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Wim van Binsbergen

Part I


Chiefs and the state in Independent Zambia: exploring the Zambian National Press


homepage | Chief and state in Zambia overview page | Part II | Part III

van Binsbergen W. M. J., 1987, ‘Chiefs and the State in Independent Zambia : exploring the Zambian National Press? in J. Griffiths et E. A. B. van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal (eds), Journal of Legal Pluralism, special issue on chieftainship in Africa, n?25-26, pp. 139-201.

Part 1



In West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone, ‘chiefs? have successfully entered the modern age as characterized by the independent state and its bureaucratic institutions, peripheral capitalism, and a world-wide electronic mass culture. There, chiefs are more or less conspicuous both in daily life, in post-Independence literary products, and even in scholarly analysis.

          ? In the first analysis, the Zambian situation appears to be very different. After the spate of anthropological research on chiefs in the colonial era,[1] post-Independence historical research has added precision and depth to the scholarly insight in colonial chiefs and in the precolonial rulers whose royal or aristocratic titles the former had inherited ?or in those (few) cases where colonial chieftaincies had been downright invented for the sake of convenience and of systemic consistence all over the territory of the then Northern Rhodesia. But preciously little has been written on the role and performance of Zambian chiefs after Independence. A few recent regional studies offer useful glances at the chiefly affairs in selected rural districts,[2] but by and large they fail to make the link with the national level, and concentrate on the limited number of chiefs of the region under study. Hardly any attention is paid to chiefs in the many writings political scientists, political economists and students of public administration have devoted to post-Independence Zambia.[3] From the available literature one would get the impression that a totally consistent and monolithic, bureaucratic modern state has completely wiped out such fossil traces of traditional rulers as could only be of interest to antiquarian anthropologists and Zambian traditionalists anyway...

          ? In the course of the present argument I shall expose this perception of chiefs in contemporary Zambia as nothing but an academic prejudice, and one that is certainly not shared by the senior officials of the modern Zambian state (cf. Gregor 1967).

          ? Anyone who has intensively and over an extended period of time participated in post-Independence Zambian society, cannot help to be aware of the great importance still to be attached to chiefs. Nor is this importance limited to rural districts outside the ‘Line of Rail?[4] Zambia is among the few African countries that have reserved a specific and honorable place for chiefs at the national level, where the House of Chiefs (as a complementary institution to Parliament, not entirely unlike the House of Lords in the Westminster tradition) is established and regulated in great detail in the Independence Constitution and its various subsequent amendment acts.[5] The proceedings of the House of Chiefs are regularly published and offer very useful (if of course onesided and bowdlerized) materials on the interaction between chiefs and the postcolonial state (van Binsbergen n.d.). The relatively stable nature of this interaction is indicated by the fact that the House of Chiefs for as long as thirteen years (1968-1981) could be chaired by Chief Undi, Paramount?Chief of the Chewa and as such the neo-traditional[6] focus of one of the few major ethnic clusters in Zambia ?that of the Easterners who identify with the Chewa/Nyanja language as their mother-tongue or lingua franca.

          ? At the same time, the House of Chiefs constitutes only one aspect of chiefs/state interaction, and probably not the most important aspect. This is clear from develop-ments in the present decade. In 1981 Chief Undi was succeeded, as chairman of the House of Chiefs, by Chief Nalubamba.[7] In a country like Zambia, where national politics has had strong ethnic overtones, this indicates that the House of Chiefs is becoming less effective as an arena for ethnic confrontation. Chief Nalubamba belongs to an ethnic group (the Ila) which numerically does not rank among Zambia’s major ethnic groups, whose language is not among the seven officially recognized Zambian languages, and whose chieftainship lacks connotations of exalted splendor and precolonial statehood ?in contrast with e.g. the Paramount Chiefs of the Lozi and the Bemba, the Litunga and Chitimukulu respectively, who until recently never made it to the House of Chiefs or other executive or advisory bodies of the post-colonial state. Subsequently, however, at the Mulungushi Conference of 22-29 August, 1983, these very same Litunga and Chitimukulu have been co-opted as members of a much more powerful political body than the House of Chiefs: the Central Committee of Zambia’s ruling party, the United National Independence Party (U.N.I.P.) ?a most significant attempt ‘to bring the chiefs in the main political stream, to turn them into nationalists rather than traditionalists?/span>[8]

A detailed, book-length study of chiefs and the central state in post-Independence Zambia would be most timely. The present argument is only a first instalment toward such an ambitious project.[9] Primarily, it seeks to state ?for the first time in Zambian studies ?the empirical case for a new, less prejudiced look at chiefs in post-Independence Zambia. My purpose at this stage is exploratory, far more than analytical or theoretical. I intend to argue the need for further data collection and analysis, not to already offer at this point the extensive and superior data and profound analysis we are ultimately aiming at ?first a more fertile basis of related studies and publications has to be created, by a number of scholars from various disciplines.

