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Saturday, 10 May 2008

Retracing Lenshina's followers..

Mwala Kaluluka has written a fascinating piece on Alice Lenshina followers, which serves as our quotable for the week :

Retracing Lenshina's followers, Mwala Kalaluka, The Post, Report :

Historians did a good job for posterity through their chronicles on the past that happen to form the foundation of today’s world; it is by them that the past and the contemporary lifestyles have been interlinked for the benefit of this generation.

But given the fact that at times historical presentations have been influenced by personal opinion, should the narratives of our forebearers remain cast in stone without them ever being questioned or revisited for the sake of balance?

The story of one, Alice Lenshina, a woman who founded the banned Lumpa Church in Chinsali in Northern Province in 1957, only to be dogged by controversy for the remaining part of her life, is one that still begs so many answers four decades down the line.

The Lumpa Church was started by Alice Lenshina Mulenga Lubusha, who was born in 1924 at Chimba’s village in Chinsali district. Those close to her say she was an ordinary girl who grew up in Kasomo village in chief Nkula’s area. Lenshina was married twice; to Gibson Nkwale with whom she had her first child. After her husband died, she got married to Petros Chintankwa, a cousin of her first husband, who adopted her.

On October 24, 1953, Lenshina, who was aged 29 then, fell sick and passed away at midnight. According to her disciples, Lenshina died and resurrected twice and that during these phases, she was taken to a very beautiful lake where she had an interaction with Godly beings. She was sent back to earth with instructions that she must preach the word of God to the people. Lenshina started working with the missionaries at Lubwa but her followers say she decided to build her own church at Kasomo village, which she called Uluse Kamutola, after she fell out with the missionaries and thus was born the Lumpa Church of Alice Lenshina.

The Lumpa (Super) Church was registered under the Societies Ordinance of 1957 and a year later, more church branches were registered in Chinsali, Kasama, Mpika, Lundazi, Isoka and Kawambwa districts and all together they numbered 150.

Today, however, for various political, social and religious reasons, the Lumpa church no longer decorates any page of the societies register and those members that fled to various places within and outside Zambia after the church was banned by the UNIP government on August 3, 1964 have all along held their silence.

But 44 years later, a few of those that saw it all and crossed the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then Zaire, are back in Zambia and operating under different names, they have managed to keep the spirit of the ‘Lumpa Church’ in their own respective ways in several parts of the country. They commemorate holidays that aim to revere the greatness of Alice Lenshina. Some of these have decided to open up and break their four-decade silence on what they knew about the activities of the Lumpa Church; which they claim is a church as any other.

One such group that was formed from the leadership wrangles that followed Lenshina’s death on December 7, 1978 is the Uluse Kamutola church, whose headquarters are in Kapiri Mposhi and its membership ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 and is headed by one of Lenshina’s former personal assistants, Maggie Kasungami Mfula (the overseer). Mfula has shepherded her group from as far back as the early 70s when they had been in exile in the DRC.

In an interview with the Sunday Lifestyle last week at her residence, Mfula, who asked the government to lift the ban on the Lumpa Church and restate the name, said through the church’s general secretary Peter Mulenga that theirs has been a life of persecutions and turbulences. However, the group of church leaders present during the visit- none of whom was below the age of 40 - said they have kept up to Lenshina’s vision because they want to be saved.

During the interview, the Sunday Lifestyle team was ushered into Mfula’s house where the leaders of the church, who were clad in assorted cloaks and surplices, similar to the ones worn by the hierarchy and membership of Lenshina’s Lumpa Church at its peak. Prayers followed the introductions and it was learnt that almost all the church superintendents, deputies, senior cardinal and personal assistants to the overseer had at one time or another been imprisoned on grounds of their association with the Lumpa Church.

It was further noted that all the Uluse Kamutola church leaders present had been to the DRC following the banning of the Lumpa Church in Zambia; and even there, they continued to follow Lenshina’s example. “We have never had an opportunity to explain ourselves out of this tarnished image that has been associated with our organisation (Lumpa Church),” Mfula said. “It is hard for us to start from somewhere because our image has been tarnished badly. We have tried to talk to those in leadership but they also just answered us badly. Our sources of wealth were grabbed from us and all the riches we had have been taken.”

