Memoirs of Speaker Robinson Nabulyato

By Emmanuel Mwamba (Book Review)

A group of academics and historians have come together and formed Lembani Trust. This Trust is promoting literature researched and written about Zambia and making it available to the local market. The Trust has sourced material that could have suffered neglect or stood no chance of being read or published beyond the custodian of those materials. The Trust is also making available literature about Zambia written abroad

So far the Trust has helped publish or is involved in: The Musakanya Papers – the autobiographical writings of Valentine Musakanya, Kalonga Gawa Undi X – a biography of an African chief and nationalist, and One Zambia, Many Histories- towards a History of Post-colonial Zambia.

Clearly the works published under Lembani Trust aim to provide a more comprehensive and alternative perspective to Zambia’s post colonial history than the historical perspectives earlier provided by the UNIP government that centered around Zambia’s first president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda.

The earlier recount of Zambia’s post-colonial history suffered objectivity as it overlooked or ignored other actors and social forces and portrayed a history focused only on UNIP, its structures and its leaders especially Dr. Kenneth Kaunda.

ROBINSON NABULYATO – African Realities- A Memoir

Professor Bizeck Phiri a distinguished historian and former Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zambia, provides the foreword to Nabulyato’s Memoirs. The foreword is a captive piece critiquing and reviewing the Memoirs.

The book is edited and given historical context by Dr. Giacomo Macola, a lecturer in modern history at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. Macola is also the official biographer of Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula.

Macola also collaborated with historian and archivist, Dr. Marja Hinfelaar to write A First Guide to Non-Governmental Archives in Zambia”. Hinfelaar is involved in a project that is storing and transforming historical material at the Zambia National Archives into digital form.


Born in 1916 at Banawaze village in Namwala district, Nabulyato is among few people that were privileged to have received formal education so early on.

He was taught by the Methodist Church and later became a high ranking teacher in Northern Rhodesia.

The Federation of African Societies of Northern Rhodesia (FASNR) an umbrella body of Welfare Associations convened a meeting in 1948 to transform itself in a more political body. The welfare associations had been founded as early as 1920 and among distinguished ones was the Mwenzo Welfare association run by Donald Siwale.

Heads from these associations present at the 1948 meeting included Dauti Yamba, Mufana Lipalile, George Kaluwa and John Richmond.

It is at this meeting that Nabulyato and others founded the Northern Rhodesia African Congress (ANC) in 1948.  

The conference formed the Congress and Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika was elected President while Nabulyato was elected General Secretary. The meeting also discussed the possibility of naming the new republic “Zambezia” to replace the name of Northern Rhodesia if the country became independent.

Nabulyato was privileged to be its first General Secretary and served the Congress from 1948 -1952.

The Congress immediately started the job of popularizing its cause with initial secretarial and printing work provided by an Indian trader R. D. Patel of Kanjombe Stores. Patel believed in the African’s struggle for self rule. The store provided as the headquarters for the Congress while Anderson Hiwa’s house in Mapoloto, Chilenje became the hub of political activity.

Nabulyato also negotiated for educated Africans serving as teachers and civil servants to participate in the work of the congress. He cites Hubert Siwale, Safeli Chileshe, Henry Makulu, Joseph Mwanakatwe (elder brother to John Mwanakatwe), John Chikungu and Imanga Maliande.

Others were Edwin Mlongoti, Elijah Mukasosa Chalungumana and Edward Kateka as among those who helped formulate the new constitution and policies of the new body.

The colonial authority however only granted permission for civil servants to participate, but they were not allowed to hold office or make political contributions!

The book reproduces the resolutions of the 1948 conference.

The Congress was also joined by two white nationalists in Simon Zukas and Thomas Fox-Pit. The Congress had church reverends such as Isaac Mumpanshya also joining the ranks.

By 1950, the Congress attracted a crop of new leaders especially on the Copperbelt. These included Reuben Kamanga, Noah Sambona, Lawrence Katilungu, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Robinson Puta and Mathew Nkoloma.

Others who were organizing the provinces included Kenneth David Kaunda, Robert Makasa (Luapula and Northern) and others such as Jeremiah Kabalata, Job Miyanda, Edward Nyanga and Job Michelo.

During his tenure, Nabulyato helped turn most welfare associations in the country into branches of the Congress.

In 1952, he led a delegation to the United Kingdom to help fight the introduction of the Federation of Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia. The delegation comprised Nabulyato, Paramount Chief Chitimukulu and Chief Musokotwane.

Nabulyato also recognizes the sacrifices of chiefs that supported anti-colonial activities. He cites Chief Chitimukulu, Paramount Chief Mpezeni (Pontino Gabriel Jere), Chief Milambo (Lwando Chiliapa) as chiefs that were even deposed from their thrones and stooges appointed in their place. Their people restored them immediately after Zambia became independent.