          ? Where does one find, for the postcolonial period, national-level data on a issue that scholarship has left untouched? Published official data (such as the House of Chiefs Minutes and the parliamentary Hansard) deal with only one type of highly formalized settings, and therefore their considerable sociological significance could only be assessed against the background of richer data of a more general and informal nature. Findings from personal field-work at the local and regional level, on the other hand, are necessarily limited if not unique, and it would require enormous resources of time and funds to go and expand them into a comparative study, i.e. collecting similar data in a sufficient number of Zambian locations. Rather unexpectedly (from an anthropological point of view), Zambian newspapers turned out to contain the type of nation-wide, manysided, relatively unprocessed data suitable for a first empirical exploration.

          ? Of course, journalistic data are not to be taken at face value. Also Zambian journalists, in their approach to chiefs today, have occasionally displayed the sort of biases descri-bed above for academic writers on Zambian society. Chiefs as a topic are conducive to folkloristic or even touristic stereotypes, and this in itself constitutes a most significant aspect of the processes of transformation (cognitive and symbolic redefinition, eco-nomic commoditization and bureaucratic subjugation) in the course of which a post-colonial popular culture is begin forged, as a means of communication between peasants and the state. Chieftainship is a major item in this popular culture; ‘tribe?(cf. van Binsbergen 1985a) is another. It is possible to pierce through these stereotypes as applied by the reporters, and to glean empirical information from Zambian newspapers. At the same time, at a more profound level even the journalistic stereotypes themselves would amount to significant information: they are public, widespread and influential statements of collective representations (involving chiefs, tradition, power, political and moral order etc.) in postcolonial Zambian society. My present aim is to bring out these collective representations as well as hint at the patterns of social and political relations by which they are generated and reproduced.

An Example: The 1987 Kuomboka Ceremony

An example is in order here. The most obvious Zambian case of folklorization is the annual Kuomboka ceremony to mark the Litunga’s moving to dry land as the water in the Zambezi river rises. The ceremony is discussed, and photographs of it are shown, in much of the literature on the Lozi,[10] as well as many general works on Zambian culture, history and tourism. A recent newspaper report[11] highlights the 1987 cere-mony in terms that on one level are folkloristic and only relevant for the study of symbolic and ideological (as distinct from e.g. political, judicial, social and economic) processes:

?...) Over the years the ceremony (...) has heightened cultural awareness, pulled in the tourist traffic and its colour has intensified with the time. This year, however, the ceremony is bound to be a unique one. It coincides with the 10th anniversary of the present Litunga, Ilute Yeta’s installation. [sic] (...)

              ? Chairman of the Kuomboka Coordinating Association, Mr Samuel Mulozi (...) said: ‘‘(...) We are proud of the stature the ceremony has reached not as a province but as Zambians. Every country is proud of its cultural heritage and Zambia is no exception.’’

              ? (...) [V]ests emblazoned with the relevant message (...) will be worn by more than 120 paddlers of the huge Nalikwanda [royal barge ?WvB] (...)

              ? (...) [T]he association printed cards for identification of prominent visitors to the ceremony as well as tourists so that they would find it easy to locate vantage points for viewing the colourful ceremony. (...)

              ? The vests (...) will not replace the usual attire of royal barge paddelers, but will be worn inside merely to add decor to the 10th anniversary. The paddlers will still wear their animal skin paddling skirts, will be barefooted and for headgear, the usual ‘‘mishukwe’’ (headscraf) on which rests the tufts of a lion’s name [ sic, mane, WvB ] will go as usual (...)

              ? The Kuambnka this year is expected to have more traditional dances, some from theroyal establishment [ i.e. traditional court, WvB ] , than is usual because of the installation festivities. (...)

At the same time, however, this newspaper article contains plenty of factual information that has a direct bearing on the place of chiefs in Zambia today ?showing that much more is involved than the expressions of an impotent peripheral culture, far away from the political and economic centre of the country. The Litunga’s membership of the Central Committee is pointed out, as well as his belonging to the Seventh Day Adventist church ?a denomination that has had considerable appeal among the Zambian elite. The subtle balance between neo-traditional office and one’s obligations as a Christian is hinted at:

‘His Kuombokas have usually been on a Friday, a Saturday being a Sabbath for him. This year a special dispensation had to be made for the Litunga to have the joy of remembering his installation day ten years ago.?o:p>

              ? The sponsorship role of Zambian parastatals is indicated. Not only do transport companies go out of their way in order to contribute to the ceremony’s success, bridging the more than 500 km between the ‘line of rail?and Mongu in Western Province ?also the chairman of the Kuomboka Coordinating Association turns out to be Zambia National Provident Fund (znpf) deputy director, whereas the innovative, emblazoned vests (with their strong connotations of commoditization) are said to be donated by Zambia State Insurance Corporation (zsic). The reader gets more than a glimpse of the urban-based ethnic associations behind the rural ceremony:

‘The Kitwe branch of the association has donated some safari suits for the royal drummers as well as other paraphernalia. The Kuomboka Cordination [sic] Association which has other branches in Ndola and Livingstone will no doubt have its efforts for this year’s special Kuomboka augmented by the Kuomboka-Kufuluhela Committee based in Mongu which works in liaison with the royal Kuta [Lozi traditional court ?WvB]. (...) Some elders based on the line of rail and who are members of the coordinating committee will be at hand to witness the ceremony.?o:p>

