Find us on Google+

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Lumpa Massacre

Malama Katulwende has another fascinating piece on the thorny question of the Lumpa massacre. He asks whether KK and other UNIPISTs should now be tried for crimes against humanity. We have previously touched on this following Mwala Kalaluka's wonderful piece - Retracing Alice Lenshina's followers :

Should Kaunda and UNIP militia be tried at The Hague for Crimes against Humanity?, Malama Katulwende, UK Zambians, Commentary :

The massacre of the Lumpa adherents by the United National Independence Party (UNIP) militia and the Zambian security forces is perhaps the darkest chapter in our history. An army officer – who witnessed the atrocious killing of Lumpas at Paishuko settlement in eastern Zambia, on August 7th 1964 – narrated the shocking experience as follows:

 “Many of the women and children had stakes thrust into anus or vagina or down their throats – this is how they were tortured to death.” This description is captured in John Hudson’s book, “A Time To Mourn” in which some official police photographs of the monstrous event depict a man with a stake hammered into his mouth, burnt corpses, and a woman who, after being repeatedly raped, had the skin of the inside of her thighs torn off.

Between July and September 1964 when the Lumpa-UNIP war started, over twenty thousand Lumpa faithful fled the country and settled in the Katanga province of the Congo. It is also estimated that at least two thousand members of the sect were killed by government soldiers alone, though official sources claim the figure to be slightly lower. The statistics, however, exclude thousands more who were wounded, and others who died from starvation, sickness and trauma on their journey into the Diaspora.

Significant though the Lumpa conflict is to our appreciation of Zambian historiography, the Zambian government has, however, imposed a curtain of silence over this dreadful event. The Lumpa sect and ideology are not taught in schools, nor are objective narratives of the war and Diaspora of Lumpa officially admitted as part of our social memories. The burnt churches and mass graves of the Lumpa are not recognized nor celebrated as memory sites. The whole episode of murder and destruction has bee banished from the public domain as though nothing had happened.

This article, however, briefly looks back at the events which eventually led to the apocalypse – the Lumpa Church war with the UNIP militia and colonial government of Northern Rhodesia. We ask the question: Should our former first republican president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda and UNIP activists be tried at The Hague for their involvement in the massacre of members of the Lumpa Church? The paper answers in the affirmative.

The demise of the Lumpa Church in Zambia and the genocide and dispersal of its members in the early 1960s has been a focus of several studies. Andrew Roberts’ article, “The Lumpa Church of Alice Lenshina,” W.T. van Binsbergen, “Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory Studies”, Hugo Hinfelaar, “Women’s Revolt: The Lumpa Church of Lenshina in the 1950s”, Jean Loup Chalmette, “The Lumpa sect, rural reconstruction, and conflict”, David Gordon, “Beyond Ethnicity: narratives of war and exile of the Lumpa Church,” and more recently, Gordon, “Rebellion and Massacre? The UNIP-Lumpa Conflict Revisited,” as well as two less scholarly works, “A Time To Mourn” by John Hudson, and “Blood on Their Hands” by Mulenga, have all reconstructed the terrible conflict from various perspectives.

They have looked at the Lumpa ideology, the political and class challenge of the Lumpa Church, UNIP militancy and the nationalist struggle for independence, and the religious separatism of the Lumpas. What these studies have not done, though, is demand the trial of Kaunda and UNIP activists for crimes against humanity and compensation by the Zambian government for the role it played in the annihilation of the Lumpa Church. This omission may be excusable because these studies are purely historical.

Yet according to these accounts, Alice Lenshina Mulenga, founder and spiritual leader of the pan-Africanist Lumpa Church in Chinsali, Northern Province, defied Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP directives to conform to demands to oust the white-settler regime from power in Northern Rhodesia.

She denounced politics and encouraged her followers to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”. Unfortunately, this defiance against political authority, especially against a political authority which was to form the first ever Black government on October 24th 1964, and the formation of a separatist, religious sect whose beliefs and rituals were at variance with accepted, traditional values of European Churches and African cultural values such as chieftaincy, polygamy and sexual cleansing, alienated the Lumpa Church.

In their desire to escape from social, political and religious estrangement and violent attacks from UNIP cadres, the Lumpa Church members established settlements in Chinsali, Kasama, Mpika, Isoka and Lundazi. At its peak in 1960, the Lumpa Church had membership which outstripped that of all other churches in Northern Province and flourished in other areas such as Lusaka, Copperbelt, Kabwe, Livingstone and Zimbabwe. Although he sect had started off as a Bemba phenomenon, it later transcended cultural boundaries by drawing converts from other churches and tribes.

Out of the population of 448,300 in the north-eastern Zambia, for example, an estimated 90,000 people were registered Lumpa members with 119 churches. In 1964, however, the objects of political militants in the struggle for independence and the simple, benevolent and separatist teachings of the Lumpa Church were destined to clash.

Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, who was Prime Minister of the coalition government of UNIP and ANC, ordered the annilation of the stockaded, Lumpa settlements when the Lumpas refused to heed the deadline to relocate back to their former villages. Using automatic weapons the Zambian soldiers attacked the Lumpa headquarters, Sione, on July 30th 1964. Mercy Mfula remembered the event in Gordon’s work, “Rebellion or Massacre?