The editor however recognizes only Chief Milambo (Lwando Chiliapa) among the ones Nabulyato cited as the only one who suffered this fate.

Nabulyato also recounts the sad event that saw Chief Musokotwane abducted, beaten and tortured by colonial agents shortly after returning from their anti-federation mission from the United Kingdom .

It’s during this period that he met pan-African leaders that included Kamuzu Banda. In the book, Nabulyato defends the roots of Kamuzu Banda of Nyasaland. He called the assertions then that Kamuzu Banda was Jamaican as fabrications by the colonial authority to alienate the distinguished medical doctor from his people. He also rebuffed at the allegations that Banda couldn’t speak any language of his native country. The two remained friends for life.

When Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula returned from his studies from the United Kingdom, he joined the movement as national organizing secretary. However, it appears that the two” Namwala bulls” couldn’t work together.

In fact when Nkumbula was later elected President of the ANC at the 1951 Conference defeating Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika, Nabulyato scaled down his work and let his deputy George Kaluwa to do most of the Congress work. He later resigned as General Secretary paving way for Kenneth Kaunda to take over.

Later when Nabulyato became Speaker of the National Assembly in 1969, he refused to recognize Nkumbula as Leader of the opposition. The ANC failed to garner the required numbers of MPs. Nkumbula resorted to a court action that compelled Nabulyato to bestow him with the recognition.

When Nabulyato left the ANC in 1952, he went into political retirement. He however returned to politics by being elected to the Ila Native Authority and later to the highest body for natives the African Representative Council in 1954.

The African Representative Council then chose four officials to sit in the colonial national parliament called the Legislative Council of Northern Rhodesia.

They were Robinson Nabulyato (Southern and Barotseland provinces), Safeli Chileshe (Central and Eastern Provinces), Pascale Sokota (Copperbelt and Northwestern), Lakement Ngandu (Northern and Luapula). The quartet joined Sir Stewart Gore-Browne a European who was the official representative of Africans in the Legislative Council since 1930s.

Nabulyato held on to this position until he retired again in 1959. He joined the newly created militant UNIP. But Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula’s stronghold remained in the south and Nabulyato’s action didn’t diminish the presence of ANC in Namwala.

Nabulyato nationalistic views were influenced greatly by the writings of Jamaican pan-africanist Marcus Garvey, when he was at Kafue Training Institute.

There are other issues that emerge.

For example, when discussing his early childhood, he talked about slaves that Ba Ila families owned. He termed these slaves as “classificatory relatives” owing to the manner families treated them. He stated that these slaves were treated well and not in a punitive manner and sometimes assimilated in the family or were bequeathed with an inheritance.

I found these facts relating to the existence and owning of slaves by Zambian tribes and especially as recounted by Nabulyato as a common practice among the Ba Illa, interesting.

The facts are very interesting and in my view, needed further exploration. I wish the editor had given a historical context to this surprising practice by the Ba Ila or any other tribes in Zambia as he has done with other facts.


Robinson Mwaakwe Nabulyato is among the prominent founding fathers of African nationalism and his earlier contributions set the path to the birth of a new nation.

Although Nabulyato is well known for serving as Speaker of the National Assembly and had the enviable record of serving all the three republics, the Memoirs reveal his early and widely unknown contributions to nationalism dating as far back as 1948.

He is remembered for allowing free debate in the House at a time when Kaunda had turned Zambia into an autocratic state. He is also remembered for promoting the independence and autonomy of Parliament. He believed in the House resolving all issues that at one time refused to accept summons from the High Court and locked up the Sherriff who had come to serve him!

He defended strongly the prerogatives and independence of Parliament.

In the closing days of the second republic and the imminent collapse of the One-party State, Nabulyato allowed such a free hand in debates that the vocal and outspoken UNIP MPs literally occupied the place of the Opposition.

He resigned his position in 1988 after an outstanding and distinguished career that began in November 1968. In fact these memoirs were written with the help of his Clerk of the national assembly, Ng’oma Mwelwa Chibesakunda and other members of staff in1988 shortly before his resignation.

After Zambia returned to Multi-Party Democracy, President Frederick Chiluba called him to serve as Speaker.

After serving parliament for almost 25 years, his decisions increasingly became lackluster and attracted severe criticism. He appeared as a man who was struggling to adapt to the new democratic environment and his preoccupation with discipline and order even outside the House brought Rulings that stained his earlier distinguished career.

