By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D Emeritus Professor of Sociology
There are 17 million Zambians to day in 2022. As a Zambian, where were you and what were you doing on the night of 5th February 1968? The vast majority of answers might be you were not yet born, and or if you were alive, you might have been too young or you just do not remember what happened because the vast majority who might have been alive might say nothing unusual happened that day. As for the author, I was fourteen years old sleeping in my Aggrey House dormitory bed with my school mates as a young Form Two student at Chizongwe Secondary School in the Eastern Province in Chipata.
During the night for about 12 hours on 5 February in 1968, Zambia did not have a President. Over 3 million of my fellow Zambians had no idea what potential danger and catastrophe was brewing in the Capital City of Lusaka that could have changed the history of the entire country. Political tensions, conflict, vicious tribal divisions and quarrels had become so bad at the UNIP’s National Council conference hall in Chilenje in Lusaka that President Kaunda had resigned as President of Zambia and stormed out of the conference in disgust with his motor cade.
In case the reader might be wondering, this was not a joke or a trick. He had driven back to State House for he and his wife Betty Kaunda to pack their bags to leave the State House and return to his village home at Shambalekale Farm in Chinsali in the Northern Province. The tribal conflicts all over Zambian had been building up for months. The top leadership at the conference knew what bloody chaos and war would descend on the entire nation if President Kaunda resigned. Zambia was only 4 years young and a very fragile nation sandwiched between hostile neighbors who were still under white or European colonial rule. Both Mozambique in the East and Angola in the West were under Portuguese rule. Rhodesia or now Zimbabwe in the South was under white occupation. White apartheid South Africa was occupying South West Africa or Namibia.
The Late Honorable Sikota Wina
Sikota Wina wrote the book: A Night Without A President that was first published in 1985. The book describes the whole drama that happened at the United National Independence Party (UNIP) National Council conference hall in Chilenje in 1968. What is the one most important aspect of the book? All countries in the world have one moment of extreme danger in their history when the country reaches a very crucial point tittering on the brink or knife’s edge. This is the point when either the country survives to grow and prosper or it descends into catastrophe, bloody war, and perhaps disintegration. According to Sikota Wina Zambia arrived at that moment during the night of 5 February 1968.
The book has eleven chapters such as Gathering Storm, The Contenders, Ship Without a Captain, Pack Up, The Decision to Return, Cecil Rhodes is Dead, What Manner of Man. Sikota Wina first describes the tensions that built up in the country and within the very powerful UNIP political party’s top leadership for three years leading to the conference in Chilenje. The main source of conflict was how the UNIP delegates from all over the country had elected to the Central Committee at Mulungushi in August 1967. The elections resulted in Simon Kapwewe from the Bemba in the Northern Province winning the post of Vice President while Reuben Kamanga from the Eastern Province lost. Reuben Kamanga had been the incumbent Vice President since independence in 1964.
When the Blagden Commission investigated the Mulungushi election from the previous August 1967, “….the Blagden commission revealed that some ballot papers had been picked up on the road between Mulungushi and Kabwe.” (p.10) This meant that there was evidence of corruption or cheating with tempering with the ballots with votes being switched on the way to Mulungushi. The suspicion was that that this is how Simon Kapwepwe won the Vice-Presidency and Reuben Kamanga lost. During those 6 months preceding the conference in Chilenje, the top UNIP leadership took sides on the dispute along tribal and regional lines.
President Kaunda Resigns
Sikona Wina in Chapter 4, “Thunder Claps” says there were two opposing groups that were verbally battling each other on the day of the conference in Chilenje. Zambia has 72 tribes. Those who rejected the Mulungushi election results were Lozi, Ngoni, Lunda, Luvale, Kaonde, and other smaller groups. The second group were the Bemba and Tonga and other smaller groups. (p.34) During the two days of loud arguments and deliberations, the leaders from the two tribal and regional groups openly quarreled, insulted, pointed fingers, and belittled each other in the conference while President Kaunda witnessed this and watched quietly. The three hundred tired delegate expected President Kaunda to stand up and close the conference at 22:00hrs. Instead, President Kaunda said he was deeply disappointed and angry at the tribalism and told the delegates that he had resigned as President and walked out. The conference delegates were shocked and stunned. They all believed in Kaunda’s leadership. What was going to happen to the country at that moment?
During the whole night UNIP conference top leaders Gey Zulu and Simon Kapwepwe told all the three hundred delegates to stay in the conference hall and that nobody should leave. The two rushed to the State House. Top military commanders, top religious leaders in the country, President Kaunda’s closest family friends all went to ask him to reconsider his resignation. President Kaunda did not go to bed. He spent the whole night thinking and anxiously pacing up and down the State House corridors. The following morning to everyone’s joy and relief especially among the three hundred sleepless UNIP delegates at Chilenje Hall, President Kuanda had rescinded his resignation.
Fifty four years later in 2022, Zambians and other readers may be very skeptical of President Kaunda’s resignation. They may think this was a joke, a game, a trick, and some type of manipulation. If you read about the conference and what was happening in the country at the time, and especially President Kaunda’s integrity and strong clear principles as a statesman and among the world’s leaders then in 1968 and even now, you realize this was serious. Zambia as a country was on the knife edge that night.
The message especially to my fellow 17 million Zambians is never take for granted that we are “One Zambia and One Nation”. If any of our leaders today and in the future have poor leadership principles, we could at any time lose the national unity, peace, and love that we Zambians enjoy among ourselves. I recommend this book for historians, Zambians, anyone who wants to understand the pollical history of Zambia and African countries. Since the book is out of print with the dissolving of the Multimedia Publishers, there might be one thousand copies of this book among Zambians and may be elsewhere. Let us get this book and others and digitize them so that everyone can have access to the books now and in the future.