Saturday, May 17, 2008

Retracing the Lumpa Church

Retracing the Lumpa Church
By Mwala Kalaluka
Sunday May 11, 2008 [04:00]

THE story of Alice Mulenga Lenshina, the founder of the banned Lumpa Church, was feasted upon by the media within and outside the Southern African region from 1964 up to her demise in 1978. Hers was certainly a hot, selling story. A quick perusal through the newspapers of the day however brings to the fore the skewed manner in which some news articles on Lenshina and the Lumpa Church were presented by the media in certain instances. In some cases it was more of highly opinionated commentaries than the presentation of facts as they arrayed themselves.

How much has the media contributed to the ‘tarnishing’ of Lenshina and the people that have remained faithful to her manner of religion to date and to the banning of the Lumpa Church on August 3, 1964?

The colonial media in describing Lenshina and her followers coined such words as primitive, religious fanatics, uneducated, evil and uncivilised in their stories. Reading through the compilation of stories today one cannot rule out the fact that a majority of them were sexed up and were laced with some of the social stereotypes that existed prior to Zambia’s independence.

This sexed news barb permeated the minds of the people at the time; a notion that still makes the round today that Lenshina was just a witch leading a sect, without a care to delve into the intricacies of the issue.

A headline on a story published in the Rand Daily Mail of August 14, 1964 following Lenshina’s surrender to government agencies in Kasama read: ‘ALICE ‘DIED’ TO LEAD RABID LUMPA SECT.

The story or ‘opinion’ read in part that: “Alice Lenshina, the ‘resurrected’ prophetess who led the Lumpa Sect in Northern Rhodesia’s bloody holy war, surrendered in a remote northern village 55 miles from Kasama this week amid ‘touching scenes’ of wailing singing followers.

“Famed for issuing ‘passports to heaven’, Alice says she died in 1953, but was resurrected immediately. She also claims that Christ appeared to her in a vision and that under his divine command, she formed the Lumpa Church.

“The so-called holy war that Alice launched upon the government came about because her primitive tribal followers believed her story. It is conceivable she even believed herself.”

The media frenzy continued and the parochial manner in which the whole issue was handled by the media then becomes apparent.

The Northern News in an editorial comment headlined WHEN EVIL OUTWEIGHS GOOD published on August 14, 1964, stated as follows: “Unquestionably, there is good as well as bad in the Lumpa religion, but basically it is founded on witchcraft, and there is no arguing with such people. Their beliefs are absolute. They are not an educated people, and they are not to be moved by reasoning.

“Their readiness to die for what they believed to be the truth has been demonstrated hundreds of times over in the past three weeks, and this is only history repeating itself. Africa has many precedents.

“…A good deal of what Lenshina preached is unacceptable in a civilized state.”
A plethora of violent exchanges between the Lumpas and the government culminated into the banning of the Lumpa Church as we have stated before.

In his address to the nation then, Dr Kenneth Kaunda said the murderous attacks made by the followers of the Lumpa Church in many villages in Lundazi were the source of the ban.

“These attacks have resulted in the deaths and the infliction of injuries on a considerable number of people. In an earlier statement made a few days ago, I said that my government has no quarrel with the Lumpa religion as a religion.

“But the events in the Chinsali district last week and the happenings in Lundazi in the past 24 hours, have satisfied me that the management and activities of some branches of the Lumpa Church are incompatible with the maintenance of peace, order and good government.

“I have this evening, therefore, exercised the powers that rest in me under Section 12 of the Societies Ordinance, and I have signed an order declaring all branches of the Lumpa Church to be unlawful.

“While the order is in force any office bearer or any person managing or assisting in the management of any branch of the Lumpa Church will be liable to imprisonment for up to seven years.”

The number of casualties, according to the Northern News of Tuesday August 4, 1964, stood at 150 people and that a day of national mourning was declared for the victims who died in 10 days of bloody fighting.

Dr Kaunda was concerned that the violence would bloat Northern Rhodesia’s advance towards political independence. But on Friday September 4, 1964 a screaming headline appeared in the Central African Mail and it read, ‘20 LUMPAS, 2 SOLDIERS DEAD IN FRESH OUTBREAK.’