              ? These people organize for goals which go beyond folklore and festivals, and which directly concern the economic upkeep (the material reproduction, in other words) of the neo-traditional courts:

‘The (...) association (...) has a pivotal role, according to Mr Mulozi, in assisting towards the maintenance of the royal establishment [i.e. traditional court ?WvB] not only at Lealui but other palaces at Nalolo, Libonda and others in the Western Province.?o:p>

In this context, a well-worn formulae of the Zambian state’s philosophy of develop-ment is given a new if rhetorical meaning; for while the Litungaship has enjoyed a considerable state subsidy for nearly a century now,

?‘‘We strongly believe in the creation of the concept of self-reliance at traditional level instead of looking to the Government,’’ said Mr Mulozi. The idea of enabling the royal establishment to depend more on local communities would go a long way in imbuing the people with a sense of cultural values and heritage. This in turn promoted dignity and pride in cultural values.?o:p>

              ? Thus even an ordinary newspaper report indicates remarkably close links between the state and a major chief, through a neo-traditional ceremony in the Zambian rural periphery ?links in terms of economic support, development ideology, dual office (of the ceremony’s protagonist the Litunga, but also of the urbanites who combine modern careers with the furthering of a neo-traditional ceremony in a remote part of the country). Little wonder that the Zambian state makes use of the ceremony as some sort of national showpiece, where even its most senior office-bearers may appear alongside its most promising international allies:

‘Last year, American ambassador to Zambia Mr Paul Hare and Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Robinson Nabulyato were guests of honour at the Kuomboka. This year, many more dignitaties, whose names were not released in advance, were invited.?o:p>

              ? Finally, what strikes one in the report is a sense of indirectness. The intertwinement of state and chieftainship, within the postcolonial economy and popular culture, is all there, but the state does not itself undertake the organization of the ceremony, nor does e.g. the state President participate in person. The illusion of two separate worlds, of boundaries between the modern and the neo-traditional, is carefully maintained ?almost as if the raison-d’etre of chieftainship in postcolonial Zambia is: to evoke a political and cultural focus that appears to be outside of and independent from the state, yet is an effective part of the state’s hegemonic apparatus.[12]

          ? The above example may convince the reader of the potential of newspaper materials for our present research undertaking. Meanwhile, the shift in emphasis between the House of Chiefs and the Central Committee indicates variations and developments within an overall structure of political relations and popular culture that ?from the vantage point of one who has studied Zambian society for the better part of two decades ?does not appear to have radically changed since Independence (1964). My aim in the present paper is to chart that underlying structure; the details of its processual dynamics over the decades then remain for further study.

          ? It is methodologically attractive to base our exploration on a well-defined set of data, whose wider context we can already interpret with the power of hindsight. I have therefore analysed, with the above questions in mind, virtually all references to chiefs in Zambian national newspapers in the period 1 February 1972 - 1 February 1973.

          ? The tentative analysis presented in this paper does prompt further research, and in its empirical generalizations and hypotheses already indicates some of the directions into which such research would have to be developed in future. But it is not, of course, a full statement covering the entire post-colonial period, nor does it do justice, yet, to all aspects and regional variations of the topic under study.


For our present exploration, the two Zambian daily newspapers (the government-owned Zambia Daily Mail, earlier called Daily Mail, of Lusaka, and the privately-owned Times of Zambia of the Copperbelt, with its Sunday Times of Zambia supple-ment) were processed for the period indicated.[13]

          ? This was a crucial period in post-Independence Zambia, in which unip finalized the preparation for, and in the end (December 1972) realized, the Second Republic, a one-party state under exclusive unip control. To achieve this purpose, the opposition party, anc,[14] had to be persuaded to give up its identity and amalgamate with unip. In the first half of 1972 the ‘National Commission on the Establishment of a One-Party Participatory Democracy in Zambia? appointed by President Kaunda and chaired by the Vice-President Mr. Mainza Chona, had organized hearings in all provinces of the country, and had generated a general reflection and debate as to the future constitutional and political structure of Zambia; the Commission’s report was published in October, 1972 (Republic of Zambia 1972). In the general drive for national unity, tribalism and regionalism were exposed as the specters behind short-lived and vigorously squashed expressions of political dissidence, such as the upp (United Progressive Party). In the western part of the country, a more lasting threat to national unity and stability had been posed, ever since the beginning of nationalism, by the aspirations of the Lozi aristocracy centring on the Litunga: heir to a royal title associated with the precolonial kingdom (Bulozi or Barotseland) that had played a major part in the administrative and missionary penetration of Zambia in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Having enjoyed very special privileges (including Protectorate status) throughout the colonial period and, at Independence, through the Barotseland Agreement (cf. Barotseland 1964), it was only in 1969 ?three years before the period covered by our present exploration ? that Barotseland became simply Western Province and its administrative and constitutional status was forced into line with Zambia as a whole.[15] Remarkably, in Zambia at the time these sub-national allegiances were seldom denounced for being remnants from the colonial and precolonial past. On the contrary, the political and societal transformation process that was to culminate in the Second Republic, entailed a reappraisal of the Zambian past. Here one claimed to find the moral values (humanist ones, as President Kaunda’s self-styled national philosophy of Humanism has it) and political procedures whose allegedly traditional, perennial nature as part of the Zambian heritage were to lend additional legitimation to the One-Party Participatory Democracy about to be established. It was in the past that unip sought a model of internal debate leading to consensus, without the formalized opposition inherent in the North Atlantic model of political parties. Moreover, in response to the popular demands from the grass-roots level, there was an increasing concern with the fair sharing out of the material fruits of Independence; a Leadership Code, announced in 1972, had to ensure that politicians and other leaders in the bureaucratic bodies of the state or close to the state, would not receive a lion’s share; limits were imposed on the combination of political office with gainful employment, entrepreneurship, etc. Further in the economic domain, the virtual collapse of the copper market and the two world energy crises were yet to come; at the Copperbelt even a closed-down copper mine was reopened. But already one was beginning to realize that Zambia’s industrial monoculture, copper, had to be complemented by concerted agricultural development; only one year earlier, in 1971, the enactment of the Village Registration and Development Act had provided an additional administrative structure for such development, in a way that stressed the formal responsibilities of chiefs and headmen. Meanwhile, in a cultural region where for centuries chiefs had attempted to mediate between their people and nature[16] meteo-rological conditions were not in favour of agricultural efforts: the rains, normally arriving by October, were alarmingly late in 1972.

