Our integration into the capitalist system was not a peaceful one.
Six years after the 1884-5 Berlin Conference where the major European nations of that time shared Africa among themselves, this territory, now called Zambia, was colonised – in 1891.
The first coloniser of this territory was not a country or government. It was a capitalist businessman – Cecil John Rhodes – and his corporation, British South African Company.
Rhodes ruled this territory for 33 years. In 1924 Rhodes handed over this country to the British Foreign Office so that he could concentrate more on his businesses.
What was Rhodes looking for here? What brought him here? Minerals! Rhodes was looking for minerals and in pursuit of those minerals he was ready to kill and indeed he killed many people. Rhodes was also looking for arable land, and in pursuit of that natural resource, he killed.
Rhodes’ strategy was simple: he would send his agents to seek concessions from our chiefs to prospect and mine minerals in their chiefdoms. If they refused, he set his army on them. Rhodes had a big army in Kota Kota, in Malawi comprising of Sikhs and Africans and armed with Maxim-guns and Seven-pounders.
Did our people surrender and let Rhodes take their land and minerals as he wished? No. Our people resisted this capitalist intrusion. And the highest resistance of our people came from the Ngoni of the Cipeta area under Mpezeni.
Rhodes believed there was gold in that area because south of the Cipeta in what is now Zimbabwe he had found gold. He sent his agents to start prospecting for gold in the Cipeta area. This created a dispute. The Ngonis insisted Rhodes had no right to prospect for minerals in their territory without their consent. But Rhodes’ agents insisted that this was his land and not Mpezeni’s. The Ngonis realised that this conflict was not going to end peacefully. And they were really worried about the possibility of a war. Mpezeni, who was already an old man, knew very well that Rhodes had a well-equipped army in Kota Kota. Although the Ngonis had acquired some guns through trade, these were no match for the Maxim-guns and Seven-pounders of Rhodes’ army. Moreover, the ammunition and gun powder had to come from the same people they were fighting! So those guns became useless. They had to rely on the asegai to defend themselves if attacked.
This troubled Mpezeni and other senior Ngonis. But while they were pondering over what to do, Mpzeni’s son, Nsingu, made it very clear: over dead bodies will Rhodes and his companies take over our land and our minerals. And he started mobilising an army of young Ngonis. He managed to assemble an army of 10,000 young Ngonis armed with the asegai.
True to the fears of the Ngonis, in December 1897 Rhodes’ forces from Kota Kota attacked the Cipeta.
It was a very difficult war for the Ngonis. Rhodes’ soldiers were burning Ngoni villages, destroying their crops and killing anyone in sight. The asegai was indeed no match for the Maxim-guns and Seven-pounders. The casualty rate was rising by the day among the Ngonis while their morale was dipping by the day.
On February 4, 1898 the Ngoni capital was overrun and commander of the Ngoni forces, Nsingu, was captured and tried by court-martial, found guilty and was executed at dawn the following day – February 5 – in front of his lieutenants.
His father, the aged Mpezeni, who had fled into the hills around Feni was captured and put in prison.
When he was released Mpezeni did not live long; he died of depression.
At the end of this war in February 1898, the Ngonis had a head of over 12,000 cattle. This was a lot of wealth in 1898. And with that type of wealth the Ngonis could have built themselves many schools, hospitals and other infrastructure needed for development. All they needed was to increase trade.
But two years later, in 1900, only 1,250 cattle remained – over 10,750 Ngoni cattle had been looted by Rhodes and his companies, completely destroying the Ngoni economy and holding back their development.
As if this was not enough, in 1904, Rhodes took over, by force, the Ngoni village of Kapatamoyo and turned it into Fort Jameson which became Rhodes’ headquarters for the colonisation of North Eastern Rhodesia.
Although the Ngoni resistance was the highest, it was not the only one. Up north the Bemba people were resisting. Chitimukulu Sampa made it very clear to all his people that European capitalist traders and missionaries were not allowed in his territory. And for ten years they were kept out. They started sending him all sorts of gifts to ‘soften’ him. But he saw them for what they were – bribes – and rejected everything. Unfortunately, Chitimukulu Sampa did not live long, he died early. And his death marked the end of the Bemba resistance.
Our people in Luapula also resisted. But their resistance weakened after the defeat of the Ngonis and the Bembas. The white missionaries who were inserted among them started to put them under a lot of pressure to give in. They would tell them: these people you are resisting have defeated the Ngonis and the Bembas you fear so much, just start dealing with them. Eventually our people in Luapula gave in.
There was very little resistance among the Lozis in the western part of our country because of the prevailing circumstances. Lewanika, who was then the Litunga, had just come back on the throne after having been overthrown by his brother Akufuna. This meant that the Lozis were internally weakened. And externally, they were under serious threats from the Portuguese on the west and the Lobengula raids on the south. In this context of internal and external threats to Lewanika’s hold on power, Rhodes successfully deceived the Litunga that he would be accorded full British protection complete with police officers and a monthly pay if he signed away vast areas of land, full of mineral wealth, in exchange for support. That is how the western part of our territory which, at the time, included parts of the present-day Copperbelt, Southern and North-western provinces was brought under Rhodes’ control.