Mfula said the story of Lenshina has always been told in a parochial manner and despite the turbulences they have experienced, her followers have chosen to lead a low profile life. Mfula said it was time to put the record straight in order to dispel the past assertions that the Lumpa Church members thrived on drinking urine and smearing themselves with faecal matter so as to protect themselves from bullets. “The Lumpa Church has thus survived both its 1964 tribulations and exodus of many of its followers afterwards although the church had lost many of its members, as well as properties worth millions of Kwacha in the process,” she said. “As a result of this, the church had been hampered in its growth, both economical and social development.”

According to Mfula, the allegations leveled against Lenshina and her growing cadre of followers was just a ploy to water down her popularity. “The success achieved by Lenshina in such a short time of her ministry’s existence was a thorn in the flesh of both Ilondola and Lubwa missionaries. Others launched a vicious campaign to discredit her and persuade defectors to return to their former respective missions,” she said. “By this time bishops and priests had long awakened to the fact that Lenshina’s church posed a major threat to the Catholic church and other churches had decided to halt this advance at all costs.”

Mfula narrated that this spirit of hatred paved the way for UNIP members to start provoking fights against Lumpa members. “This provocation did not only come from UNIP members alone, traditional chiefs also played a significant role in this fight against Lenshina’s rapid church growth.” Mfula, who became Lenshina’s convert at a very young age, said traditional chiefs felt overshadowed by Lenshina for their power and authority had been undermined by the fact that everyone was paying homage and surrendering witchcraft apparatus to her. “Lenshina was accused of being a witch whom they said had evil spirits. They insulted her day in and day out. Accusations were that she used charms, was it surely possible for her to deceive those people throughout the country and beyond, for years without tricks being discovered by those who had the most powerful charms?” she asked. “Lenshina used to tell her followers to be firm and not listen to these false allegations as this did not start at that time but even at the time Jesus Christ was on earth.”

Mfula remembers very well the rules on which Lenshina based her preaching on and these were as follows:-
Lumpa Church is a church in which God and his son Jesus Christ are to be praised. It is not a political organisation;

In the congregation there should be no citizen or foreigner, black or white, man or woman, but we are all of the same family and therefore we must love each other;

A Christian must not take part in backbiting, insults, lying, pride, boasting, hatred, anger, cruelty, false accusation, spite, disobedience, deceit and theft.

The other rules were that Christians must avoid covetousness, witchcraft, stealing, adultery, witch finding, sorcery, discrimination, drunkenness, immoral songs, dancing and other pagan things, among others. Mfula said it was this moral code of the Lumpa church that angered traditional leaders, especially the then chief Nkula, who happened to be Lenshina’s relative. She said the rift was deepened after Lenshina started singing songs that ‘belittled’ chief Nkula. “He felt offended by this song and ordered his counsellors, messengers and other men of the palace to get ready for a fight against Lenshina and her followers, for he could not stand the insults from his own daughter,” Mfula narrated further. “They arrived at dawn and surrounded the village and set ablaze some huts. Hence the fight started. The chief and his warriors were defeated and took to their heels. At this fight none was killed, but many were injured on both sides.”

Mfula said similar incidents followed, especially that the rise of the Lumpa Church coincided with the struggle for Zambia’s independence. Mfula said Lenshina had her visions from God in 1953, at the same time that the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was established. “The political party that had massive support was the African National Congress (ANC) led by Harry Mwanga Nkumbula. Nearly everyone in the area identified themselves with ANC and its leadership in order to free the country from foreigners. Those who did not belong to ANC were considered to be enemies of the revolution,” she said. “However, when a new militant party which broke out away from ANC was formed and whose name was Zambia African National Congress (ZANC), the forerunner of UNIP, was formed, things started to change.”