Chiefs and Journalists

Under these circumstances perhaps a somewhat larger newspaper coverage on chiefs may have been attained than in certain other years. On the other hand, many of the items deal with the accommodation between chiefs and state bureaucracies at the local and regional level, without much reference to the ongoing political process at the national level, and in ways that appear to have remained fairly constant over the years. For an exploration, the material available for 1972-73 would do very well. But like all sources, newspapers as sources of information on Zambian chiefs must be subjected to criticism, which relates these sources?contents and meaning to the process of their generation and the social position of those involved in that process.[17]

          ? The 135 items (articles and/or pictures) in the Zambian newspapers, in the period indicated, contained a total of 174 separate references to chiefs. Twelve of these references were to past incumbents[18] of Zambian chiefly titles, and cannot properly be included in an analysis of actual relations between chiefs and journalists, in an attempt to assess the flow of current information. The information in the remaining 162 references to contemporary chiefs[19] often (59%) derived from urban sources; however, a substantial amount of news was gathered in rural towns (24%), and even in villages (17%), ?the latter primarily the chiefly headquarters themselves. The prominence of rural sources adds greatly to the validity and reliability of the newspaper data to be presented and analysed in the present argument.

          ? Since Zambian newspapers are physically made in the urban centres, where the concentration of journalists, politicians and news-generating bureaucracies and enter-prises is highest, one could advance the hypothesis that a chief’s chances of news coverage are greater, if:

(a) the capital or headquarters of that chief is in the peri-urban area of a major city ?the Zambian journalist’s habitual haunt; and/or

(b) if that chief is a member of the House of Chiefs, which not only has its annual sessions in the national capital but which also tends to bring its members into all sorts of interaction with senior politicians and bureaucrats who in themselves are already in the focus of journalists?attention.

          ? The effect of both factors is manifest but far from overwhelming: about half of all references concern chiefs who are neither members of the House of Chiefs nor dwell in peri-urban areas. There is considerable overrepresentation on chiefs (particularly Senior Chiefs Mushili and Chiwala) in the rural and peri-urban areas of the Copperbelt (not too far from the offices of the Times of Zambia).[20] Yet the coverage on less conspicuous chiefs is surprisingly large ?in the items reported by the newspapers?own reporters as well as in those provided by the Zambia News Agency (zana).[21]

      However, a closer look at the contents of items for which information was collected at rural towns and in villages, suggests an additional factor of news coverage on chiefs: on the regional and local level, chiefs interact with modern politicians and civil servants, and journalists whose assigned duty it is to report on the latter, may more or less automatically include the former. In other words, even a news report on a chief and derived from information gathered at his or her capital does not always mean that the reporter set out specifically to get news coverage on that chief: one may just have been following the trail of a prominent regional politician. This effect is clearest when public functions are reported to take place at the chief’s capitals: chiefs?funerals and installa-tion ceremonies, as well as visits from other chiefs. Almost invariably a region’s senior politicians and bureaucrats take part in these events, which in itself testifies to the importance attributed to chiefs in independent Zambia. These public occasions as generated by the dynamics of neo-traditional political life can be said to have an important function in bringing together chiefs and modern officials, exchanging information and establishing or maintaining social and political ties. [3.18; 4.2][22] This leads to newspaper reports like the following:

?000 see new Chief Mwangala installed

More than 8,000 people celebrated the long-awaited installation of Chief Mwangala at Tafelansoni, in Chadiza district.

              ? The ceremony was conducted by Paramount Chief Undi of the Chewa.

              ? Mr. Joseph Phiri, 28, is the new Chief Mwangala. The late chief died in January last year.

              ? Among those present at the installation ceremony were the Minister of State for Southern Province, Mr. Zongani Banda, governors from Chipata, Chadiza and Lundazi, Chief Chikomeni of Lundazi, Provincial and district heads of departments, and party officials of the province.