Clearly, our people resisted capitalist plunder and subjugation. But this resistance of our people is not taught to us. We are not taught about Commander Nsingu and the Ngoni resistance. Yet this is the most important history of our people and our country.
We are not trying to promote Ngoni nationalism. We are simply recognising and identifying with the most important, glorious and progressive history of our country. And there are huge lessons to learn from all this.
The first is that we are heirs to a heroic and courageous people, a people that fought so hard and valiantly against the foreign occupation of our homeland; a people that refused to dishonour the cause of freedom even when confronted with a formidable adversary. Our forefathers, led by Commander Nsingu, resisted the conquest of Zambia and the cheap commodification of their lives.
We are the descendants of these martyrs and first independence nationalists who never betrayed our homeland and who, in defence of it, perished. To honour their sacrifices and memory, we must fight to reclaim our country from the modern day Cecil Rhodes and corporations in the form of British South African Company.
The second is that we are an agricultural people. We fed ourselves and kept considerable wealth in the form of cattle. This has been our way of life, one that was totally ruined by that bandit, Rhodes, who, like those who came after him in 1924, made sure that we started producing what we do not consume and consumed what we did not produce.
That is how they dislocated agriculture. Presidents Kaunda and Mwanawasa tried to reverse this, but we have since reneged on their efforts. Today, agriculture is the most neglected sector of our country. That is why we in the Socialist Party are prioritising agriculture because we know that it is essential to food security, that we can feed ourselves even in times of drought if we become a country that works and plans like a functioning state.
Any government that does not invest in agriculture, in our way of life, is not different from Rhodes and his killers.
The third is the need to stand up and protect our natural wealth such as minerals and land from ruthless capitalist exploitation. Rhodes and his bandits came here to loot our wealth. We must never make the mistake of thinking that there are no Cecil Rhodes today in our midst. They are there – huge corporations that are acting in collaboration with our shortsighted and perverted leaders to empty our homeland of its minerals, its natural forests – especially mukula – and to lease vast tracks of our precious and most arable land away to corporations and outsiders.
Without land, one is not a citizen of this country; they are just a tenant. We are discovering new sites of mineral wealth for extraction largely for the benefit of today’s Cecil Rhodes and BSA companies. We are busy handing over to the coloniser the very things that ground us – our natural wealth, our inheritance, our dignity. This must change.
But such a turnaround would require leadership, an enlightened and heroic leadership that, through effective policies, has the capacity and brainpower to unleash the exploitation of our God-given natural wealth for collective good, for public, not private, gain. That is the kind of leadership that we in the Socialist Party bring to Zambia. We will, with your support, reclaim our homeland from the unthinking lot and the corporations.
The fourth lesson is that we will never go far enough as a country if we do not prioritise the welfare our young people and permanently miss the opportunity to invest fully in their full development. At the heart of Commander Nsingo’s brigade were legions of young people. They were the shield that made up much of the 10, 000 warriors. But those young people were looked after very well; they were healthy and enjoyed the full benefit of a leadership that promoted meritocracy. They were even incorporated in key leadership positions and structures of decision-making. And because the society took care of them, because it invested in their growth, prosperity and happiness, they needed no additional prompting when the moment demanded that they stand up in defence for their homeland. They understood that they were, in effect, not simply defending their sovereignty but also their continued access to healthy life and decent standard of living.
Today, nearly 80 per cent of our homeland comprises young people, yet this is the most neglected segment of our population. They are the most capable and daring amongst ourselves, yet we have for years continued to devise policies that marginalise them, that reduces their many talents to waste, that condemns them to a lifetime of unemployment, illiteracy, disease, hunger and misery, that excludes them from key positions and responsibilities of power – in short, policies that do not seek to identity the different categories of young people and their unique needs before devising appropriate measures that guarantee them longevity and healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living. This must change.
We must invest in the total development and welfare of young people – our national brigade.
That way, we will honour the memory and sacrifice of Commander Nsingo, our greatest youth and national hero.
It is not easy to sum up in a few words all the importance, the richness, the vast significance of today’s humble event.
Today we pay special tribute to Commander Nsingu and the not less than 10,000 young Ngoni warriors who died in the Cipeta area between December 1897 and the 5th of February 1898 defending our land, our minerals and our dignity. Our people admire heroism.
Today it is exactly 122 years since Commander Nsingu was executed at dawn and in front of his lieutenants by Cecil John Rhodes’ forces.
Rather than being forgotten with the passing of the years, his name, his exemplary life, his selflessness, and his heroism is remembered by us today. We see him live again, we note his presence in the work of the Socialist Party: above all he remains alive in our consciousness and hearts.
On days such as this we remember more than those who died fighting alongside Commander Nsingu; we remember all those who gave their lives for our country.
This celebration is like a synthesis of our people’s glorious history, a history written with great sacrifices and the loss of many valuable lives and much blood.
And one day we will erect a monument to the memory of Commander Nsingu and those young heroic warriors. But the most important monument we can erect in their honour is to give expression to the humane values that they lived and defended to the death.
That was a glorious page in the history of our homeland and it can be said that those men were the precursors of our struggles against capitalism and its colonialism.
Eternal glory to Commander Nsingu and to all the heroes who died in the war against Cecil Rhodes’ capitalist plunder and subjugation and to all the men and women who have dedicated their lives to our homeland
Nsingu lives in us!