The UNIP-Lumpa Conflict Revisited” like this: “We heard the sound of guns. We ran into houses to hide. Our friends were being shot. We heard others calling: ‘Come and see your friends are dead.’ We ran up and down; we saw people shout, some dying. The guns the soldiers used started from ground level and then rose to treetops. Chickens died, goats died, and trees lost their leaves. We ran up and down. Old people were crying. There was confusion. We kept saying, ‘God, what has happened?’”

The purge of the Lumpa Church members and their dispersal into the Congo by UNIP and government forces raises some questions. Was the force used proportionate to the “threat” of the Lumpa Church? Was the sect entirely to blame for the massacre? What legal basis was there to justify the slaughter of defenseless women and children, or ill-equipped Lumpas who dared the British military in defense of their faith?

There is evidence to suggest that the Lumpa Church denounced the teachings of the foreign based churches, indigenous authority and occasionally attacked UNIP activists who were intolerant of their faith. Violent, physical skirmishes, indeed, took place between the Lumpas and UNIP cadres over the former’s refusal to buy party cards or attend political meetings on Sundays. Yet to just the use of brute force against the sect in the manner it was done is preposterous.

However, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, a staunch ally of Kaunda advocated for the extermination of the Lumpa Church: “Lenshina, and her adherents…People who eat their dung, washed their bodies with their own urine […] change into a devil, even five times worse than a devil, they actually would be wild beasts. When you find a wild beast eating in your gardens or trying to kill: what d you do? You would come together and start to follow it till it is dead. And even after death, you would break its legs, spit on it and roast it above the fire till nothing is left anymore. Our government is determined to destroy this wild beast.”

These sentiments were irrational. They demonstrated a pathological hatred against the sect which cut across all UNIP cadres. Ironically, though, Kapwepwe himself would be a victim of Kaunda’s dictatorship and intolerance and would be associated with Lenshina, who was captured and jailed without trial until her death in 1978.

But Kaunda, whose own mother, Hellen, was a Lumpa member, and his own brother, Robert, composed songs for the sect, was to say of Alice Lenshina and the destruction of the church:

“I have no intention whatsoever of again unleashing such evil forces. Let me end by reiterating that my government has no desire whatsoever to interfere with any individual’s religious beliefs but such a noble principle can only be respected where those charged with the spiritual, and I believe moral side of life, are sufficiently responsible to realize that freedom of worship becomes a menace and not a value when their sect commits murder and arson in the name of religion.”

Indeed, Kaunda might have been right to suggest that some members of the Lumpa sect did, in fact, commit murder and arson in retaliation against UNIPISTS who torched their churches, food stores and assaulted their members. Yet it is certainly false to claim that all Lumpa members, wherever they were, committed murder and arson in the name of their sect. To cite an example, the District Commissioner at Isoka, John Hudson, who took part in the destruction of the Lumpa settlement at Chanama, said: “I felt deeply sorry to have to uproot [the Lumpas] and destroy their well, built-settlement, which represented months of work. Destruction of the church was particularly distasteful. These people had never been aggressive towards their neighbors; it was simply their misfortune that they belonged to a church which had chosen a course of violence elsewhere…”

Of course, as a government official, Hudson was bound to defend the government by blaming the Lumpa Church. However, there is evidence to suggest that the Lumpa retaliation and violence against those who were against them was in response to the failure by the authorities to curtail UNIP-instigated attacks. Several times Lenshina begged the government to protect her members. When this failed, the sect left their traditional villages and established their own settlements away from the UNIP violence.

On the other hand – assuming that Kaunda sought to preserve law and order – then why were activists who destroyed Lumpa churches and murdered its members rarely arrested but hailed as ‘freedom fighters’? At Paishuko in Eastern Province, for example, an entire settlement of Lumpa members who comprised women and children were tortured and exterminated by UNIP loyalists with the 1NRR soldiers nearby. Why did the government troops choose not to protect the settlement from UNIPISTS? It is also surprising to observe that despite the fact that the members of the Lumpa Church were only armed with primitive spears, axes and bows and arrows, Kaunda decided to use the 7.62mm NATO self-loading automatic rifles.

The government also sent over two thousand well, trained troops who fired shots even where there was no resistance from the Lumpas. Kaunda did not use the police who were specifically trained to deal with cases of law and order. This explains, though, the disparities in casualties. Less than ten government soldiers were killed or wounded by the sect, whereas the government massacred over two thousand Lumpas who included women and children. The victims were hastily buried in mass graves without any ceremony. The documents which implicated civil servants in the massacre have since vanished. But why were the documents destroyed if government sanctioned killing of the Lumpas was correct? What was the government afraid of if they were right? Why has there not been any official state discourse in the writing of textbooks for use by children in high schools, or even tertiary institutions?

The annilation of the Lumpa Church has, however, had serious consequences. Not only were over twenty thousand sect-members forced into exile in the Congo, there were at least two thousand people killed by the government troops which should have protected them. Thousands more victims were wounded, or lost their lives from starvation, trauma as they took flight. This destruction of lives, property and displacement of Zambians by Kaunda and the UNIP is not only morally repugnant but criminal as well.

