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Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula
Profile by Eric Gondwe

Born in January 1916, the late Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula is among the founding fathers (and mothers) of Zambia’s independence from British colonial rule. Zambia was then known as Northern Rhodesia. Nkumbula and his “A team,” define Zambia’s present day identity.

He is also among the founding fathers (and mothers) of Zambia’s first native political party, the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress. Founded in 1948, the party was first led by the late Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika.

In 1951, Harry Nkumbula was elected president of the Northern Rhodesian African Congress. The party was later renamed to African National Congress (ANC), as a link to the African National Congress in South Africa. The party leadership team, the “Zambian A Team,”  included Harry Nkumbula himself, the late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, David Kenneth Kaunda, the late Mainza Chona, Grey Zulu, Dixon Konkola, Robinson Nabulyato, Paul Kalichini, Raphael Kombe, Nalumino Mundia, Reuben Kamanga, among others.

The 1950s saw a lot of political activity as the ANC gained countrywide support and as opposition grew to what was seen as further consolidation of colonial rule by the colonialists. The further consolidation of colonial rule of Zambia came through the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It became known as the Federation, a loathed name among Zambian freedom activists.

The 1950s also saw the formation of other Zambian political parties. They were mostly from leaders that broke away from the mother party (the ANC). The major differences that arose in the party concerned the ways of opposing the colonial establishment of the Federation. Under its increased power the Federation governed three countries: Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi).

In 1958 Kenneth Kaunda, Simon Kapwepwe and others broke away from ANC to form the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC). This dealt a big blow to the ANC and the “old lion” (Nkumbula) as he lost his key allies.

The “old lion” continued to struggle without his key allies even after their newly formed party, the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) got banned a year later (1959) by the colonial establishment. Its leaders were imprisoned (Kapwepwe, Kaunda and others). Their imprisonment only increased their grass root popularity and inspired those not imprisoned to form smaller political parties under various names. They include United National Congress Party led by Dixon Konkola, the Freedom Party led by Bary R. Banda, and the African National. Independence Party led by Paul Kalichini and Frank Chitambala.

The small parties later merged to form United National Independence Party (UNIP), led by Dixon Konkola, who was soon replaced by Paul Kalichini. When Mainza Chona left ANC (under Nkumbula) to join UNIP a re-election was called in which Chona was elected the party’s new president. Chona continued the nonviolence yet militant strategies (strikes, boycotts, demonstrations) of the party and garnered widespread support among the grass root level. When both Kapwepwe and Kaunda where released from prison elections were called in which Kaunda was elected.

More setbacks came for the ANC when Harry Nkumbula was imprisoned in 1961 for allegedly dangerous driving. In his case imprisonment left the party without a strong leader. He also lost his seat on the Legislative Council, the governing body or parliament of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Being wise Nkumbula made alliances with UNIP for the cause of the freedom that Zambia was fighting for. When elections were held in 1962, ANC and UNIP  joined hands to form a coalition governing body to ensure they had a greater say in the country’s governing body, the Legislative Council, against the colonial party - the United Federal Party. The Federal Party got 15 seats in the Legislative Council, while UNIP got 14 and the ANC 5. The alliance gave them a majority to pave the way to ending the much loathed Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and establishing Zambia’s first native (indigenous) government.

On January 3, 1964 an order signed by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth gave Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) self-rule. Further elections were held for the Legislative Council which now had more seats added. UNIP got 55 seats, ANC 10 and United Federal Party, which was renamed to National Progress Party (UPP), got 10 seats (The UPP later became the party name for Kapwepwe after he left UNIP in 1971). With national independence on the horizon (October 24, 1964) and UNIP in the lead the ANC took the role of opposition, maintaining checks and balances.

After Zambia’s independence Nkumbula remained loyal to his party, the African National Congress (ANC), until UNIP in 1973 decided to ban all opposition parties and adopt a one party state. It is said the one party state came about as UNIP’s Kaunda faced increasing opposition, particularly from Kapwepwe, his his long-time companion. When the one party state was established Nkumbula had no choice but to join UNIP to remain active in politics. It is alleged that Nkumbula was bribed to sign the Choma Declaration on 27 June 1973 which gave the way for a one party state.

In spite of the split that weakened the ANC, giving Nkumbula a secondary role, he remains a major founding pillar to Zambia’s present day identity. Political maneuvers that followed after Zambia’s independence only show George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, is no fiction but a representation of the bad side of human nature -easily visible in politics and economics worldwide. From all we know Nkumbula did a commendable job. Thank you for your sacrifices for Mother Zambia!!


Musonda Bwalya, A Theological-Ethical Framework for Economic Development: The Case of Zambia, submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree, Faculty of Theology Pretoria, University of Pretoria, South Africa, August 2001

Times of Zambia Printpak, Kelvin Kachingwe, Kabwe: The nucleus of national politics

Times of Zambia Printpak, Zambia: Remembrance, reforms (Part 2)

Maidstone Mulenga, on Harry Mwanga Nkumbula

Wikipedia (on Harry Nkumbula)

World Socialist Movement, Zambia's Tribalist Politics (sad but quite true, currently)

UK Zambians, Zambia’s First Cabinent



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