  ?  ?Addressing people at the ceremony, permanent secretary for Eastern Province, Mr. Samuel Kafumukache, said that the Government laid much emphasis on the importance of the role played by traditional rulers in the development of the country. He said chiefs were required to participate actively in promoting and fostering the spirit of unity among the people in their areas for the success of the country’s development. ?ZANA.?[3.18]

              ? As this quotation demonstrates, the report on such neo-traditional rallies may reveal interesting relations linking modern and neo-traditional politics. Not only is the primary officiant, Paramount Chief Undi, President of the House of Chiefs and a member of the Chona Commission, but also specific mention is made of the Minister of State for Southern Province, Mr. Zongani Banda: obviously a subject of Chief Mwangala, called to high modern office in which he oversees a different part of the country, yet keeping in close contact with his rural home and his chief in Eastern Province.

          ? The rallying function of chiefly funerals is also very well documented for the funeral of Princess Nakatindi (see below), which brought?President Kaunda and ‘more than 4,000 mourners from various parts of Zambia?[4.9] to Nawinda, the Princess’s chiefly headquarters, way out in Sesheke district [4.6, 4.9, 4.10, 4.11]. Similar neo-traditional rallies are generated by kinship ceremonies and rites of passage involving senior politicians, chiefs, and/or their kinsmen. Towards the end of this paper I shall discuss one such kinship ceremony: a name-inheriting ritual focusing on President Kaunda’s deceased mother, Mrs. Helen Kaunda. Another example is the female puberty rite staged for a niece of the Vice-President Mr. Mainza Chona:

‘Chona at Chisungu

Vice-President Mainza Chona was among several hundreds of people who attended a two-day ‘chisungu?(initiation) ceremony of his niece, 21-year-old Miss MacLeanah Hangala which ended yesterday.

              ? It was held at Nampeyo, Chief Chona’s headquarteers [sic] about 24 kilometers east of Monze.

              ? Miss Hangala is an employee with the Standard Bank in Mufulira and is a former student of Saint Mary’s Secondary School in Livingstone.

              ? The ceremony was also attended by the Minister of State for Administration at Freedom House, Mr. Ali Simbule. Kalomo District Governor Mr. Joseph Hamatwi, Monze District Governor Mr. Cox Sikumba and District Governor for Mazabuka Mr. Gideon Simusa. [sic; elliptical sentence ?WvB] Mr. Chona later returned to Lusaka.?[7.13; cf. 7.13a]

              ? The event is interesting even beyond the fact that a young woman who by education, upper-class position and relatively advanced age could be expected to opt out of this neo-traditional rite of passage, yet went through it. The participation of senior politi-cians suggests that the ceremony has come to combine its cultural meaning with that of a social function for Southern Province’s political leadership. Bringing together the Vice-President, a Minister of State from the unip national headquarters, and three district governors, at the capital of Chief Chona (a member of the House of Chiefs and clearly a close relative of Mr. Mainza Chona), the ceremony suggests a considerable continuity between neo-traditional and modern leadership, and shows how a chief’s capital can still form the focus of regional ties between modern politicians.

          ? This is an apt illustration of the unexpected structural insights the newspaper material may yield. Other items from the same material (see below) enable us to explore these relations further, e.g. when Mr. Hamatwi articulates himself as a traditionalist very much in support of chiefs?claims to powers over nature and fertility; or when it turns out that some of the participants in the initiation ritual found themselves, only ten days earlier, in an large Southern Province mourning delegation to the name-inheriting ceremony in President Kaunda’s family in Chinsali, Northern Province ?seeking to combine traditionalism, Tonga ethnic solidarity, and national unity under unip and President Kaunda...

          ? Plenty of material from very remote districts and concerning relatively unknown chiefs has found its way to the newspaper columns. Sometimes the personal links involved in this rural-urban transmission of information are unmistakable, e.g. when the death is reported of chief Nyalugwe of Petauke district (Eastern Province), with the addition that the Editor-in-Chief of the Zambian News Agency is his nephew. [2.7]

          ? On other occasions the coverage seems to reflect an editor’s desire to champion a popular cause and challenge the government,[23] e.g. when a quarrel between Chief Ishinde (Zambezi district, Northwestern Province) and the Permanent Secretary for Northwestern Province on the establishment of a forest reserve on this chief’s land was commented upon in the following terms in an editorial:

‘It is hard to believe that a chief could tell the Government to go and jump in the lake. Yet this is precisely what appears to have happened in the North-Western Province district of Zambezi.

              ? (...) Such courage is to be admired. The chief’s concern for the welfare of his people is to be praised too. In fact, if we had more chiefs with such a profound concern for their people, half our rural development problems would be solved.

              ? We are not encouraging the chiefs to be defiant against the Government. Far from it.(...) What the chiefs need is to be treated with respect, the respect accorded them by their own people.

              ? Only in this way can the Government hope to obtain their co-operation in development. We are glad that in the Zambezi situation, no attempt has so far been made to browbeat the chief into submission. It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the intense resentment of the chief’s subjects if this were done.

