Columnists Features

Independence: Creating institutions of memory


ZAMBIA attained political independence from British colonial rule on October 24, 1964. As it has been documented in many different historical narratives, this trajectory of our country’s independence involved different actors such as individuals, communities and some African tribes such as the Ngonis fought wars of resistance between 1889 to1904 against colonial domination by the British.

In the late 19th century, European colonial powers began to change their approach toward Africa from trading to exploitation and outright domination and political control. Thus, by the end of World War I in 1918, most of Africa had been effectively colonised by the Europeans.

For the most part, colonialisation was successful throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. In the case of Zambia, for instance, colonial rule was first under the British South African Company (BSACo), which was formed in 1887.
The BSACo under the control of John Cecil Rhodes used force among its other strategies to control and colonise three territories in the South Central Africa namely; Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). This acquisition of control and power by the colonialists followed many different routes in different parts of what is now known as Zambia.
However, by 1900, British rule had been formalised by two orders; the North-Western Rhodesia – Barotseland Order-of-Council of 1899 and the North- Eastern Rhodesia Order-in-Council of 1900. In 1911, the two territories were amalgamated to form Northern Rhodesia. However, in 1924, the British took over the administration of Northern Rhodesia from the BSACo.
Therefore, following the formal establishment of colonialism, resistance by Africans tended to be more directly aimed against the imposition of capitalism on African societies.
However, day-to-day resistance by some Africans, which often included actions such as refusal to pay taxes, tended to be common, as direct confrontation was never usually viewed as a viable strategy, although there were a few such cases. During the early stages, Africans had no initial reaction to colonialism. This was because the early years of colonialism had little impact on the lives of many Africans.
This situation changed as the impact of colonialism became more widespread and resistance increased and became more intense in the middle decades of the 20th century following the rise of industrialisation in Africa by the Europeans colonialists which required cheap labour from the Africans.
In Zambia, resistance to colonial rule was manifested in various ways such as boycotts, refusal to pay taxes and the demands for waged labour by the colonial government. Other forms of early African resistance were through welfare societies and independent African religious movements, especially in the period 1918-1935. Welfare Societies in Zambia started in 1912, when Donald Siwale and David Kaunda, the father of Zambia’s first president, formed the Mwenzo Welfare Association to bring African views to the attention of the colonial government.
On the Copperbelt and in Broken Hill (now Kabwe), mine labour formed a nucleus of protest against some of the features of colonial rule. African miners on the Copperbelt twice challenged colonial authority. In 1935 and 1940, Africans went on strike over wages; in 1949, the African Mineworkers’ Union (AMU) was formed with Lawrence Katilungu as its leader.
Further, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, new mass-based political parties were formed in many African colonies including Northern Rhodesia. In 1948, the Federation of Welfare Societies changed its name to the Northern Rhodesia African Congress (NRAC) with Godwin Mbikusita-Lewanika as its first elected president.
In July 1951, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula succeeded Lewanika as president of the NRAC, which later changed its name to the African National Congress (ANC). Under Nkumbula, the ANC grew into a large organisation covering a larger part of Northern Rhodesia and commanding great support. Unlike earlier political organisations such as the welfare societies, the new African political parties were not restricted to the educated elite. They wanted and needed mass support for their political cause. The cause went beyond the demand for more opportunity and an end of discrimination against Africans. The central demand was for political freedom and the end of colonial rule which Zambia eventually attained on October 24, 1964 under the United National Independence Party (UNIP) with Kenneth Kaunda as the first president.
However, apart from the mere historical narratives of our country’s independence and the honoring of such heroes who contributed to the struggle for our country’s independence, there is need to create strong and permanent social and historical institutions of memory for the purpose of commemorating, preserving and documenting of our country’s history in order to make events such as our national independence more meaningful to many citizens.
This is because documentary preservation rooted in various national and social contexts and other forms of artifacts of culture provides tangible evidence of memory for individuals and communities who played a role in the independence struggle of our country.
For instance, institutions such as public libraries, museums, archives and the local media in our communities should be supported and encouraged to provide citizens with useful information and knowledge on national themes such as national independence.
Our country’s institutions of learning such as universities can too, organise public lectures as part of our country’s independence commemoration in order to highlight the significance of such historical trajectories in our country’s social and political development.
The author is a social commentator and blogger.


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