Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula

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Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula
Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula.jpg
DiedOctober 8, 1983(1983-10-08) (aged 66–67)
Other namesOld Harry
RelativesBaldwin Nkumbula (son)

Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula (1916 – 8 October 1983) was a Zambian nationalist leader who assisted in the struggle for the independence of Northern Rhodesia from British colonialism. He was founders of Zambia’s first native political party, the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress founded in 1948. The party was first led by Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika.

Early life

He was born in the village of Maala in the Namwala District in Southern Province. He was the youngest of three children and the only son.


Nkumbula received his early formal education at Methodist mission schools and in 1934 completed Standard VI at the Kafue Training Institute. He then taught in Namwala District for several years.

In 1938 Nkumbula joined the Northern Rhodesian government's teaching service and later worked in Kitwe and Mufulira on the Copperbelt. During World War II he became involved in African nationalist politics, like many other educated Africans of the day. He held the position of Secretary of the Mufulira Welfare Association and co-founded the Kitwe African Society.

In 1946, from Chalimbana Teacher Training School, Nkumbula went to Kampala's Makerere University College in Uganda. This was made possible by the support of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, a pro-Black British settler politician. From Makerere, Nkumbula went on to study for and received a diploma from the Institute of Education, University of London. In London, Nkumbula had the opportunity to meet other African nationalists who were galvanized after attending the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. In 1949 he worked with Nyasaland's (present day Malawi) Hastings Kamuzu Banda in drafting a document that expressed African opposition to the proposed White-dominated Central African Federation. This collaboration prepared the two men for their subsequent struggles with the colonialists in their home countries. After his diploma, Nkumbula enrolled to study economics at the London School of Economics but he failed his examinations and returned to Northern Rhodesia (present day Zambia) without a degree early in 1950.

Independence struggle

As a militant, articulate and uncompromising opponent of the Federation, Nkumbula was elected president of the Northern Rhodesian African Congress in 1951, a first native political party which was first led by Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika. The party was soon renamed the African National Congress (ANC) as a link to the African National Congress in South Africa. The party leadership included Harry Nkumbula himself, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Kenneth Kaunda, Mainza Chona, Grey Zulu, Dixon Konkola, Robinson Nabulyato, Paul Kalichini, Raphael Kombe, Nalumino Mundia, Reuben Kamanga, among others.

In 1953, Kenneth Kaunda became secretary general of the ANC. When Nkumbula called a national strike - disguised as a "national day of prayer" — in opposition to the Federation, the African population did not respond. This was due to the opposition of the president of the African Mineworkers' Union, Lawrence Katilungu, who campaigned against the strike on the Copperbelt. In October 1953, the White colonial settlers formed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, ignoring the Black African majority's opposition. In the early months of 1954, Nkumbula and Kaunda organised a partially successful boycott of European-owned butcheries in Lusaka. However, Nkumbula, Kaunda and the ANC found it difficult to mobilize their people against the Federation.

In early 1955 Nkumbula and Kaunda were imprisoned together for two months (with hard labour) for distributing "subversive" literature. Such imprisonment and other forms of harassment were normal rites of passage for African nationalist leaders. The experience of imprisonment had a moderating influence on Nkumbula, but it had a radicalizing influence on Kaunda. Nkumbula became increasingly influenced by White liberals and was seen as willing to compromise on the fundamental issue of majority rule.

Opposition to Nkumbula's allegedly autocratic leadership of the ANC eventually resulted in a split with Kaunda, who went on to form the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958. ZANC was banned in March 1959 by the colonial establishment and in June Kaunda and some of the party leaders (which included Kapwepwe) were sentenced to nine months imprisonment. 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.

Formation of UNIP

While Kaunda was still in prison, the small parties later merged in late 1959 to form United National Independence Party (UNIP), led by Dixon Konkola, who was soon replaced by Paul Kalichini. When he came out of prison, Kaunda was elected and took over the presidency of UNIP, which became better organized and more militant than Nkumbula's ANC. Due to this, UNIP rapidly took the leading position in the struggle for independence, eclipsing the ANC.

Political setback

During independence constitutional talks in London in 1960–61, Nkumbula played only a secondary role. He suffered a further setback when he disappeared from the political scene for nine months (April 1961 - January 1962), while serving a prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. His 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.

In the run-up to elections in October 1962, Nkumbula made the mistake of accepting funding from Moise Tshombe's regime in Katanga. He also made an ill-advised secret electoral pact with the Whites-only United Federal Party (UFP). He then found himself in a bind after the ANC won seven seats and held the balance of power between UNIP and the UFP.

ANC/UNIP alliance

Nkumbula chose to form a coalition with UNIP and was given the post of minister of African education. The coalition gave them 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.

Pre-independence elections

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 independence

After Zambia’s independence Nkumbula remained loyal to his party, the African National Congress (ANC). During the last days of the Federation, the ANC had been largely confined to Nkumbula's regional base in the southern province. Although the party won seats in Western Province during the general elections of 1968, Nkumbula had little to offer the Zambian public.

When Kaunda and the UNIP government decided to ban all opposition parties and adopt a one party state in 1973, Nkumbula and the ANC capitulated. He signed a document called the Choma Declaration on 27 June 1973 and announced that he was joining UNIP. The ANC ceased to exist after the dissolution of parliament in October 1973. Some have alleged that Kaunda "bought off" Nkumbula by offering him an emerald mine. However, the fact that the emerald mine did not enter his possession until 1975 suggests that this allegation was false.

Nkumbula's last prominent political action was an ill-fated attempt, together with Simon Kapwepwe, to stand against Kaunda for Zambia's one-party presidential nomination in 1978. Both Nkumbula and Kapwepwe were outmaneuvered by Kaunda, who secured the nomination while the two of them disappeared from Zambia's political scene.


In his later days, Nkumbula left public life and led a quiet life until his death on 8 October 1983.

His son Baldwin Nkumbula was also a politician. He was widely tipped to become the next president of Zambia until his death in a road accident.


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See also


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  1. Sata renames three Airports Lusakatimes, 27 September 2011
  2. Documentary on Nkumbula to premiere, Zambia Daily Mail
  • Hugh Macmillan, ‘Nkumbula, Harry Mwaanga (1917?–1983)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 18 May 2006
  • D. Mulford, Zambia: the politics of independence (1967)
  • G. Mwangilwa, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula: a biography of the ‘old lion’ of Zambia (Lusaka, Zambia, 1982)
  • K. Macpherson, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia: the times and the man (1974)
  • J. J. Grotpeter, B. V. Siegel, and J. R. Pletcher, Historical dictionary of Zambia, 2nd edn (1998)