Many will remember the case in 1996 when Nabulyato charged and found guilty of contempt of Parliament, Post Newspaper’s editors, Fred Mmembe and Bright Mwape and columnist Lucy Banda Sichone. He referred the trio to the Standing Orders Committee for sentencing.

The Supreme Court in its Landmark judgment had earlier expunged from statute the Public Order Act terming it unconstitutional. Leader of the House and Vice-President, Godfrey Miyanda reintroduced in Parliament a draft Bill reinstating the Public Order Act with mild amendments.

Lucy Sichone wrote in her column wrote a piece entitled “Miyanda has forgotten the Need for Justice”. She rebuked Miyanda for his harsh words against the Judiciary and stated that the same judges he was ridiculing had saved his life when they acquitted him of treason charges under Kaunda. She made the famous remark that seemed to have riled Nabulyato “Miyanda under the protective skirts of old grandmother Nabulyato…”

In the article, “What will be replacing the Public Order Act Mean?” Fred Mmembe criticized Miyanda’s cowardly remarks against the Supreme Court Justices accusing Miyanda of speaking only because he enjoyed Parliamentary Powers and Privileges.

Mwape wrote an article “Miyanda Missed the Point” raising similar contradictions.

When the trio failed to appear before his committee, the Speaker jailed them indefinitely. They were only saved when the court later declared Nabulyato’s action as illegal.

Had Nabulyato become a political dinosaur?

But the Nabulyato of earlier years showed great intellect and a fierce sense of independence. The records, letters and papers reproduced in this book actually attest to that.

Of interest is a secret letter he wrote to a beleaguered Kaunda in the 1980s, warning him of the risk of a coup or insurrection against his rule owing to the collapsed economy, unemployment and general despondency in the population.

His criticism of the USSR in a secret report after the visit of Moscow by a delegation of parliamentarians he headed is excellent.  Nabulyato believed in free enterprise and even owned businesses in Namwala. He suffered the consequences of this when as Speaker his salary was withdrawn because of UNIP’s Leadership Code. The Code barred leaders from owning businesses and those that declared so had to give up their salaries. He went on for many years without drawing a salary.

Another letter of interest is the one written to the new Prime Minister, Gen. Malimba Masheke, where Nabulyato urged government to abolish the Leadership Code calling it an “instrument of Apartheid”. He accused leaders of copying policies from Socialist or Communist countries without any understanding but caused damage to citizens.

He stated that he had written to his predecessor Kebby Musokotwane whose response on the matter showed lack of economic understanding. He said the solution offered by Musokotwane to refer him to the philosophy of humanism or asked people inconvenienced by the Code to decline the appointment as a call for Zambians to be ruled by “imbeciles” or “fools who cannot see beyond their noses”.

Another paper of interest is his views on a parliamentary democracy in comparison to a dictatorship in Africa. It shows an analytical mind that was troubled by the happenings in Africa. His thoughts clearly show that the profile of the dictator and his mistreatment of citizens fitted Kaunda and his troubled regime then. But he strangely refutes this with his own admission that “Zambia has not suffered any dictatorial deflections since the introduction of the One Party Participatory Democracy in 1973”.


The editor, Giacoma Macola has brought his wealth of academic research to the fore and has accompanied Nabulyato’s narratives with numerous footnotes that put events, places or ideas in proper historical context.

The book also has a “box” after every chapter that borrows heavily from Nabulyato’s other writings or pronouncements available to the editor beyond the written memoirs.

In fact there is a glossary at the end of the book of Nabulyato’s writings and thoughts.

In an attempt to make quality material available to many Zambians, Lembani Trust seems to have compromised on the cover and printing quality of the books. The designs and outlook of these books are not particularly impressive.

However, the works are outstanding and provide valuable insights into the history of Zambia and the Trust would do well to hire the services of a good cover designer such as Masuzyo Mtawali who designed Richard sakala’s and Chibamba Kanyama’s books.

This book is printed locally but a poor job was done. Lembani Trust should attempt to improve the quality of the books because the literary works inside is very powerful.

Because of the work of this Trust, the proper history of this country is emerging in its true sense with all these books and memoirs by actors, insiders and participants of the, pre and post colonial Zambia.

Nabulyato Memoirs are an honest work and the self reflection was usually faithful to the events. Further the freedom that Godfrey Nabulyato, the son to Robinson Nabulyato, gave to the editor pays off with the final outcome of this book. Godfrey commissioned and sponsored this work.

To the memories of Robinson Mwaake Nabulyato 1916 -2004.

TITLE: ROBINSON M. NABULYATO: African Realities: A Memoir

AUTHOR: ROBINSON Mwaakwe Nabulyato – Edited by Giacomo Macola

PRICE: K50, 000.00

PUBLISHER: The Lembani Trust

PAGES:  123

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