Politics of Change in a Zambian Community by George C. Bond

Politics of Change in a Zambian Community by George C. Bond (1976)

In his illuminating analysis of Yombe political life, George C. Bond (1976) advances the argument that rural societies, such as Muyombe, where he conducted fieldwork from 1963 to 1965, and offers 40 plus years of research in Zambia, are part of larger political systems. Political activity, according to Bond, “structure political behavior, choices and decisions” and they constitute “social life” which forms the “constant interplay between behavior and rules”. Social change results from tensions in different political spheres, which highlight relationships between the local community and central government, small town and lesser communities, the old guard and new men, and the new men and villagers (160). Bond’s fieldwork occurring at the pivotal turn of independence in October 1964 is instructive in telling us how independence was managed and specifically, how local villagers responded to these changes.

Similar to the Nuer, ecological conditions marked activities of village life. Intense agricultural activity, which involved the cultivation of maize, millet and beans, took place in the rainy season around late November or early December. In the dry season, villagers began to prepare millet gardens and involved themselves in building and repairing houses, bridges, woodsheds and granaries (9). As for the different kinds of crops, Bond observes that maize was planted in December and early January, beans were planted twice a year “between the rows of maize”, millet gardens were built by cutting branches from trees and burning them in the dry season, and millet was harvested and used for making beer. The Yombe also grew groundnuts, cassava, bananas, and sweet potatoes and pumpkins. There were few cases of malnutrition during his fieldwork, Bond notes, for the “combination of maize and millet porridge with red beans provided the Yombe with a nutritious diet” (10). It seems subsistence farming was predominant, although some Yombe sold to the Kasama Co-operative, which operated a truck that went to the village once a year or they sold to Isoka, the district headquarters. However, since prices for the crops were quite low, “they [had] little reason to increase their productivity” (11).

Because of taxes originally imposed upon villagers by the British South Africa Company and later by colonial administration, many men worked in the urban centers. Yet some remained connected to home by sending remittances and visiting when they could (13). Village residents divided these labor migrants into three groups, “villagemen,” “minemen,” and “townmen.” Villagemen had spent a short amount of time in the urban areas, minemen were more accustomed to urban ways, and townmen, the ones who received formal education, were opposed to villagemen or minemen. The townmen were the instigators of change. As Bond notes, “…what is important here is that, because they aspire to reproduce the material and social conditions of the town in Uyombe, they take an active part in politics and have become an effective group within the rural community. Their activities have brought them into competition with the more conservative ruling elements: the chief, his immediate supporters, and many of the headmen. It is primarily among the townmen that one finds political activists — the men who were able to harness rural discontent into an effective nationalist movement” (89).

It is worth noting, as Bond explains so well, that the period preceding 1965 was replete with political activities in the urban and rural areas. The African National Congress (ANC) was created in 1951 and lasted until 1958. In 1958, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda went his separate ways from the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC), which was later banned and Kaunda was imprisoned. The United National Independence Party (UNIP) was created during this time and Kaunda became its leader when released in 1960 (86-90). By 1962, UNIP had “developed into a mass party” spanning 24 regions and many constituencies. Uyombe was a hub of significant political activity and the UNIP branches in Isoka District were run by the “new men,” the elite “townmen.” Churches also played an incredibly important political role by educating elites and recruiting members associated with political alliances. Bond explains that the Free Church of Scotland, though with only a membership of 250, was known to produce educated elites with a “Western orientation”. It was the first European mission church to develop a following in Uyombe. Because of its entanglement with politics, it remained successful, compared to the Watchtower movement, which prohibited political activities and the Lumpa church, which was later banned and according to Van Binsbergen, crushed by UNIP adherents with the endorsement of Dr. Kaunda. (See “Religious Innovation and Political Conflict in Zambia: The Lumpa Rising” for more details)

Regarding the production of elites in religious organizations, Bond explains: “By the 1930s, the new Livingstonia-trained elite controlled both the Free Church and the chiefdom, and the Free Church became identified not only with the new elite but also with the chief and his royal branch. In 1965, while there were elders and deacons who still supported the chief and his branch, there were many who belonged to other royal branches or who were members of and loyal to UNIP. The Free Church remains the church of the new elite, and though many of the young political leaders were suspended members, they still attended services regularly” (25).

Conflicts between different groups of elite, the old guard — the chief and his followers — and the new men emerged as a struggle for power. The more educated supported more nationalistic policies, while the less educated had more local concerns. Although there were also other rural elites, such as the shop owners and traders, their interests tended to align with the old guard because their futures lay in the community but supported the new elites when they put forth development plans that would benefit their enterprises. Many of the new elites occupied political offices and left the community, while the old guard, increasingly “parochial in their orientation” headed the villages. However, due to villagers’ demands of local development, the old guard was “forced to take up positions which the central government might consider radical” (160). In the epilogue, Bond asserts that chieftainship, an “intimate part of local government,” benefited from the aftermath of national independence and Zambianization policies which shifted power among the progressive elements to the urban areas, further entrenching conservative, traditional elements at the local level.

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