Bemba –speaking people: The ‘best ‘tribal voters

Bemba –speaking people: The ‘best ‘tribal voters

By Austin Mbozi

Which tribal grouping has began this trend of tribal voting? Frank, open debate, not tribal gossip or using anonymous postings, solves things. Evidence suggests that the Bemba speaking people who live in Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern have been the worst in terms of voting only for leaders from their region. Thus when other groups like Tonga speakers and Easterners are resorting to voting for their own they say they are imitating, or reacting against the voting behavior of, the Bemba speakers.

First some clarifications. First, I am using the term ‘tribe’ in the loose, ordinary sense to refer to  groups that identify with the same language and who at the time of colonial rule inhabited the same region (social constructivism). The real academic sense is that a tribe is a group of people of the same race, occupying the same homeland, primitive, speak the same language and usually share the myth that they originate from the same ancestor (Jewish Zionism or pre-EU Germany primodialism). No group which we call tribe in Zambia suits this description in full.

The Bemba speaking people do not share any ancestor but migrated to Luapula and Northern Provinces from various places including the Congo and present day Tanzania.  They consist of the ‘real ‘ Bemba like Simon Kapwepwe whose warrior ancestros Chiti and Nkole arrived at  Kasama from Buluba in the Congo in 1640 (they are 18.6% of the national  population). They conqured, ruled over and intermarried with the  Aushi (2.3%), the Bisa like President Sata (2.1%),the  Lala like George Kunda (3.1%),the Ng’umbo (1.1%), the  Chishinga, the Kabende, the  Mukulu, the Twa (Bangweulu), the Unga, the Bwile, the Lunda of Luapula like Frederick Chiluba , the Shila, the Tabwa , the Kunda, the Ambo, the Luano, the Swaka and the  Lima.

The second clarification is that Bemba speakers living in traditionally non-Bemba speaking regions like Lusaka have been less tribal. They in fact joined, campaigned for and voted for Anderson Mazoka, a Tonga, in 2001.  Third, even within Northern Province I am excluding from the tribal voting accusation the Namwanga (1.7%), the Mambwe (1.6%) the Lungu (1.4%), the Iwa, the Tambo, the Lambya and  the Nyiha of Mbala, Mpulungu, Isoka and Nakonde. These do not ordinarily classify themselves as Bemba, and the CSO has a different category for them as Namwanga speaking.  I am also not including the Lamba (2.2% who live in Copperbelt rural and have been refusing to be categorized as Bemba.   All these have a history of voting for leaders who are  not from their tribe; Kaunda (1962-1964), Chiluba (1991, 1996), Mwanawasa (a Lenje-Lamba) (2001, 2006), Ruphia Banda (an Easterner) of MMD in 2008 and again in 2011.

Fourth, let’s clarify the argument given by some by some, that Copperbelt Province is not dominated by the Bemba; and that therefore a person like Sata who wins there proves to have a vote from across many tribes.  This argument is misleading and has no empirical basis.  Copperbelt Province is Bemba ‘tribe’  dominated.  Researcher Daniel Posner in the paper ‘The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Cleavages: The Case of Linguistic Divisions in Zambia’,  (2003:127-146)  reports that Bemba speaking people constituted 51% of the African population in 1937 and the number increased to 60% by 1961. This data  is confirmed by Professor Mubanga Kashoki in  his book ‘The Factor of Language’ in Zambia (1990)  who confirms that between 1940 and 1960, the majority of migrants to the Copperbelt  were from Northern and Luapula, followed by Northwestern, followed by Central, followed by Eastern, followed by Copperbelt (Lambas) , followed by Western and then lastly Southern Province.