This headline came only a month after the Lumpa Church was banned and a month ahead of Northern Rhodesia’s independence from Britain.

The story read as follows: “Two soldiers and at least 20 followers of the banned Lumpa Church were killed when members of the sect clashed with security forces in Lundazi district yesterday.

Reports say the soldiers who are killed were shot with a 404 elephant gun which was among the weapons used against the troops.

The Lumpas also opened fire with muzzleloaders, shot guns and rifles after rejecting the call of a government officer to surrender. The scene of the clash is now known to be a previous unknown stockaded settlement containing about 300 people.

The army reports that the soldiers stopped firing and withdrew when the Lumpas lined up women and children in the field of fire. Today leaflets were dropped on the settlement calling upon the occupants to surrender peacefully. The clash was the first since Alice Lenshina surrendered three weeks ago.”

However, a few months earlier on May 29, 1964, the same newspaper had published another news story headlined ‘TROUBLE FEARED BETWEEN LENSHINA AND ‘OTHERS’.

“There are growing fears here that fresh trouble might break out between members of the self-styled prophetess Lenshina.

Reports from Ilondola area say that some people are complaining that their food stores have been burnt down. They are blaming adherents of Lenshina’s Lumpa Church for their losses.

“During the campaign preceding the January election which swept Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP into power there were serious clashes between UNIP and Lenshina’s followers as a result of which several people were killed.

“After the elections, however peace and quiet were restored. Even now the situation is relatively calm in spite of the reports from Ilondola.

“Chief cause of friction between UNIP and Lumpa is that Lenshina has declared that members of her sect are not to take an active part in politics. Not only do they refuse to join any political party, but they are also not prepared to register as voters.

“The attitude of the government has been one of trying, first, to reconcile the Lumpa religious fanatics and the more politically-conscious of their compatriots as a first step towards integrating them into modern society.

“But the general public tends not to be as patient as the government. They are complaining bitterly that Lenshina’s followers do not have much respect for government ministers. As one angry UNIP member put it: ‘These Lumpa people are accusing our ministers of doing nothing for us.

They say that we are just enriching them. They simply are not prepared to recognise the fact that our government is spending more money on developing the rural areas than any previous government’.”

Yet again, on April 26, 1965, the Northern News ran a story headlined ‘LUMPA MURDER: TWO UNIP MEN ON TRIAL’.

The story read as follows: “FOUR former Lumpa followers described at the High Court (Ndola) here today a daylight attack on a hilltop to which they had fled ‘in fear’ from a village in the Chinsali district on January 10.

Before the court were Simon Mumba, 32, a farmer who was a UNIP branch chairman, and Chonto Mfula, 47, villager, who said he was ‘just a UNIP member.”
Both have pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr. Simon Kapikila, a Lenshina follower, on a hilltop near Musunsu Village, by spearing him.

…Mumba said that he had been instructed by police to round up Lumpa followers and to report back to the police. On January 19 he found a group on the hilltop.”

A few days earlier, the African National Congress (ANC) and UNIP traded accusations on the floor of the National Assembly, over what had caused the 1964 Lumpa uprising which claimed 700 lives.

According to the Northern News of April 22, 1965, then Namwala ANC member of parliament Edward Liso said the uprising was caused by UNIP’s intimidation of Lumpa members.

The news article stated that the then vice-president Reuben Kamanga denied the charge and said he was not surprised at the stance taken by the ANC and he further accused them of being irresponsible.

Said Mr. Kamanga: “This malicious propaganda has continued and today in this House it has been made very clear that there is still a group of people which is interested in bringing about disorder in this country.”

The Northern News wrote that Kamanga said that at the time of the Lumpa disturbances in July of 1964, the colonial government had invoked emergency powers enabling him to detain people without trial.

“Since then the former leader of the banned Lumpa Church, Alice Lenshina, her husband and seven deacons of the church had been held in detention,” the article read.

The news article further read that Kamanga said the position in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was now much quieter, but it was not yet possible to remove the government’s powers and revoke the emergency regulations.

“Mr. Liso said it was about time the government released Lenshina and her followers and that no real reasons had been given by the government for the prolongment of the emergency powers,” the news story read in part.

