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
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.