It is more than forty-six years since the tragedy happened. The majority of the Lumpas still live in exile in the Congo, while those who decided to either remain or return set up churches in different parts of the country. Their banishment under the Preservation of Public Security Act has not prevented them from keeping their faith. But strange to narrate, until the late 1990s their church had continued to suffer humiliation, torture, banishment and death, even when they were no longer living in their home country. For fear of a Lumpa attack from Mukambo, for example, the government of Zambia persuaded the Congolese government to force the Lumpa communities into the interior, or surrender them to the Zambian authorities. Unfortunately for the government, the Lumpa Church is still alive today.

In summing up, therefore, we have sketched the social, political and ideological context in which the Lumpa Church of Alice Lenshina, on the other hand, battled the government and UNIP activists prior to independence. We have suggested that although Lumpa adherents occasionally attacked UNIPISTS, the full responsibility for the Lumpa-UNIP war should be born by Dr Kaunda’s government and the UNIP militants, who unleashed a highly trained army to crash Lumpa factions armed with axes, spears, bows and arrows. We have also said that the force used against the Lumpas was not proportionate to their ‘threat.’

Dr. Kaunda, UNIPISTS and the Zambian government, therefore, should publicly apologize for the tragedy and compensate the victims for the untold suffering and death which they occasioned on Alice Lenshina and her followers.

More Reading:

Alice Lenshina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Alice Lenshina was born Alice Mulenga Mubisha (1920, Kasomo, Northern Rhodesia – 1978) in the Chinsali district of the northern province of Northern

Lenshina Mulenga Mubisha, Alice, Zambia, Lumpa Church Prophetess Alice Lenshina Mulenga Mubisha was the founder of a powerful African independent church movement at the time of Zambian independence. -

Lenshina Mulenga Mubisha, Alice, Zambia, Lumpa Church- Roberts, A. "The Lumpa Church of Alice Lenshina." In Protest and Power in Black Africa, eds. R. I. Rotberg and A. A. Mazrui, 513-68.


  1. I wonder whether the Lumpina affair of 1964 is brought up today because of KK's support for the Zimbabwean claim that the British promised to pay for land reform in Zimbabwe.

    Certainly Bingu wa Mutharika was gone after and aid to Malawi suspended because he was 'bankrolling Mugabe'.

  2. MrK,

    I don't really see the link.
    This issue is usually brought up by Zambian scholars.

  3. Never leave an enemy behind or it will again rise to fly an your throat.
    ...Shaka Zulu

  4. Chola, thank you very much for posting this. Until recently I had heard little to nothing about the Lumpa Massacre. This has been one of Zambia's dirty little secrets for too long; I am glad that the discussion has restarted, and hopefully it gains significant traction. The killing of 2000 Zambians is no small matter, and it's time for those responsible to be held accountable! I know there will be people who claim that too much time has lapsed and for this to be swept away, again, and that's not right. It's never too late to seek justice for crimes against humanity.

  5. Livingstone would be deeply saddened.

  6. While, people were brutally killed. The need to be united against colonial masters was compelling. Lumpa aimed at eradicating witchcraft and socery. How, were they not committing murder against the suspected witches? More analysisis needed.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I think there is a lot we do not know. We need more information to make accurate decissions. facts are always important...lets not be quick to judge.

  9. I personally feel that the time for locking up anyone or even trying people is long gone. However, like the "Truth and Reconciliation" commission in South Africa in the Post Apartheid era, I believe we need to get the truth in the open so that there is closure to this issue.
    I also believe that if there is no closure, then the truth always has a way of rearing its head soon enough. It is indeed a sad chapter in our history which unfortunately has been buried for far too long.
    As one would say, history is always written by the mighty (those that win), therefore if true history was recounted, what strange tales we would have!
    I am glad this Alice Lenshina and the Lumpa church is even being discussed today, our children must never forget what happened. We must learn from this but most importantly - lets get closure on this...

  10. I never even knew about this till today. I've always wondered why KK isn't as famous and respected as Mandela. I was told it was because of certain atrocities he had a hand in. Now I know

  11. Was perhaps the Lumpa massacre linked to the Barotse question of secession in that the massacre was an indirect warning to the Barotse people not to attempt a breakaway ?

  12. Wills, Introduction to the history of Central Africa, indicates that Leshina's Lumpa Church, had clashes with UNIP and were supported by the ANC. This was before independence.
    After independence due to the sizable numbers voting for the ANC in Barotseland Kaunda crushed the ANC in order to establish a one-party state with him as leader.
    It was clearly totalitarianism in operation.
    It really touches upon the thuggism after Independence. The winners would suffer no opposition to their position even from their own people. Although Wills says that it was provincial leaders of the UNIP to blame and not so much Kaunda but that is really not acceptable as it evades Kaunda's responsibility as controller of it all.
    Some try to paint this as results of the cold war but that is not the case. The main reason is a tendency to dictatorship in many of the African Independence leaders and their parties. It need not be tribal - it is just do you vote for them. If not then watch out. It is still seen today.


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.