper lorry belonging to PWD to say that a village near his mission station had been attacked by a gang of Lenshina youths and fifteen of the villagers had been burnt alive.

It was at this time that I received a message that the Governor, Sir Evelyn Hone, together with Kenneth Kaunda, the future President, and a retinue of 26 senior government officials would be arriving the following day to assess the situation for themselves.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Troops Arrive
Before lunch the next day one of the party came up to me and said “District Commissioner, you do not know who I am. I am General Lee and I have come from London to see how much hardware you may need”. It was then that I began to realize the gravity of the situation but also what was meant by the Pax Britannica -that behind the District Commissioner were his District Messengers, and behind them was the Police, and behind the Police was the small Northern Rhodesian Army; but behind all those was the whole strength of the British Army.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Troops Prepare
Throughout this difficult period it was comforting to feel that I was in constant close touch with Mr Bird, and both of us were convinced the crisis was beyond the police alone, and so we agreed to contact Lusaka and ask to see the Governor. We flew down a few days later, and attended a Security Council meeting which had been convened at Government House, during which the Governor had no hesitation in agreeing that the Northern Rhodesia Army should be deployed. However I asked for permission for me or one of my District Officers to accompany the army at all times, so that we would first have the opportunity to appeal to the villagers to surrender before the army took over and opened fire.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Troops Receiving Orders
I was the first one to be faced with that situation. The day after the army arrived in Chinsali, we planned to attack Sione, the large village where Alice Lenshina had built her huge church. We arrived at dawn. The troops were formed up in line abreast on the outskirts of the village and when they were ready, I went forward about twenty yards and spoke to the villagers through my loudhailer, explaining who I was and asking them to surrender. I could see a lot of people moving around in a furtive way, but there was no response. I went on for about ten minutes, but as I seemed to be getting nowhere, I started walking back to the Colonel who was standing on the back of his landrover. I knew that as soon as I handed over to him, I was in effect giving the authority to fire - and to kill. At that moment the Lenshina supporters who had been hiding in the long grass a little way in front of the troops suddenly rose up, yelling “Jericho!”, their war cry, and attacked.

Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church
Bloodstained Lumpa Church
Initially there was considerable confusion, the line of troops wavered before the onslaught, but the Company Commanders gained control over the soldiers and they gradually advanced into the village. After about fifteen minutes the Colonel fired a red Verey cartridge and the firing ceased. I then heard the Colonel, a tall burly man, shout “Come on. District Commissioner, have another go at these buggers!” I did ‘have another go’, and this time about 55 women and children surrendered, but sadly by the end of the day about 85 had been killed.

By the time the whole affair was over it was reckoned that over 700 had been killed, but it was impossible to know the exact number. Subsequently I heard that after we left Chinsali there were a number of very unpleasant incidents both in a remote part of the District and also in Lundazi where the police station was attacked and weapons stolen and there were a number of fatalities. It was all very unpleasant.

Could it have been handled better? I doubt it! Fortunately throughout this difficult time I always felt that I had the complete confidence and support of all those government officials with whom I had to work. This may have helped to reduce the casualties to a minimum, but in such a situation there were bound to be some. Alice Lenshina finally surrendered and she was rusticated to a far corner of Northern Rhodesia and died a few years later, and the majority of her followers crossed the border into the Congo.

We set off on leave in September 1964, by which time the fighting as far as I was concerned was over. On my return I was posted to Chingola District, and so I was no longer in touch with the situation in Chinsali.

Colonial Map
North-Eastern Northern Rhodesia, 1947
Colony Profile
Northern Rhodesia
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 106: October 2013
Links
The Lumpa Uprising - Newspaper Reports

Angus McDonald the Secretary of the Commission of Inquiry gives an account of the Commission's work and conclusions.

Book Review
A Time to Mourn: A Personal Account of the 1964 Lumpa Church Revolt in Zambia by John Hudson


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