British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Angus McDonald, Abderdeen
(Secretary of the Commission of Inquiry)
As Secretary of the Commission of Inquiry into the former Lumpa Church, appointed in 1965 under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Whelan, I have read with great interest the earlier letters on the subject and, with your own special permission the review by Colin Baker of Mr Hudson’s book A Time to Mourn which I myself have not yet had the opportunity to read.

The Commission acknowledged in its report the virtual impossibility of ever establishing the whole story but in the early letters to the magazine several erroneous statements were made which have now largely been corrected. I shall endeavour to clarify matters further, at least as the Commission saw them.

None of the versions of Alice’s “death” and experience agree with what Alice herself told us. She had been given two books by God and instructed to return to earth to preach against evil. The Commission, while rejecting her “resurrection”, accepted that in a coma, faint or dream (there was a strong suspicion she may have suffered from epilepsy) she had undergone a religious experience in which she sincerely believed. She laughed off suggestions of her issuing “passports to heaven”, “turning bullets to water” etc.

Where the Commission gave numbers of 710 dead and 401 injured in 1964 alone, for example, it was careful to note that these were the recorded figures and it was highly likely that there had been others. Also they referred to all parties concerned and not Lumpa alone. As far as the estrangement of the Lumpa and United Church of Zambia was concerned two further factors were the large offerings and membership being amassed by the former at the expense of the latter (and of course also the Roman Catholic Church).

I think, too, the encouragement given to the Lumpas in the early days by Nationalist politicians who saw the Church reflecting its own nationalistic ideals has been underemphasised. In addition to the reasons already given by previous writers for the conflict which developed between UNIP and the Church were allegations that Sir Roy Welensky’s Federal Party was financially supporting the Church (denied by Sir Roy in a sworn submission to the Commission) and that the ANC was also giving support.

It is perhaps too simplistic a view to think that serious conflict could have been averted if the Provincial Administration had been given earlier assistance by the security forces in disbanding the stockaded villages. The fact that they already existed, together with all the other factors now well covered, points to the same strong resistance which eventually occurred. The poignant memory of the battle-scarred church at Sione Village (Lumpa HQ) leads me to correct Mr Suttill who stated that only women and children were present at that tragedy. In fact 59 male and 7 female Lumpa members were killed and 110 others of both sexes injured.

There has been a suggestion throughout the correspondence that the UNIP national leadership have much to be blamed for. While never being a UNIP fan and abhorring many of their activities I think most blame must be attached to their support at district and regional levels. To emphasise this point I would mention a potential parallel to the Lumpa tragedy with the situation which existed in Luwingu and to a lesser extent Mporokoso districts in 1963/4 between UNIP and the Watchtower Movement. Like the Lumpas the Watchtower eschewed politics and their villages were attacked by UNIP supporters who caused considerable damage and injury. Instead, however, of retaliating with the gun, spear or arson, Watchtower relied on the forces of law and order, in the case of Luwingu, which had no police presence, largely the D.C. and Boma messengers. Many UNIP supporters were arrested and imprisoned with little interference from UNIP “Top-Brass” although they were hardly overjoyed with what was happening. I was stationed at Luwingu during this period as a D.O. and by early 1964 when I was transferred as D.C. to Mporokoso an uneasy peace had been restored, which thankfully held, in both districts. How different things might have been for the Lumpa Church had it stayed within the law!

In making final recommendations the Commission had little choice. Because of the explosive situation which still prevailed and not, I must stress, because of Government interference, there could be no alternative but to recommend the continued proscription of the Church. Neither could it recommend the release of Alice Lenshina herself. It did, however, achieve her early (not 1975) change of circumstances from detention in a grim cell at Mumbwa to restriction. It also achieved, as best it could, the publication of the facts and focussed attention on the plight of thousands of refugees and the need for reconciliation particularly by the Government of the day and its supporters.

Colonial Map
North-Eastern Northern Rhodesia, 1947
Colony Profile
Northern Rhodesia
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 78: October 1999
The Lumpa Uprising - Newspaper Reports

John Hannah's Account

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



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