By Amb. Emmanuel Mwamba
At the height of her church, she had built one of Northern Rhodesia’s largest and majestic cathedral, boasted of a membership exceeding 120,000 with the Church popular in parts of the Copperbelt and line of rail and crossing borders into southern Tanganyika, Belgian Congo (DRC) and Nyasaland (Malawi).
Many studies state that at the exponential growth the church was registering by 1963, if authorities did not crash her church, it would be Southern Africa’s and East Africa’s largest African initiated Christian Church.
But on August 3, 1964, Prophetess Lenshina lay arrested, her church demolished and some of her followers massacred in Zambia’s worst massacre.
The massacre saw the killing of 1,300 children, women and men, a massacre that is neither talked about or commemorated!
Official account put the death toll between 800-1300 people killed many at the hands of government forces in what is termed as the “Lumpa Uprising”.
Lenshina remained detained. She was later placed under house arrest and was moved to Chilenje, Lusaka until her death in 1978.
Her church was banished but members tried to survive in small groups sheltering in neighbouring states.
WHO WAS ALICE LENSHINA
She was born Alice Mulenga Lubusha in 1920 in Kasama, Northern Rhodesia.
She was a member of the Presbyterian Mission Church(the Church of Scotland).
In 1953 at the age of 33, she fell ill.
Reports differ of what caused her serious sickness.
Some reports state that she suffered a serious bout of malaria or meningitis while others state that she had an epileptic attack.
However, her followers said she died after a short illness.
And while the family were preparing for her burial rites, she awoke, and allegedly rose from the dead.
Alice explained that she died and went to heaven and met Jesus Christ.
She said she came back with instructions to cleanse the world.
She was a baptized by the Church and her visions became intense.
Because of her growing influence and her charismatic preaching, the Church expelled her and her husband, Petros Chintankwa.
She embarked on her preaching and prophetic mission which immediately grew her numbers of followers.
She rechristened herself as Alice Regina after Saint Regina, a virgin martyr and saint of the Catholic Church.
Regina is Lenshina in Bemba and she became Prophetess Lenshina.
Others say Lenshina meant “Queen” but many Bemba and other scholars agree that it’s derived from St. Regina.
She named her Church, the Lumpa Church dedicated to eradicate polygamy, witchcraft and sorcery.
By 1958, she had built the Grand Cathedral in Chinsali and her followers believed it was the pillar upon which Jesus Christ would descend from Heaven for his prophetic Second Coming.
“At the peak of her popularity about 1,000 Africans a week, would walk to the village, attend her church services, surrender their lives to Christ, and hand over their charms and amulets, plus a small fee, thus absolving themselves from the influence and renounce witchcraft”. John Hannah, Chinsali istrict Commissioner wrote in his official account.
COLONIAL AUTHORITY, CHURCHES, UNIP RISE AGAINST LUMPA CHURCH.
With her teachings that rejected earthly and secular authority, Prophetess Lenshina was bound to find herself in deep trouble.
She rejected government registration of her church, told her followers not to pay taxes and established her own villages outside the influence of secular world.
With her huge followers and growing, this threatened the authority of the district and provincial administrations which were interested in levying and collecting taxes.
Her influence also undermined the the authority of traditional chiefs over their subjects who were now pledging total allegiance to Prophetess Lenshina and the Lumpa Church.
More difficult,it annoyed the political establishment that blamed their failure to recruit new members.
The strongest political party in the area was the United Nations Independence Party(UNIP) which was at the verge of becoming the ruling party at national independence in 1964.
And UNIP’s famous sons, Kenneth Kaunda and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe came from Chinsali, the headquarters of the Lumpa Church.
Chinsali is also the spiritual birthplace of christianity in Northern Province and Zambia.
It had been a battleground for two competing Christian missions: the Roman Catholic Missionaries of Africa -The White Fathers, based at Llondola from 1934, and the United Free Church of Scotland, based at Lubwa since 1905.
And Lubwa Mission was a few kilometer away from the new Grand Cathedral of the Lumpa Church.
These traditional churches were also losing members in droves daily to the charismatic and African movement.
The confusion started with skirmishes with UNIP youths who were keen to disrupt the Church and allow membership recruitment for their political purposes.
This resulted in widespread violent clashes.
GOVERNMENT, COLONIAL AUTHORITIES BAN THE LUMPA CHURCH, ORDER ITS DISBANDMENT
On the eve of independence, the Lumpa Church constituted an open challenge to the supremacy of government and orders were given to ban it and disperse the followers.
District Commissioner at the time, John Hannah narrates in his official account of the saga, how both new Prime Minister, Kenneth Kaunda and Northern Rhodesia last Governor, Sir Evelyn Dennison Hone personally supervised the orders.
The Northern Rhodesia Army was sent into Chinsali to effect the ban of the Church, to quell the “resistance” and disperse and destroy the new villages of the followers.
“The day after the army arrived in Chinsali, we planned to attack Sione, the large village where Alice Lenshina had built her huge church”, District Commissioner Hannah explained.
He also narrated how a special official from London, General Lee was sent to supervise the military mission and the crushing of the Lumpa Church.
“District Commissioner, you do not know who I am. I am General Lee and I have come from London to see how much hardware you may need”.
Hannah stated that for the first time, she realised how serious London had taken the Lumpa issue which they were now calling, “The Lumpa Uprising” when there were no visible arms or weapons by the followers.
“It was then that I began to realize the gravity of the situation but also what was meant by the Pax Britannica -that behind the District Commissioner were his District Messengers, and behind them was the Police, and behind the Police was the small Northern Rhodesian Army; BUT behind all those was the whole strength of the British Army”. Hannah said.
A Report in Newyork Times after the mission reported that Kaunda reported in Parliament of the success if the military mission to quell the “uprising”.
The Report below states;
Aug. 12—Alice Lenshina, leader of the Lumpa cult whose rampage has cost 700 lives in three weeks, has surrendered to the Northern Rhodesian Government. She is in jail with her husband and two of her five children.
Alice Lenshina was a Zambian woman and self-appointed “prophetess” who is noted for her part in the “Lumpa Uprising”, which claimed 700 lives.
Lenshina founded and led the Lumpa Church, a religious sect that embraced a mixture of Christian and animist beliefs and rituals.
She was the founder of one of Africa’s prophetic and charismatic christian movement.
Authorities said her Church combined christianity and animistism, beliefs authorities classified as a dangerous cult or sect and proceeded to destroy it.
South Africa and Southern Rhodesia colonial authorities on the other hand allowed African initiated churches to thrive and the Zion Christian Church in South Africa is the largest African Initiated christian church in Southern Africa.
Others feared that the “Lumpa Sect” had taken the way of Kenya’s Mau Mau Movement and required disbandment!
Clearly Zambia needs to look at the circumstances that led to the unnecessary deaths and massacre of 1,300 Christians in Chinsali.
by John Hannah
(Provincial Administration, Northern Rhodesia, 1955-1969)
New York Times Archives
Dictionary of African Historical Biography. 2nd edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
Ewechue, Ralph (ed.).
Makers of Modern Africa. 2nd edition. London: Africa Books, 1991.
Wiseman, John A. Political Leaders in Black Africa. Brookfield, VT: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1991.
Additional reading: Roberts, Andrew.
The Lumpa Church of Alice Lenshina (1972).