Even you reader. You will agree with this because you do notice that the majority of people growing up on the Copperbelt have Bemba names.  Most of you, like me, before we even knew tribes existed, would just listen to your father’s two battery radio without ever seeing an inside of a stadium.   Remember Dennis Liwewe going like this?:  ‘  Efford Chabala blocks a shot from Egyptian’s  Muckhtar Mucktar, throws the ball to yellowman Eston Mulenga… ya ya ya ya ya ya, Mulenga turns round 360 degrees and makes a deliberate pass to commando Johnstone Bwalya .. He beats a man and the ball rossoms out for a throw… a thrown to Zambia. Weston Changwe  takes a throw  to Charles Musonda… Ponga !.. …. Well Deniss it seems  the usually marverick Charles Musonda is too short for Egyptian captain  the Mohamad  Hassam Hassam  in midfield  as Hassam now wins the ball …   Only temporarily Ponga . Hassam now loses the ball to mwawakwitu Lucky Msiska …. He does a beauty…. a double one two with Wisdom Chansa –a-a-a-a ..o-h.. beats a man in the process! ……. It’ a go-o-o-o-o-al! …. Kalusha, Kalusha, Kalusha , Kalusha Bwalya –a-a-a-a-a-a…… 1- zero…… favour of the KK11… Martha…!…’

Now from this commentary, how many of players are Copperbelt grown Bembas?  Have you heard a   commentary saying Hahibwene Hachiggabala take the ball and passes it Mundia Nalishebo  Mubukwakane? And don’t you know that Denniss had to refer to Lucky Msiska as mwanawakwtu (child from my home) because there fewer Easterners and other tribes on the Copperbelt?

Now look at Bemba  tribal voting.  In the 1962 first multi-racial elections, the Bemba speaking people voted for their own, Kenneth  Kaunda. Kaunda’s UNIP got 14 seats, Nkumbula’s ANC (with a mainly Tonga speaking vote) got 7  and the United Federal Party (UFP) led by Sir John Roberts also got 14 seats.  Kaunda and Nkumbula formed  a coalition in the first multi-racial government. From UNIP Kaunda became Local Government Minister, Kapwepwe Minister for African Agriculture and Rueben Kamanga Minister of Labour and Mines. From ANC Nkumbula himself   became  Minister for African Education.

I partly agree and partly disagree on protests that Kaunda was not a Bemba; and because of this we can compromise by agreeing that he was not a full Bemba but a half Bemba. Yes, his father was indeed not a Bemba but an immigrant missionary from Nyansaland ( Malawi)  who had arrived at Chinsali in 1904. But we can still give him a half Bemba status for two reasons. First his mother’s ‘tribe’ is not clear.  Academic publications such as Dennis Dresang ( 1975:63)  claim that The President (Kaunda) has sometimes been classified as Bemba….however his parents were from Nyansaland and not Bemba.’.  Yet, in Kaunda’s own book, Zambia Shall Be Saved (1962:6) , Kaunda himself says he enjoyed songs sang in the Bemba language,’my mother tongue.’ Is Kaunda claiming that his mother was a Bemba by tribe?  Secondly, Kaunda was born in the Chinsali Bemba-speaking region in 1924 and spoke Bemba as his first language. This again classifies him as half Bemba because after all even those that classify themselves as full Bembas had ancestors from outside Zambia, though they have a stronger case than Kaunda’s because his father arrived after the colonial administrators had already made the tribal classifications. But we cannot completely argue that Kaunda was a non-Bemba. Even if we were to drop the tribal categorization and advance the regionalism argument, then Kaunda still remains a Northerner.  So the Bemba speaking people voted for someone from their region.

In the 1964 first pre-independence elections, the Bemba speakers again voted for their own, Kaunda.

Joining Kapwepwe

Again when Kapwepwe formed the UPP in  August 1971, the party became Bemba dominated.   Five of the eight members of the UPP’s interim executive committee, the entire Copperbelt provincial committee and six MPs who ditched UNIP to join UPP were Bemba speaking ( see William Tordoff.’Politics in Zambia’ :1974:138). Why?  In a way, they had some justification to get frustrated here. Although it is true that after the 1967 UNIP intra party election the Bemba dominated the UNIP Central Committee and Government after Kapwepwe replaced Reuben Kamanga as Republican President , Kaunda overacted by dissolving the Central Committee in which Kapwepwe won in a free though tribally-based election. The Kapwepwe’s Bemba group had teamed up with Mainza Chona led Tonga group on one hand while Rueben Kamanga had teamed up with Lozi leaders. However,  Kapwepwe must have been wary of this  Bemba domination of UPP, as reflected in his appointment of a Tonga man, Geoffrey Hamaundu from UNZA, as UPP’s General Secretary.