              ? The chiefs, regardless of what some critics would like us to believe, still occupy an important place in Zambia. It is even more important now that the success of the rural reconstruction programme may ultimately depend on their co-operation. (...)? [3.24]

              ? This not surprisingly led to a considerable row and a restatement of the official policy on chiefs:

‘The Secretary-General to the Government, Mr. A.A. Milner, has denied the accusation carried in yesterday’s Times of Zambia opinion column which accused the government of not according the chiefs the respect which they command from their people. Mr. Milner called the allegation most unfortunate and very misleading.

              ? In a statement last night, Mr. Milner said: ‘‘Since independence, the government has been at pains to preserve the respect and authority of our traditional rulers. The government has always treated these traditional leaders with the respect they deserve.’’ (...)?[3.23]

              ? Citing such convincing examples as the establishment and functioning of the House of Chiefs, ‘two salary increases for chiefs since Independence? Chiefs?membership of the Chona Commission, and their new roles under the Village Registration Act of 1971 ?I shall return to all these points in the course of my argument ?Mr. Milner tries to play down the conflict and concludes:

‘The government has been particularly conscious of the need to honour and respect our traditional institutions. This is the reason why it has preserved traditional practices of selection and election in various parts of the country. This respect for tradition is profoundly rooted in our Party and government policy.?[3.23]

              ? In this case, the Times of Zambia ?independent from, and always fairly critical of government ?may have been over-zealous in representing the underdog’s point of view. By and large, however, it can be said that, whatever the prejudices of individual journalists and correspondents, the Zambian newspapers at the time had a neutral view of chiefs, accepting them as part and parcel of the Zambian society they had the duty to report on, with measure, often as a by-product of their reporting commitment vis-a-vis modern politicians and bureaucrats, and only occasionally taking sides.

Three Academic Views on Zambian Chiefs

In the period covered, three University of Zambia lecturers were given the opportunity to write extensively on the place and future of chiefs, and in these articles the pros and cons were very neatly matched. These three articles together contain major elements in the contradictory perception of chieftainship in Zambian society.

          ? Mr. G. Kalenga Simwinga, a Zambian junior lecturer, pictures chiefs as incompetent vis-a-vis modern bureaucratic and political structures, as foci of ethnic divisiveness, as unnecessary for rural development now that the Party has fully captivated the allegiance of the rural masses. The institution of chieftainship is called too expensive:

‘In the past three years alone, the Government has spent about K1,837,150 on chiefs and their retainers.?[3.16][24]

What is more, chieftainship is obsolete and should be allowed to die out, as it has in Europe, where its remnants (monarchies) can only be seen in the most backward of countries...

?...) The prevalence of conservative and general reactionary attitudes among the rural folk is largely attributable to the existence of this institution. (...) [H]e can only be regarded as a good chief if he does what is expected of a chief as dictated by custom. His actions are therefore dictated by the need to fulfil the expectations of his people. These expectations lead to a vicious situation which results in stagnation.

              ? (....) At this time of nation building in Zambia, the institution of chief also represents one of the obstacles to the process of welding the many ethnic groups into a unified whole.

              ? (...) In the implementation of development projects in a country like Zambia, where political mobilisation of the masses through the party is so strong and successful right down to the grass root level of society the need for chiefs to solicit the support of rural folk does not arise. The party can easily and effectively achieve this without the Government paying for a bit of mystical support from the chiefs.

              ? (...) The question we should ask ourselves now as we enter the Second Republic is not whether this anachronistic, divisive, undemocratic and costly institution should be preserved, but how long it is going to be with us. (...)?[3.16]

              ? Without picking up the obvious loose ends in Simwinga’s argument (party support was very far from unanimous among Zambian peasants at the time, and in a Third-World context the Nordic countries, Holland, Belgium, even Great Britain could scarcely pass as underdeveloped in 1972), Dr. V. Subramaniam, a professor of public administration from South Asia, and mainly drawing on parallels from that part of the world, agrees with Simwinga’s view that chiefs are obsolete. He stresses how African chiefs? were dependent on the colonial state, how both chiefs and colonialists were taken by surprise by the rapid development of African nationalism, and how chiefs proved unable to turn themselves into a modern elite. However, Professor Subrama-niam’s main purpose is apparently to sound a note of caution:

‘There is little to be said against the abolition of chieftainships ?except that, done summarily with trumpet and fanfare, it would lead to false expectations. And old and shrinking institution may be allowed to disappear slowly and any dramatic step against it can be considered a diversionary tactic.

