1991 UNIP Election Defeat – Writing Was On the Wall

RIGHT from the outset, I must make it clear that I am not by any means trying to campaign for Zambia’s first governing party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) because that is surely the work of its political leaders.

In this essay I am only attempting to look at one aspect that I believed and still believe could have helped minimize the impact and humiliation that UNIP suffered at the hands of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in the historic 1991 multiparty elections.

UNIP used to be a very popular party in the country except in two provinces where it was looked upon with suspicion.

History and the voting pattern, in fact, show that in populous areas like Luapula, Northern and Copperbelt provinces UNIP was simply unassailable that most of its parliamentary candidates were elected unopposed.

I believe that the moment the party lost its grip on its traditional gholds – Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern provinces, that is when President Kenneth Kaunda also started to lose his grip on power in the country he led to independence from Britain on October 24, 1964.

Some might disagree, but I do recall that the banning of Alice Lenshina’s Lumpa Church, which enjoyed a large following in the three provinces and certain parts of the Eastern Province like Lundazi District, also alienated thousands of its angry followers who regarded UNIP as a fiend rather than a friend.

In Mufulira, where I grew up, some ex-Lumpa Church followers in Kantanshi Mine Township, who were previously staunch UNIP supporters, ditched the party in protest and joined Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula’s African National Congress (ANC).

Another reason that drove many people from UNIP was, of course, the country’s economy which was in such a bad state that the crippling shortage of essential goods, including medicines in hospitals, became a source of widespread discontent in the nation.

I also recall that the unexpected death of Kapwepwe, a few months after he was attacked and brutally beaten up by a mob of suspected members of the UNIP Youth League Brigade in Lusaka, and the banning of Nalumino Mundia’s United Party (UP) and his death, while on a diplomatic mission in South America, also seem to have incensed many people who were ‘spoiling for a fight’ so they could give UNIP and its leaders a lesson they would never forget.

Looking into the distant past, I would safely say that that time came when former Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) chairman-general Frederick Chiluba was asked to assume the leadership of the newly established MMD, an alliance of concerned citizens – academics, professionals and industry captains who wanted to rescue the country from imminent economic collapse.

Tragically for UNIP, the party suffered a mortal blow because of its leaders’ and their agents’ collective failure to see the writing on the wall.

If they did, they must have misread it altogether because they remained impervious to aice and would not listen to the voices of the people. Indeed, ‘the hour’ (for change) had finally arrived.

I remember one incident at the Ndola Airport, which showed that UNIP no longer enjoyed widespread acceptance as it did between 1958 when Kaunda and his lieutenants broke away from Nkumbula’s ANC and formed their ZANC.

We were in the airport lounge waiting for 07:00 hours Zambia Airways flight to Lusaka when we were suddenly told there would be a delay of about an hour in the departure time because of some unforeseen ‘circumstances in Lusaka’.

But as restless passengers grew impatient, someone eventually let the cat out of bag: the plane we were supposed to use had apparently flown President Kaunda on a visit to Luanda, Angola, and another aircraft on a flight from Blantyre, Malawi (if I remember correctly) was to be diverted to Ndola to pick up Copperbelt passengers.

When this information became public knowledge, ‘inconvenienced’ passengers were furious. I remember one gentleman who had arrived from Kasama in Northern Province became so upset that he started calling Dr Kaunda all sorts of names in protest because the delay meant he would miss his 9 hours’ business appointments in Lusaka.

The man caused such a stir that Mr Humphrey Mulemba, the former UNIP secretary-general, who was among the waiting passengers, was forced to call the Kasama business executive to order saying,

“What is wrong with some of you people. Yesterday Kaunda was your hero today you are calling him all sorts of names.

You must learn to respect your leaders. This man you are now insulting did so much for this country… ”

But before he could finish his sentence a murmur of disapproval reverberated throughout the departure lounge and the former SG recoiled, literally. It was a sad omen that people’s confidence in their heroes was on the wane. Previously no one would have the audacity to stand up and speak to a top Central Committee member in the way the Kasama traveller did.

