By Sara Imutowana Yeta III

In 1959, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) was found by Mainza Chona, a militant nationalist and later led by the socialist presidency of Kenneth Kaunda.

UNIP was formed by people who were actively involved in the liberation struggle and attracted supporters from all walks of life, making UNIP a great political movement widely accepted across the country.

UNIP had a tradition of holding annual conferences to elect top leaders.

Around 1963, UNIP scheduled a conference at Mulungushi Rocks.

Hundreds of representatives from different parts of the country trekked to the conference site.

The conference is believed to have been the most politically charged event in the history of UNIP conferences.

There was immense political scheming and lobbying for top leadership positions.

The Vice President position was one of the fiercely contested with two camps eyeing the post; the faction for Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, and the faction for Reuben Chitandika Kamanga.

The Kamanga faction wanted him to be the Vice President in order to have regional and tribal balance in the top leadership.

The Kapwepwe faction wanted him for his fiery and radical personality viewed as needed to expedite political, social and economic transformation.

The Kapwepwe faction also argued that political merit not tribal balance should prevail over political correctness.

No doubt that this was a clash of the titans and battle of the heaviest bulls in UNIP.

However, the Kapwepwe faction was in a quandary because Kaunda did not want Kapwepwe to vie for the Vice President position because he was concerned about sending wrong message to people that UNIP was a Bemba dominated political party.

Kaunda engaged Kapwepwe on his reservations.

Kapwepwe asked Kaunda to give him time to mull over the issue and consulted his lieutenants who tactfully agreed to Kaunda’ proposition to focus on the same position the following conference.
This allowed Kamanga from Eastern province to take the position of the Vice President.

The news sent Kamanga’s camp into jubilation stomping the ground in a Ngoni style while waving their imaginary clubs.

The Kamanga faction was certain that this was the final nail in the coffin for Kapwepwe’s influence in UNIP.

However, their joy was short-lived because this was the beginning of the fiercest in-fighting in UNIP’s history.

When Kapwepwe tactically backed off, he devised a political submarine strategy working underground by interacting with representatives of different provinces and top leadership sharing his radical transformation agenda, which resonated with the people and gained him impregnable support in and outside UNIP.

Kaunda was aware of Kapwepwe’s political conversations on radical transformation but not his political ambition.

In 1967, when UNIP held the annual conference, Kapwepwe having done his homework, he put his name for the Vice President contest, a move that incensed Kaunda.

At the conference, there was a strong sentiment in favour of Kapwepwe for the Vice President position which did not sit well with UNIP top leaders.

When the vote was cast, Kapwepwe emerged as winner to take the Vice President position of UNIP and of the Republic.

One of the fiery and radical politicians in the history of Zambia made Kaunda to swallow a bitter pill because his preferred Vice President was defeated in the dust.

Kapwepwe’s resounding victory sent shock waves through UNIP and became one of the sure ways that contributed to serious political hatred and crisis in UNIP and the country.

This period, is argued to be the first time in the history of Zambia when regional and tribal lines in UNIP were drawn in white and black.

The Kamanga faction made up of Eastern-Lozi supporters and the Kapwepwe faction made up of Bemba-Tongas clashed.

The Kapwepwe faction accused the Kamanga faction of being spineless communist sellouts, and the Kamanga faction accused the Kapwepwe faction of rigging the election results.

By August 1967, it was clear that the seeds of regionalism and tribalism had germinated making UNIP a political powerhouse with clear and wide regional and tribal divisions.

Defeated and exasperated, the Kamanga faction covertly supported by Kaunda developed a squad of fourteen people with two representatives from Central, Southern, Western, North-Western, Copperbelt, Luapula, and Eastern province but no representatives from the Northern region.

The purpose of Kamanga’s squad was to machinate Kapwepwe’s downfall and neutralise the “Bemba” influence in UNIP seen as a threat not only to Kamanga but to Kaunda as well.

As a heated and radical politician, Kapwepwe also developed a squad of twenty-four people made up of Bembas (Northerners) and Tongas supported by selected forceful activists from Central and Western province to counter the political trickery of Kamanga’s squad.

The vicious and divisive regional and tribal politics undermined national unity, and no side was willing to back off.

As a result, there was high regional and tribal tension in the country with potential to cause regional and tribal war, sending Kaunda into a stress mode.

With regional and tribal daggers drawn, in 1968 when UNIP held the National Council at Chilenje conference Hall in Lusaka, the meeting flopped because it was reduced to a regional and tribal battlefield that left Kaunda shocked to the bone marrow.

Kaunda told the National Council members that he was disappointed and appalled by the open regional and tribal utterances and practices.

It was at this point, that Kaunda resigned stating that he did not want to be part of a political organisation and government promoting regional and tribal divisions and stormed out of the meeting and went straight to his official car and was driven off to State House.

Upon arrival at State House, Kaunda told his staff and wife Betty to pack their belongings in readiness to vacate State House.

Vice President Grey Zulu called Kapwepwe, and these two liberation heroes drove to State House to talk to Kaunda.

Zulu and Kapwepwe tried to reason with Kaunda indicating how the leadership vacuum had potential of triggering tribal bloodshed, but Kaunda refused to rescind his resignation.

For almost fourteen hours, the country had no president.

Some of the people in Kapwepwe’s faction were delighted with Kaunda’s resignation because they wanted Kapwepwe to vie for the presidency and replace Kaunda.

However, Kapwepwe refused to be driven by his supporters’ political intimation.

This was a clear indication that though fiery and radical, Kapwepwe was not an opportunist, otherwise Kaunda’s presidency would have ended in 1968.

At night, Grey Zulu and Kapwepwe went back to State House to try to convince Kaunda to change his mind to save the country from imminent bloody regional and tribal disaster and reminded him of the huge contribution he made to the liberation movement and how his father would be happy to see him finish the race for people’s economic liberation.

On that day, all roads were leading to State House as leaders from the security wings, church mother bodies, non-government organisations, embassies, top government leaders, and personal friends visited Kaunda.

This was the night the country went to sleep without a president.

The following morning, on 8th February 1968, Kaunda rescinded his resignation to the relief of the masses.

Thereafter, he worked hard to develop and implement policies and programmes to develop the country.

Even then, vicious and divisive regional and tribal politics continued because the problem of Kapwepwe’s ascension to the Vice President position was not formally tabled to iron out differences.

As a result, Kaunda and Kapwepwe were no longer in each other’s good books, making regional and tribal animosity to spread and persist.

Again, using his submarine political tactic, Kapwepwe started working on the formation of a new political party which further incensed Kaunda.

Kapwepwe lost political grip in UNIP because he was disrespected and overlooked.

He became an isolated political dynamite under surveillance.

In 1970, he resigned, and a year later formed the United Progressive Party ending his political footprints in UNIP.

The exit of Kapwepwe from UNIP was seized as an opportunity to unite UNIP and the country, but with great difficulties.

Kaunda’s efforts to unite the country were visible through his ideologies such as ‘one Zambia and one nation’ and best practices.

He translated his unity ideology into practice through the principle of regional and tribal balancing quotas for various ethnic groups for representation in government bodies.

Let us learn from the living legend Kaunda by acting decisively on tribalism that is endangering the unity of our country.


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