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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.