              ? A more urgent problem for the Zambian economy and policy is the flabbiness and lack of self-discipline of the emerging professional and commercial middle class.?o:p>

              ? Finally, Mr. B. Kakoma, a Zambian junior lecturer of history, offers both the most sophisticated and the most optimistic view of chieftainship. He demonstrates that the institution of chieftainship is capable of far-reaching adaptation to modern politics. King Sobhuza’s case in Swaziland is generously interpreted as a amalgamation of a chiefly tradition with the one-man-one-vote principle, whereas two recent Zambian cases of chiefly succession are cited as proof that neo-traditional constitutional arrangements are capable of adaptation so as to produce chiefly candidates that are well-versed in the modern political domain and acceptable to the central government: that of the Lozi Litunga in 1968, when Mr. Godwin Mbikusita succeeded Mwanawina; and that of Kanongesha, the senior Southern Lunda chief in Mwinilunga district, North-western Province.[25] Far from regarding chieftainship as on its way out in Zambia, Mr. Kakoma makes it very clear that the chiefs are still very important factors in modern politics in the rural areas:

?...) In Zambia the forces of nationalism are firmly entrenched in national leadership. The chiefs, even as a collective group in the obscure House of Chiefs, have never questioned the nationalist claims. In defending their passive approach to major political issues, the chief?spokesmen have argued that the institution serves as a unifying force in the present situation of multi-party politics where competition for party members has sometimes erupted into violence. In any case, as paid servants of the Government, chiefs cannot afford to oppose the Government and at the same time expect recognition. But the more politically-minded among them have not failed to condemn politicians for being too power-hungry and discountenancing patronage to their traditional leaders.

              ? The base of the chiefs?political power lies in their local areas. In those areas where the institution of chieftainship is strong the selection of a new leader through traditional procedures more or less serves as an automatic guarantee of his popularity. (...) It is for this reason that political parties seek to captivate local support through the chiefs because it is essential for winning both local and general elections. In part, this explains why clandestine grooming of qualified candidates whose loyalty is unquestionable is undertaken by the nationalists. UNIP policy consists in, as far as possible, appointing in rural areas regional and branch officials, men and women who are, if not entirely native to their districts, at least acceptable to the community as a whole. They must be persons who can gain the co-operation of the local chiefs. During local elections, with most of the chiefs?areas being designated as wards (or local constituencies) it is a common practice to put up candidates who are approved by the chiefs.

              ? (...) [I]n Western Province where chieftainship is very strong (...) UNIP’s initial success was derived from its appeal to the chiefs, particularly in the campaign against the corrupt regime of the late Mwanawina. When the party promised reform the elders took this to mean restoration of power to the chiefs. Hence UNIP scored an overwhelming victory in the 1964 election. However by 1968 when the next general election came, the traditional leaders had been estranged by the Government’s nationalist reforms which increased central government control. The price which UNIP paid for this was the loss of the province to the opposition party. That seems to be largely a direct confrontation between the Government and the chiefs. But more often than not conflict between chiefs and nationalist have tended to be precipitated at the low levels with the latter capitulating in the end.?[2.16]

              ? Having argued the continuing political importance of chieftainship in postcolonial Zambia in such candid and convincing terms, Mr. Kakoma’s conclusion scarcely follows and seems to be largely meant for the gallery:

‘In independent Africa, therefore, it is for the nationalist rather than the traditional chiefs who have risen as the masters in charge of all the decision-making processes. They are able to override the chiefs because they have the mandate from the masses.

              ? Although at the local level the chief appears to command his traditional popularity the inherent weakness ?the fact that his influence is restricted to his immediate domain which is only a tiny portion of the nation state ?is irreconcilable [sic] with [sic] supra-tribal national outlook.?[2.16]

[1]The colonial anthropological contribution to the study of Zambian chieftainship centred on the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and the Manchester School ?and included such classic studies of chieftainship as Barnes 1954; Cunnison 1959; Gluckman 1943, 1967; Richards 1935; Watson 1958; cf. Werbner 1984 for a recent appraisal.

[2]Kapteyn & Emery 1972: 11-13; Bond 1975; Caplan 1970; van Binsbergen 1985a, 1986; van Binsber-gen & Geschiere 1985b: 261-70; van Donge 1985; Papstein 1978, 1985; Administration for Rural Development 1977: 23-24; O’Brien 1983; Garvey 1977; Kasevula et al. 1976; Singer 1985; Kangamba 1978a, 1978b.

[3]E.g. Fincham & Markakis 1980; Ollawa 1979; Pettman 1974; Tordoff 1980; Gertzel 1984; Turok 1979. Tordoff 1974 is a favorable exception in that it contains various shorter references to the role of chiefs, especially in Molteno’s (1974) contribution.

[4]The central part of Zambia (from Livingstone in the south via the capital Lusaka, to the Copperbelt in the north), which is the most developed in terms of urbanization and industry.

[5]Cf. Republic of Zambia 1965; Rubin & Tarantino 1980. In recent years, chieftainship as a qualification for membership of the House of Chiefs is moreover explicitly based on the Chiefs Act; cf. the updated version of the Zambian constitution as presented in Rubin et al. 1985. Official lists of the 280-odd recognized chiefs and their councillors have been regularly published by both the colonial and the post-colonial state; cf. Northern Rhodesia 1943; Republic of Zambia 1966, 1973.

[6]The imposition, upon complex and varied precolonial political systems, of a conception of chieftain-ship (with e.g. notions of the coincidence of cultural and political units, of formal bureaucratic hierarchy encompassing all incumbents under an apical ‘Paramount Chief? and of bounded areas of jurisdiction and administration) as defined and evolved by the colonial state ?specifically in terms of ‘Native Authorities??renders it meaningless to speak of chiefs with reference to precolonial Zambia. The very concept of ‘chief? is a colonial creation, the successful attempt to engineer a neo-tradition, even though that attempt and its products were justified by reference to some precolonial political leadership, which however was redefined beyond recognition (cf. Apthorpe 1959, 1960). It is in this sense that the term ‘neo-traditional?is used throughout my argument. A fuller theoretical discussion is outside our present scope.