Mfula said initially there was harmony between UNIP and the Lumpa Church but that the scenario changed as the fight for independence got close to its fruition, because of the party’s violent nature. “After the Cha Cha Cha, some church members who had defected to UNIP with a view to being considered for jobs as soon as independence was achieved started spreading malicious rumours against Lenshina and the church, which led to mounting fear and suspicion between the two parties,” she said. “Previously, political meetings were held on Saturdays, however, this was changed to Sundays and to make matters worse, an announcement was made by UNIP that all church activities would take second priority to UNIP activities; meaning UNIP meetings would take place first before church services. This ungodly announcement brought trouble between Lumpa Church and UNIP members.”

She recalled that Lumpa Church members that opted to go to church before attending UNIP meetings on Sunday were beaten and UNIP went further by burning the church’s structures. “It was at this juncture that Lumpa Church members decided to burn UNIP cards. This action annoyed UNIP militants who launched a vigorous card checking campaign from village-to-village to find out which Lumpa members had burnt or surrendered their cards,” Mfula said. “Whoever, was not found in possession of a UNIP card had instant justice administered on them. Lumpa members were beaten wherever they were found. Their houses were burnt, their crops destroyed. Hence Lumpa members started organising themselves in self defence.”

Mfula said in view of the situation, Lumpa members started moving in groups so that if they were attacked they could retaliate. “Surprisingly, each time the two parties clashed and the UNIP members were beaten, the latter rushed to report to the local chief or police. Policemen or messengers were sent to arrest Lenshina followers,” she said. “Convinced that they were hated for their belief in God, they decided to leave the villages they shared with UNIP members and set up their own villages in the bush away from UNIP-dominated villages.”

Mfula said chiefs were informed about this development but that while some were agreeable, others paid little attention and others were even hostile. This exodus did not however pacify the situation between UNIP and Lumpa members. “Most fights occurred when UNIP members waylaid Lenshina followers who had gone back to their old villages to get what they had left behind at the time of shifting or harvest their produce from their fields,” Mfula said. “UNIP members would ambush them and set on them and if they were women, raped them.”

Mfula said the violence spread from Chinsali to Chama and Lundazi and she said efforts by the government to quell the violent exchanges between Lumpa church and UNIP proved futile. “Yet, Lenshina now and again told them that she ran a church, not a political party to oppose them. She took no sides in their struggle for power and that what she wanted was to be left alone, so that she could accomplish the work given to her by God,” Mfula said. “At this juncture, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, who had become prime minister in the new black government, had approached both parties to try and find a solution.”

She narrated that Dr Kaunda sent his minister of agriculture, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, to listen to the two factions. “Kapwepwe however rebuked both sides and called for peace and harmony. Peace prevailed temporarily after the meeting with Kapwepwe,” Mfula said. “UNIP started trouble again by accusing Lumpa Church members of drinking urine, trying to fly and that they killed a mentally disturbed person by the name of Ntalasha and ate his heart.”

Mfula said the problem intensified to such an extent that in October, 1963 a combined team of UNIP and government forces attacked Chitambo Village where many lives and properties were lost. “In addition the following Lumpa villages were attacked; Bulanda, Lulumbi, Kameko, Chapaula, Shacepa, Chilanga, Sione HQ, Chasosa, Chipoma, Ishuko, Itonta, Chakosa and Isumba Village,” Mfula said. “In these villages, thousands of people died and their bodies were buried in mass graves.” She said these are some of the things that led to the banning of the Lumpa Church by the government on August 3, 1964. “Before Lumpa Church (Sione) headquarters was attacked by the government forces (in 1963), Lenshina had already escaped the place for Chilungululu Mountains in Kasama district where she hid in a dense thicket on an anthill,” Mfula said. “The government troops came in large numbers, armed with sophisticated weapons and opened fire on innocent and harmless people. They threw grenades into the church building killing women and children who had taken refuge. The church building (Kamutola) was partially damaged.” Mfula said the security forces used graders to clear the area, which was littered with bodies and one mass grave was dug at Chinsali. “This grave was filled to capacity and some bodies remained uncollected in the bush,” she said. “There could be more mass graves in Northern Province than people know of because bodies of Lumpa members were usually buried away from operational areas.”

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