COPPERBELT: THE EMERGENCE OF A TRIBEZ

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Preamble

SOCIOLOGISTS explain the underlying role of culture, family, history etc., in society and although I cannot claim to conform to this discipline, I have, however, attempted to establish that over 91 years (.ie., 1927- 2018), at least a social pattern has emerged which for lack of a better name, I am referring to as the “copper-belt tribe.”

In 1927 shafts of mines were sunk on the copper-belt and which marked the beginning of great industrial expansion in this country. And between 1927- 1929, 22,341 Africans were employed. And in 1935, the tribal composition working on the mines and related industries was as follows: Bemba 26.5 percent; Barotse and Western 15.4 percent; Bisa 8.4 percent;; Chishinga 7.0 percent; Nsenga and Chewa 6.5 percent; Lala 5.8 percent; Lamba 2.8 percent;; Lenje 2.1 percent; Others 12.5  percent; and from the neighbouring  territories 13.0 percent.

Actually, to be a member of a tribe means to be involved in a complex set of social relations which centre on the social personalities of chief, hereditary councillors, village headmen, elders etc. In addition, it means, at least that a man’s behaviour will tend to conform to certain type-patterns which are prescribed by the custom and norms of the tribe. These provide a mechanism whereby young people cannot be brought up in a higgledy-piggledy manner and in the general African context, fear of disapproval of the community affected the way people behaved i.e., the power of the social restraint was used as a motivation for right conduct.

The parents would warn their children, “the people of the village will say bad things about you.” The total body of customs and norms provide the basis of mutual expectations which are necessary to social intercourse. In this sense a tribe is a social, economic and political unit.

In this respect, the then Secretary for African Affairs, R.S. Hudson, distressingly noted in the 1930s that “When an African settled in town, he ultimately ceased to belong to a tribe and no longer fitted into the native authority system.’’   In 1932, Orde-Brown sadly wrote:  “A disquieting feature of compounds of all kinds is the large juvenile population without occupation or control. Children and adolescents of all ages throng the vicinity, finding amusements as they can and devoid of training or teaching.

In native villages this would not be the case, since almost all the tribes have very definite arrangements for training the young people according to their ideas.”  In the conditions of those days there were undoubtedly hostilities between tribal groups, marked by brawls and fights between individuals which developed into serious affrays as tribesmen came to the support of their fellows. Tribal stereotypes developed around the unusual customs or alleged practices of other groups

The logic of the colonial government rested upon the common assumption that the social ties, the norms and the values which had served to regulate behaviour in the tribal societies from which all the new urban dwellers had come, could continue to operate in the different conditions of the industrial community. Implicit in the employment of Tribal Elders and importing of urban court justices from villages, was the view that the dominant ties between Africans in towns were still the ties of the village and the tribe.

In the work situations, people of various tribes were brought together in the common task and through the wage-economy, they were linked with whites who employed them.

They were also bound together with their fellow-workers of various tribes by their common interest in the joint productive tasks in which they were involved and consequently personal friendships developed between people of different tribes.  In that new scenario various tribesmen could no longer live and work together on the basis of kinship and affinity as they did in their rural villages and so many of the customs and features of the tribal system fell into desuetude. The growth of large, modern towns in Zambia represents one of the major aspects of the revolutionary social changes now taking place in this country. And in speaking about organisation I refer here to the pattern of observable regularities of bahaviour by reference to which people are seen to order their social relationships among themselves. The urban community has its own form of social organisation and this organisation provides general framework for the understanding of a good deal of the behavior of its inhabitants. The first stirrings that gave an indication of a new community can be drawn from the disturbances at Luanshya in 1935 when the authority of the Tribal Elders was rejected.  And since the disturbances and lootings were attributed to have been instigated and carried out by the Bemba, the government brought Senior Chief Mwamba Mubanga and his son Chief Munkonge Chilekwa (the father of Professor Lupando Munkonge and others), since the events had brought the name of the tribe into disrepute.

The evidence of Chief Munkonge to the Commission of Inquiry was illuminating: “We chiefs lose power over these people because they are not under our direct jurisdiction….All I would say is that the matter rests in the hands of Europeans. It is entirely a European concern.” In fact the disturbances were an indication of a “closed” system since it did not provide for the avenue for internal development and change. In antithesis to this, an “open” system is one in which fresh sources of conflict are continually generated in the development process itself and it is here where conflict and its resolution provide part of the momentum to further social adjustment and change. And it was after then that the Colonial Office in London sent Mr. W. Comrie to come and help organise the African trade union movements.

Eventually the social system presented an appearance of continuous flux in which new groups were constantly springing up.

They were ephemeral and quickly died away. The social system appeared as a kind of “endless becoming.” i.e., despite the fluid and ephemeral quality, they did not emerge without leaving some trace upon the social fabric. Each left behind some deposit upon which the current social pattern of the ‘’copper-belt tribe’’ has gradually been built.

A.P. Epstein, an anthropologist who carried out a research in Luanshya in the 1950s wrote in “Politics in an Urban African Community’’:  “Over the years there has developed amongst Africans on the mine an increasingly complex pattern of social differentiation which is based on such factors as differences in their productive roles, their standards of living, their education and relative degree of sophistication.

“In general, the process of differentiation has been marked by the emergence of new social groupings and associations which express the nature of the divisions operating within the social system of the mine.’’

In this respect, I’ll state that the new bodies represented interests which were essentially different from those of the body from which they had split off. The major cleavages operating within the copper-belt community to-day express conflicts of interest which can no longer be resolved in terms of a framework of norms and values commonly accepted as binding on the tribal communities as in the already cited case of the disturbances at Luanshya.

The copper-belt community is not a formidable mass of confusion or a social chaos as was expressed by most people I talked to. Certain “chaoses” form a coherent ideological system, perfectly intelligible once its basic premises and inner logic have been gasped.

As Evans-Pritchard points out in “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande: “it is only when the beliefs are presented as a conceptual system that their insufficiencies and contradictions become apparent, because in real life the beliefs function in ‘bits’ rather than as a ‘whole.’ It has been shown how contradictions are ‘contained’ by the system through the principle of situational selection.

“In any given situation a single event may evoke a number of different and contradictory beliefs among different persons: each selects what is most relevant from his particular standpoint. In this way the possibility of situational selection serves to reinforce the system of belief as a whole.”

I believe that the deeper understanding of the copper-belt social process requires a formulation in which inconsistency and disharmony are recognised not only as an integral part of the nascent social system, but also as an important source of its dynamic. The notion of inconsistency or contradiction may form an integral part of a system is not novel in anthropological literature.

Some anthropologists like E. Evans-Pritchard, Max Gluckman or Peter Lloyd have sought to substitute a dynamic, diachronic perspective for the static, synchronic perspectives of formal structural-functional analysis.

Indeed it is precisely a more refined approach to the analysis of how social structures function that has prompted some anthropologists to look to history for guidance.

It is considered that social structures must be studied in action through time in order to assess the relative interdependence of the components. It is also argued that sociological understanding may be advanced by comparing the divergences within related and similar systems.

TO BE CONTINUED

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