Their grievance was further highlighted by condemnation of two Bemba deputies, Justin Chiimba and John Chisata, for their accusation that  Kaunda was not dismissing non-Bemba minister thieves in from Cabinet. Chimba was subsequently dismissed and both joined UPP. Kapwepwe is still perhaps Zambia’s politician-intellectual. The Wole Soyinka or Franz Fanon type! A poet, a writer, a radical, a Marxist, a pragmatic organizer, a   Pan Africanist. A clear my type!  His magnet pulled Bemba sentimentalism.   He won the Mufurila seat in 1971 while in detention! Then Kaunda suddenly banned his party.

But much as the Bemba had a genuine grievance, why did they not just re-join Harry Nkumbula’s ANC which even had Members of Parliament if they had no tribal voting tendency but instead flocked to their fellow Bemba Kapwepwe?

Again in the 1991 elections, the Bemba speaking people, like the rest of the country except Eastern Province again voted for ‘their own’ Frederick Chiluba.

Rejecting Mazoka

1n 1996, again the Bemba speakers voted for Chiluba. But the real test for them was in 2001. They overwhelmingly rejected Mazoka!  This shocked many and it was the turning point for what is now referred to as Tonga Bantustan voting. The Bemba speakers are a huge voting block.

Late Teta with Given Lubinda

Several UPND politicians like Ben Tetamashimba used to argue, quite correctly, that Mazoka lost mainly because the Bemba speaking people rejected him. The Tonga speakers are now arguing that ‘if our Bemba colleagues can reject a man like Mazoka, then they will never accept any Tonga. So it’s now tit for tat. We should also never vote for their own Bemba politician, no matter how good he may be.’

They have a point.   Here was the man Mazoka who on paper had perhaps the best selling profile even by international standards. A teenage head boy background at Kasama Secondary School  and his speaking Bemba should have proved to them that he was somehow one of them.  A Harvard degree; I mean Harvard in the USA, not Chiluba’s Warwick! And not a  chikwakwa course like yours or my philosophy . Engineering! ‘ BENG’ mwaiche!  And then an MBA from the USA, not these tuma MBAs every Jim and Jake gets now.  And CV? MD Zambia Railways and finally the first black person in the whole Southern Africa to head the Giant Anglo American Corporation! Chairman of over 20 corporate boards! Talk of handsomeness!  Talk of charisma! He rounded up key corporate executives with rich CVs, ethnically balanced them (the Bob Sichingas, the Sakwibas, the Mtongas, the Magandes, the Chisangas) and together they talked  big economics guru. No tribal campaigns. He had several accidents campaigning in Northern Province! He was charming, sociable and easy going, smocking a cigar like an American Cowboy. No theft record, family man with international children and not a pauper. K10 billion assets in those days!

A frenzy for  Sata

But to the Bemba voters, this was not quality. The quality was Sata, the man who was part of the MMD mismanagement and even wanted Chiluba’s third term. . And so Sata who had barely joined politics three months before elections got more votes than Mazoka in Kasama.  And now they are arguing that they showed that they are not tribal by voting for Mwanawasa, a Lenje-Lamba. This is inaccurate. Mwanawasa was not leader of MMD. The leader of MMD was a Bemba speaker , Chiluba their fellow Bemba. They were not voting for Mwanawasa per say, but Chiluba. This explains why as soon as Mwanawasa and Chiluba differed  and Mwanawasa became  MMD leader himself the Bemba speakers, incited by Sata, virtually abandoned Mwanawasa and vowed to remove him for prosecuting Chiluba and other Bemba leaders and accused him of insulting them as ‘stinking and dirty’. This is explains why even when by 2006, other regions like Eastern, Western and Northwestern and Central provinces  accepted Mwanwasa as a good leaders and voted for him, the Bemba speaking regions rejected him ( The Tonga speaking people also rejected him in 2006, but in their case the argument was that  Mwanawasa was the one who ‘stole’ Mazoka’s votes). In 2008 and 2011 the Bemba speaking people voted for their own again, Micheal Sata.