But Kamanga said in response that the situation that existed could have led to a state of public emergency if it was allowed to continue.

On the other hand the resident minister for the Northern Province, Robert Makasa, accused the ANC of orchestrating the Lenshina uprising.

He said Liso had been in a village in Chinsali when President Kaunda had visited Lenshina.

“A week after he left, we had this trouble which led to 10 people being killed and 60 injured,” the Northern News quoted Makasa as saying.

Makasa told the House that 832 people had been killed in the uprising and since the beginning of the year about 90 more had died, before listing a number of Lenshina incidents since 1955.

On September 17, 1964, Lenshina, who was then described by the Northern News as the ‘plump prophetess whose fanatical followers set the Northern and Eastern provinces ablaze with their ‘Holy War’, and was in detention at Mumbwa with her husband Petros, Lameck Sumayile, Justin Bwalya, Lameck Simbewi, Dickson Mbao, White Phiri, Wilson Museba and Moses Tambatamba, asked for an inquiry into the Lumpa uprising of July and August 1964.

She told her Ndola-based solicitors: “My people who are still hiding in the bush must return to their homes and stay well. They must not worry about me as I am well and in a safe place.

“I want them to be peaceful and report violence to the authorities, and not take the law into their own hands.

“Now that there is no fighting I want the government to appoint a commission of inquiry so that the truth about all these troubles will be known, and there will be a peaceful, lasting solution.”

The answer to this request only came in 1965. In the month of April the Northern News reported again that Dr Kaunda had said the time was ripe for a full inquiry into the Lenshina affair. The story read that Dr Kaunda said that the inquiry would be held in secret but that its findings would be published.

The decision by Dr Kaunda to institute an inquiry into the Lenshina uprising coincided with a surprise request by Lenshina during an appearance before a special tribunal in Lusaka that she would rather remain in custody in Mumbwa than be released.

She was however, released on December 23, 1976 and was put under house arrest. Kamanga pledged then that the government would release the findings of the commission of inquiry into the Lenshina uprising.

Had she lived on, Alice Lenshina would have been 84 - years old today and her contemporaries would be social luminaries such as Zambia’s first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda and other unsung heroes of our past.

But why is it that Lenshina’s existence and reverence at the peak of the independence struggle has been accorded a tag of notoriety rather than a popularity one? Was this a case of acute male chauvinism that existed then and that still exists today in the Christian and political circles, which caused society to cast aspersions on Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church? Or was there a political gimmick involved? Was Lenshina really a witch or sorceress that some people believed her to be? If so, why have those that converted into the Lumpa Church failed to severe ties with such a foggy and traumatising past? The story of Lenshina continues.

According to Lenshina’s followers, the woman who was at one time described as leading a primitive and evil sect spoke against injustice and one of her sayings went as follows: “Mutima wandi shipikisha witelententa nangu pamo wilenga babiyo umwenso (persevere my heart, and relent not in order not to make others afraid).”

Lenshina’s protégé, Maggie Kasungami Mfula, who is the overseer of the Uluse Kamutola Church in Kapiri Mposhi told the Sunday Post that Lenshina did not hide the godly visions she had over a period of three days and nights, from the missionaries at Chinsali’s Lubwa area. Mfula said the first person Lenshina narrated her experiences to was Reverend Fergus Macpherson. Hence Lenshina had nothing to hide.

“After Rev Macpherson had heard her story, he told her to go back home and come back on Sunday since on this promised day there was going to be a church gathering,” Mfula narrated. “The following Sunday she went to Lubwa Mission and met again with Rev Macpherson, who later introduced her to the gathering.

When introducing her to the gathering, Macpherson said that this person has been sent by God to preach the holy gospel to the nations so that whoever hears this message and repents may be saved.”

Mfula said the gathering welcomed Lenshina joyfully and that Lenshina later confidentially gave Rev Macpherson the book of life that she was given during her interaction with the supernatural beings at the time of her death and resurrection on the night of October 24, 1953.

“In November 1953, Lenshina was baptized at Lubwa Mission by Reverend Paul Mushindo and was given another Christian name called Alice,” said Mfula. “Alice Lenshina Mulenga continued going to Lubwa Mission together with other Christians from Kasomo Village and the neighbourhood.”