[7]Zambia Daily Mail, 17 November 1981; Zambia Nieuwsbrief, 11 (1982), p. 3.

[8]Times of Zambia, 29.8.83; Touwen-van der Kooij, in press.

[9]Largely on the basis of my field-work on chiefs in Western Province, 1972-74, 1977, 1978, and archival research in the Zambian National Archives and Kaoma district files, 1974 and 1978, I have drafted a number of partial studies in this connexion, including a lengthy analysis of the Zambian House of Chiefs: van Binsbergen, n.d. Meanwhile, I am indebted to my colleague Emile van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal for creating a stimulating context towards the analysis of my data on contemporary Zambian chieftainship; and to him and John Griffiths for their editorial remarks, and their patience while this contribution was written for the present special issue of the Journal of Legal Pluralism.

[10]E.g. Yeta 1956; Gluckman 1951; Turner 1952.

[11]Mubiana, D., [Main title illegible:] ? ‘‘Malyalya’’ festivities to spill over,?Times of Zambia, 3 April, 1987, p. 6. Here as elsewhere below, the paragraph structure of the newspaper items quoted has been edited, and the abbreviation ‘Mr?is changed to ‘Mr.?

[12]Cf. Bayart 1979; van Binsbergen et al. 1986: 382f and references cited there.

[13]From both newspapers together, 135 items (articles with or without pictures; or isolated pictures with a caption) were gleaned that mentioned chiefs or implicitly referred to chiefs. This amounts to only one entry per 4 or 5 days for either newspaper. I may have missed a few due to the somewhat irregular supply of newspapers in the outskirts of Lusaka, where I then lived. I am grateful to my research assistant at the time, Mr. Denes Shiyowe, for processing this and much other newspaper material into a more manageable physical format; and to the editors of Zambia Nieuwsbrief (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) for providing additional materials.

[14]African National Congress, Zambia’s first nationalist party, founded by Mr. Harry Nkumbula in the early 1950s; UNIP itself had developed out of ANC in the late 1950s.

[15]Caplan 1970; Stokes 1966; Prins 1980; Ranger 1968; Mutumba Mainga 1973; Mulford 1967: ch. vi.

[16]Cf. Schoffeleers 1979; van Binsbergen 1981: ch. 3; Ranger 1985.

[17]For a sophisticated recent study of Zambian national newspapers, cf. Kasoma 1986. This book’s argument, however, concentrates on the relations between the press and the national political centre, and does not touch on the topics (chiefs, rural journalism) around which my discussion revolves here.

[18]Of whom eleven specified by name; in addition, one reference is to an unspecified collectivity of Bemba chiefs in the past; these past references do not include councillors, court justices etc.

[19]Out of these 162 references, 10 were to chief’s councillors: two to the former Bemba traditional ‘Prime Minister?Mr. Chisashi; and eight to Lozi indunas (= councillors), including four to the Ngambela (Lozi traditional ‘Prime Minister?: three to the parting Ngambela Mr. Suu (who was demoted by President Kaunda in 1972), and one to the new Ngambela Mr. Mukonde. As far as status, functioning and relations vis-a-vis the modern central state are concerned, these councillors are so much part of the neo-traditional chiefly structure that I do not hesitate to include them in the total chiefly data set, despite the existence of sub-national, neo-traditional constitutional distinctions that defines the councillors?status as that of non-chiefs and commoners.

[20]Due to the early colonial pattern of land appropriation in the Lusaka region, and the extent of Lusaka Rural district, no equivalent peri-urban major chiefs (of the Soli, Sala and Lenje) are found in the immediate vicinities of Lusaka; cf. Brelsford 1935, 1965.

[21]In the corpus, reference is made to as many as 60 different chiefs. Among these 60, only 10 chiefs have more than two references. Peri-urban location and membership of the House of Chiefs again turn out to be major factors of such multiple reference, but they fail to account for two other multiple-reference clusters: chiefs from Northwestern Province whose confrontations with government development agencies created substantial problems; and the Litunga and the Lozi chiefly aristocracy at large ?indicative of the crucial role the latter has played in colonial and post-colonial Zambia, as both a threat to and (e.g. in Princess Nakatindi’s case) a keystone of UNIP’s nationalist politics.

[22]The Appendix gives the item numbers (usually displayed in the text between square brackets), specific newspaper, date and headlines if any, of all 1972-73 items that constitute my corpus of data.

[23]For systematic analyses of challenges, by the national press, of the Zambian government and party, cf. Kasoma 1986: 117f, 134f, 194f and passim; and Lungu 1986.

[24]In 1972, K1 equalled c. US$ 1.40.

[25]For details on the controversial Litunga succession, tacitly supported by President Kaunda, e.g. Caplan 1970. Chief Kanongesha had been involved in Zambian nationalist politics before his accession, and subsequently was an active member of the House of Chiefs.

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