And Remember how in the early 90s the Bemba  refused to vote for their own giant, Emmanual Kasonde just because they listened when Remmy Mushota told then not to vote his  National Party because it was led  by the Lozi, Arthur Wina?

Like him or not. What Major Richard Chizyuka portrays in his video opposing HH’s being Sata’s Vice President in the failed Pact is actually a true reflection of Tonga voter argument: ‘‘we allowed Kaunda to rule by forming a coalition with Kaunda in 1992. If we wanted we would have prevented him by forming an coalition with the white UFP. Nkumbula’s ANC dissolved itself to give way to Kaunda’s one party state. We then voted for Chiluba a Bemba in 1991 and 1996. Now we float Mazoka, they reject him? ‘

And it is not only the Tonga speakers who are asking these questions.  In the 2008 elections, Ngoni Paramount Chief Mpezeni urged Easterners to vote for Akulu Mpuno Rupiah Banda who was an Easterner because ‘we have always been voting for Bembas’ .  Easterners though cannot be exempted too much from tribal voting. The only reason their case is not taken too seriously is that because the province is a unity of various ethnic groupings the voting pattern is not normally too uniform. In 1962 they voted for UNIP. In 1964, they voted UNIP, in 1991 every other province voted for MMD they alone again voted for UNIP.  But in 2001 they voted for FDD mainly because its President Christon Tembo came from there. However, their voting for UNIP has been difficult to classify as tribal because the President of UNIP, Kaunda, was not a Zambian Easterner. Yet some have argued that there are two reasons why the Eastern vote can be said to be tribal. Firstly, Easterners have tribal relatives and linguistic attachments in Malawi, where Kaunda’s father originated from. So it is possible for Easterners to regard Kaunda as their son. Secondly, Kaunda’s wife Betty is an Easterner. So their children, even the politicized ones like Panji, the late Wezi and Tilyenji are normally regarded as Easterners.  But the 2001 vote for FDD was tribal. Their vote for Mwanawasa in the 2006 election also had tribal connotations. They demanded the Vice Presidency, which was given to Rupiah Banda in exchange for their vote. Then in 2008 and 2011 they gave a tribal vote to Rupiah Banda. But still, we can say that at least in 2008 they voted for a non-Easterner.

The Lozi and Northwesteners have the best record of voting for leaders from other regions. They voted for UNIP against the secessionist Sicaba Party in the 1962 elections , UNIP in 1964, ANC in 1968 (of course here the Lozi wanted to teach UNIP a lesson for having banned their choice party, Nalumino Mundia’s UP). In 1991 they voted for Chiluba’s MMD, in 1996 Chiluba’s MMD, in 2001 Mazoka’s UPND, in 2006 Rupiah Banda’s MMD and in 2011 Banda’s MMD,  Hichilema’s UPND and Sata’s PF in this order.

But let’s us also not think some Lozi voted for Sata and the PF because they have no tribal grievance with the Bemba. Their Barotse Patriotic Front (BPF) booklet (Page 4) clearly says that the majority of Zambians (including Bembas) can never vote for a Lozi leader because of prejudices. So they resolve that the only way is some kind of self-rule in the form of Barotseland Agreement or outright secession. The vote for Sata was a way of saying, ’well we can vote for you to rule over the rest of Zambia on condition that you give us self rule so that you  do not rule over us.’

Our  Bemba speaking fellow Zambians you are generally socially not tribal. But politically awe mwandi!  Could you please tell us why your regions vote this way so that we consider your grievance and we reach a compromise? Otherwise other regions will have some justification to refuse to vote for you as well.

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