Mfula said a cordial relationship existed between Lenshina and mission leaders at Lubwa, who developed a habit of paying frequent visits to Lenshina at Kasomo Village and here they usually found many people gathered to hear God’s word from Lenshina.

“Reverend Macpherson and other church leaders at Lubwa Mission at one time had a meeting with Lenshina when she went there for a Sunday service,” Mfula said. “They told her to be conducting her prayers on Wednesdays every week while church services were given to church leaders only.”

She said another condition given to Lenshina by the church leaders was that she must never stand in front of the crowd to preach.

“This kind of arrangement did not please her and to make matters worse, even the Lord Jesus Christ who sent Lenshina to preach the gospel to mankind was against it,” Mfula said.

Mfula said this action by the Lubwa Mission leaders was done to wane down Lenshina’s popularity, which had by then extended to beyond the borders of Northern Rhodesia.

“Lenshina could not bow her head to this unprogressive, poor and jealous kind of arrangement any longer but was compelled to start preaching at her village on Sunday. She also started remitting sins and baptizing people,” Mfula narrated. “Lenshina’s move angered the leadership at Lubwa Mission to such an extent that even her helpers who were assigned to help her stopped visiting.”

Mfula said another issue that enhanced the right between Lenshina and the Lubwa Church leaders was when Lenshina and her husband Petros declined to surrender the church money offerings they got during the service held at Kasomo Village.

“When the missionaries heard of this information, they did not hesitate to suspend Lenshina and her husband, as this refusal contravened one of their rules concerning the handling of church monies,” Mfula said. “It was not only the contravening of the rules, but also to them it was insubordination. So they expelled Lenshina from their church.”

Was this the beginning of a conspiracy or an exercise by the church to cleanse evil and insubordination or to stamp out unorthodox religious practices from within its ranks?
Mfula said Lenshina continued her evangelical work and she even went further to build another village away from Kasomo Village, where she used to receive counseling from God.

“People could be asked by Lenshina to surrender all their charms such as witchcraft bones, crosses, medals, and so on. These charms were stored at one place,” she narrated. “No one was allowed to come closer or even to touch any of these charms surrendered by people apart from special workers assigned to handle them.

These were Kenani Matamanga, Smart Nkonde and Agness Chitundu.”
Mfula said those people that failed to heed Lenshina’s advise not to go back to their evils ways died instantly.

In 1956, Lenshina decided to build a very big church at Kasomo which was completed in 1958. The church was officially opened on November 1, 1958 and the name given to the structure was Uluse Kamutola; a derivative from Matthew 11: 28 which reads: ‘Come unto me ye that labour and heavily laden, and I will give you rest).

Nevertheless, this development was just the beginning of ‘trouble’ for Lenshina and her Lumpa Church members, because a few years later Lenshina’s status would be relegated from prophetess to prisoner and despite her attempts to keep her church as a close knit group during a decade long incarceration, the Lumpa Church could not survive the onslaught.

A perusal in the newspapers of the time reveal that apart from her converts, the general population in the then independent Zambia perceived Lenshina as a prophet of doom.
Will Lenshina’s followers, who consider their lifestyle as a persecution, be able to erase this past record? Let the anthropologists get to work and balance the record for posterity’s sake.

For sure the dawns of independence in most African countries were characterized by ‘uprisings’ among the African nationalists. South Africa’s apartheid came with a cost following the murderous exchanges that existed between the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) and the African National Congress (ANC).

The same was the case in Namibia, Angola and Mozambique and other countries. It is known that the imperialist forces caused and relished these divisions. Could the ‘Lenshina Uprising’ be a case in point for Zambia?

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At 2:58 PM , Blogger theoikos said...

For detailed information about Lenshina and her Lumpa Church before her split in 1955 with the Presbyterian Church at Lubwa, Chinsali see Dr At Ipenburg, 1992. 'All Good Men'. The Development of Lubwa Mission, Chinsali, Zambia, 1905-1967, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, especially Chapter 4 'Above Everything'- which is the meaning of 'Lumpa'.
For the enormous demographic effects of the Lumpa War see Appendix VII of the same study.


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