As the countdown to the 1991 multiparty elections started, UNIP officials, having been in power since 1964, did not take MMD seriously, after all “it was only a movement of people who were against Kaunda”.

However, as journalists who lived and mingled with the ordinary people in various communities we could tell that if taken lightly by UNIP, Chiluba’s team would overrun KK’s side. We accordingly cautioned Mr Bwendo Mulengela, a University of Zambia (UNZA) lecturer from the English Department, who had been appointed by State House as our new managing editor.

To test the mood among the people on the rather volatile Copperbelt, it was agreed during one of our editorial meetings to ask our Kitwe bureau chief reporter Franklin Tembo to conduct a street survey in at least five locations.

The hypothesis was: If the general elections were to be held tomorrow, which party would you vote for? For our purposes, as Times of Zambia senior editors, we asked Tembo to interview an average of 10 prospective voters in all the five townships. We were satisfied the mean, average, from our Gallup poll would give us an idea as to how the balloting would go in the actual election.

At the end of the survey, Tembo came up with a report that clearly showed that most of the people he had interviewed would vote for MMD and Chiluba would become the next president of Zambia, if elections were to be held the following day.

We thought the survey write-up would serve as a warning to the party leadership so that they could take some remedial steps to counter the threat posed to UNIP by Frederick Chiluba’s MMD.

The paper was about to go for printing when the ME phoned, ordering me back to the office at 2:100hours.

He told me after consultation with people in Lusaka, there is no way we can publish such a report. It is not true people can vote for MMD. Never. Please remove it and find something else to use in its place,” he said.

I tried to convince him the article would give UNIP leaders an idea as to what was ‘actually’ happening on the ground, but he said it was an instruction from the bosses in Lusaka and we had no choice but comply.

We were in the production department by then so I quickly dashed upstairs and found a foreign feature article to use in place of the ‘killed’ Tembo analytical article.

The Bible says God uses foolish things to confound the wise.

When time for multiparty elections came in 1991, all the ‘aggrieved’ seem to have ‘come out smokin’ and voted with a vengeance, unleashing a devastating blow that sent UNIP staggering to the floor probably never to rise again as a political force in a country it initially governed so well until things started to fall apart after 1973 when Zambia was declared a One-party State.

It would, therefore, be grossly unfair for me or anybody else to heap all the blame on people like Mr Bwendo Mulengela who, like Stephen in the Bible, were prepared to be ‘cast out of the city and stoned’ for things they firmly believed in.

Do we still have such faithful and principled ambassadors anymore? Hello, is anyone out there listening?

Readers’ comments:-

Dr Khama

Dear Mr Mulenga,

I hope that you are fine. I have just finished reading your story about the late Dr Khama. This is indeed a sad story. As a person who has lost his beloved one in a road traffic accident, I absolutely understand every thread of your anguish. And read about the late Dr Khama I would say Zambia has lost out in particular and the world in general.

However, there is one or two important items you have left out in your narrative.

You haven’t attached the time line to your narrative. I am pretty sure after discovering the disappearance of your beloved friend you did ask people around when Dr Khama passed on.

You also haven’t told us when your friend sent you to Botswana and when you finally handed over the envelopes containing Dr Khama’s blueprints.

You haven’t also told us when you met Dr Khama in Gaborone. I think readers of your article would have appreciated to know when you met your friend at the time he was handing papers to you and when you finally handed the envelope of documents to the Ministry of Health office.

Finally, the readership would have also loved to know what has happened to those documents and the course of action you have personally taken to correct the situation.

I mean to know what the government of Botswana has done now that the owner of such intellectual property is no longer living to avoid the intellectual property being claimed by a wrong person or organisation.

Lastly but not least, my email would be incomplete without congratulating you about the story of Dr Khama you have brought to the fore.

I wholeheartedly, congratulate you for this story. Maybe, it will contribute to putting pressure on the current Government to seriously consider establishing scientific and technology research centres at new and old universities.


Peter M Bwalya


Commentscontributions send to: alfredmulenga777@gmail.com

Source : The Times of Zambia

Leave a Reply