IT WAS envisaged to be a peaceful gathering later to be addressed by Paramount Chief Mpezeni of the Ngoni people. But simple as it may look, sometimes things are indeed not what they seem in the naked eye.
Chief Mpezeni recently called for a meeting with his subjects to discuss a land dispute in Chipangali where it was reported that the traditional leader wanted to appoint a councillor to represent him in the area which is predominantly occupied by the Chewa people.
But acting on information that the meeting might not be in the security interest of the Ngoni traditional leader, police disrupted and dispersed the gathering, causing some misunderstanding for which government has apologised.
It may not be so much a misunderstanding between the Ngonis and Chewas but perhaps a typical case of ‘uncoordinated voices singing the same song titled ‘co-existence’.
This can be assessed from the views of both the Ngonis and Chewas who wish to settle the matter amicably amidst an appeal for people to take keen interest in understanding the relationship between the two peoples.
Paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi of the Chewa people appealed to traditional leaders and other stakeholders who have “little or no knowledge” of the Chewa and Ngoni history to desist from making uninformed statements on the matter because it can be a breeding ground for hostility.
The traditional ruler, through his spokesperson James Chirwa said: “If indeed the police stopped that meeting from taking place, we feel that was the right thing to do.”
Mr Chirwa said this during a media briefing in Lusaka recently, breaking the characteristic Chewa traditional leader’s silence.
Paramount Chief Gawa Undi categorically pointed out that while he enjoys peaceful co-existence with all other neighbouring tribes, Paramount Chief Mpezeni should not go and install a councillor in Chipangali, a Chewa territory.
He said the action taken by the police should not have been a surprise because the provincial leadership had advised against the Ngoni meeting, citing security reasons.
“I further call upon all the Chewas to remain calm and not take the law into their own hands in the face of such similar provocations,” he said.
He urged the House of Chiefs to be instrumental in finding an amicable solution to problems between differing tribes.
And Paramount Chief Mpezeni said in an interview from his palace that some people have intentions of de-campaigning President Lungu by antagonising traditional leaders.
“Some people here want to de-campaign President Lungu by antagonising us, the traditional leaders. Let Government come in person and apologise,” he said in reference to the apology for police action earlier rendered through the media by Chief Government Spokesperson Chishimba Kambwili.
Paramount Chief Mpezeni said he has accepted Government’s apology but merely wanted it to be formalised.
“I am happy with this honest apology by Government. This is dignifying and it is also an eye-opener that Government and the traditional leadership need to find a lasting solution to this problem so that the two peoples can continue to live in harmony as they have always done,” Chief Mpezeni said.
“We want to continue to co-exist. This problem does not need a political solution but an administrative one so that we can continue to live in harmony,” he said.
The traditional leader also urged Government to thoroughly investigate what transpired to establish the truth because some security wings have denied using force to disperse the people who gathered in Chipangali recently.
“I wish to appeal to our people in Chipangali to remain calm because this matter will be resolved amicably in the best interest of all,” Chief Mpezeni said.
And his induna George Zulu said the traditional leader has accepted Government’s apology.
Mr Zulu said Chief Mpezeni is happy that Government has apologised because he does not want to depart from the path of working with Government.
Ncwala National Organising Committee trustee Alfred Njobvu has also added a voice, saying people should stop thinking that there is individual land for Chewas or Ngonis and underscored the need for co-existence.
Mr Njobvu said land is for everyone as it is a common heritage.
He said there is no need for a misunderstanding that Paramount Chief Mpezeni wanted a representative of the Ngoni people resident in Chewa land.
“There is no need for a representative there, what is required is for Ngonis to settle there on equal terms and not to be discriminated against on account of ethnicity, let us learn live together. Nkhosi’s meeting was frustrated because they thought that he is a very senior person to deal with this small matter,” Mr Njobvu said.
He said “Nkhosi yama Nkhosi’s” royal stature is well above petty matters and that both Paramount Chiefs Mpezeni and Gawa Undi must not be involved.
“This is an issue of living together, so the sub chiefs can sort out this matter amicably to the advantage of both groups. There is no pure Chewa or Ngoni in Eastern Province, we have interacted to such an extent that we must look at each other as one people.
“If I see a Chewa being beaten, I must feel that a human being like me is being beaten. So I must help settle the matter from a point of view of being a human being and not a Ngoni,” he stressed.
He also explained that Chewa and Ngoni are languages associated with families (clans) while land is a common heritage which should benefit everyone.
Like other stakeholders involved in the matter, Mr Njobvu is optimistic that the matter will eventually be resolved amicably, adding that people who are fuelling a “non-issue into aggression” must be avoided.
“We must stop this and desist from labelling land as Chewa or Ngoni because land is a common heritage and this land is Zambia,” he asserted.
Mr Njobvu said human beings have the right to migrate in a quest for prospects of a better life.
He said history demonstrates that all tribes, including Chewas and Ngonis, migrated in search of basic needs, peace and success.
“Africa has been a continent of migration and migration has ruled and dominated Africa. It is also a human right and the earth is regarded as a place for all human beings. If someone tells you that this place is for Bembas or any other tribe or a particular grouping, then they are lying.
“What we must learn is to co-exist and so it is true that the Ngonis migrated into the place where they are today because they were pursuing the three things [basic needs, peace, success] and all the groups of people you see around migrated. It is the nature of human beings to migrate,” he explained.
Mr Njobvu said Ngonis and Chewas are fundamentally one because of intermarriages and interactions between them.
He said there has been a “cross pollination of co-existence” for people to begin looking at themselves as one tribe belonging to Zambia.
This, he said, can however transform in the next 50 or so years because it is human nature to migrate and co-exist with people they find.
He pointed out that the settlement area under dispute is as old as Ngoni migration can dictate.
Mr Njobvu said people started settling there back in the 1870s and later years as they were arriving in groups from Isoka after Zwangendaba’s death.
Zwangendaba was the Paramount Chief who led the Ngonis into Zambia after running away from Shaka, the King of Zulus in South Africa.
Mr Njobvu said the area located in Luangwa Valley locally known as Malambo was a passage for animals and that nobody inhabited it for fear of wild animals.
The area was later opened up by white settlers as a farming block, scaring away wild animals.
He said land is a common property for human beings and that this is why people migrate to Europe and vice versa because economies look after everybody.
“It is the same with Chipangali, it is for everyone who wants to settle there as long as they do not encroach on the land that someone is using. The issue is for people to free themselves that there is Ngoni or Chewa land because if an intelligent person settles on the land, he or she can help transform it and make it productive for the benefit of everyone.
“Chipata has urbanised and life there now resembles that of Lusaka. The Ngonis and everyone in Chipata have to cope with these dynamics of our life,” Mr Njobvu said.