1945 - 1951, HMOCS
Page under construction
Here's an article explaining "African Councils", written (I think) by Gervas, I think in mid-1948, when Gervas was D.C., Kitwe.
AFRICAN COUNCILS IN THE COPPERBELT
OF NORTHERN RHODESIA
Before the end of 1948 the first session of the Ninth Legislative Council of Northern Rhodesia will open. For the first time there will be two African members of the Council nominated by His Excellency the Governor: in fact it is understood that these two members will be elected by the African Representative Council and that the Governor will normally nominate their selections.
The African Representative Council is itself a new body, its members having been first elected by the African Provisional Council last year and having held only three Sessions up to date.
The Provincial Councillors themselves are elected; in the rural areas by the Superior Native Authorities and African welfare Societies and in the Urban areas by the African Urban Advisory Councils. These latter Councils are therefore of considerable importance and their constitution and functions are of considerable interest and importance.
African Urban Advisory Councils are now in existence in all the larger towns, though the methods by which they are constituted and the functions which they fulfil at present may vary to some extent from town to town. This variation is of particular value because it permits of considerable trial and error and eventually the most satisfactory can be adopted with confidence. As these councils were only first started in 1942 they are still very much in the experimental stage but their importance is growing rapidly and will continue to grow.
In outlining the present position, one Council alone will be dealt with, that at Kitwe in the Copperbelt, for that is the only one with which I am personally acquainted; but it is perhaps a good example, for it serves the Kitwe district which has, in the twin town of Nkana and Kitwe, not only the largest European population in Northern Rhodesia, (and the third largest in the two Rhodesias after Salisbury and Bulawayo) but an African population considerably in excess of 30,000 and still growing. The overwhelming majority of the Africans live in the three large Mine compounds serving the Nkana and Mindolo Mines, in the two Kitwe Management Board Compounds in the new African Town of Chibuluma, and in a small number of contractors' compounds within a mile or two of the main towns.
When the Kitwe African Urban Advisory Council was first formed it was planned to consist of ten members of whom five were to come from the Mine labourers and five from the Kitwe compounds. At first the whole Council was nominated by the District Commissioner, but it has gradually become possible to arrange for the election of more and more of the members until today only three are nominated, and it is hoped that before long the whole Council will be elected. The Chairman of the Council is the District Commissioner, and one of the Africans acts as Secretary.
Meetings are held once a month, though the African members occasionally hold a meeting in the absence of the Chairman, generally at his request. All official meetings are held at the District Commissioner's Office and there have never been any African spectators, though from time to time European visitors have been invited for special purposes, i.e. a Road Service Board Inspector has attended by invitation when bus timetables and fares have been under discussion. It is not known how the Africans in the towns regard what is in effect the secrecy of the meetings, but it has to be remembered that in many tribes meetings of Councillors are secret by native custom. (See "African Political Systems" Fortes and Evans Pritchard, p. 111.) It may be advisable at some future date to hold such meetings in public at one of the Welfare centres, to encourage interest in the Councils and instruct the public in their functions.
At Kitwe the District Commissioner is Chairman of the Council but this is not so at Ndola and Lusaka. It may be that at these
two latter places, the District Commissioner is not Chairman because in both districts there are native Chiefs (though they are not on the Urban Councils). At Kitwe, and elsewhere on the Copperbelt, there are no Chiefs in the districts concerned, the whole African population is alien to the area in which the people live, and it may be that Government, in the person of the District Commissioner, takes in some sort the position of Chief and as such becomes in African eyes, more naturally the Chairman of the Council.
In discussing the methods of election and nomination of the members of the Council, it must not be forgotten that many African political systems are not naturally democratic (see op: cit: p. 110 and 119), and nomination of Councillors by Chiefs is a commonplace. It is also a frequent request by the African intelligentsia that some Urban Councillors should continue to be nominated, and there is no agitation whatever at present to make election the universal practice. Where the whole African population is non-indigenous to the area in which the Council functions, and where there is such a frequent turn-over between rural and urban areas, plain secret ballot election would present many difficulties. Some residential qualification would appear to be a necessity and the rural African is a stranger at present to the ballot box. The system at present therefore has been to use existing Societies and institutions somewhat in the nature of electoral colleges.
For Mine labour, the five members of the Council are elected by the Mine Tribal Representatives. These are men elected to their positions by the members of their tribes on the two Mines, and they remain in office until removed either by popular opinion, resignation or death. Their normal function has been to attend meetings with the Chief Compound Manager and bring up to his notice matters of importance to the African but outside his actual work. It may be as well at this point to interpolate an example of the kind of matters raised at Tribal Representatives' Meetings, by mentioning the provision of hot water showers for labourers coming up from underground shift, a request for an additional light in a particular latrine, a complaint of rowdyism among juvenile-adults in one of the Mine Compounds, etc. Where a matter concerns the actual working of the mine, it is raised by a different body: the Boss Boys' Committee, to the Mine Management, through the Compound Manager. Where the matter concerns the district rather than the Mine it is raised at meetings of the African Urban Advisory Council. Tribal Representatives at Wusakili (the Nkana Mine Compound) elect three of their members to be Urban Councillors, and those at the smaller Mindolo Line Compound elect two.
Of the remaining five members, intended to represent Kitwe, one is elected by the Kitwe African Society and is at present a Mine employee - the Society being open to all Africans in the district. Another was originally elected by the War Fund Committee, there having been no elections to the Council since the war. Another represents the Kitwe Management Board Compound, and the other two were both nominated by the District Commissioner, one of them being the Senior African Welfare Officer - employee of the Kitwe Management Board - and the other being an ordained Minister of the United Missions to the Copperbelt, who originally was elected to the Council by the Kitwe African Society but was nominated by the District Commissioner when the society held an election and elected a different man.
In the past it has been the custom to ask any properly constituted African body to elect a member to the Urban council, but that time is now past as it is obviously no more practicable to continue to increase the membership of the council than it would be desirable to recognise as an electing body, a body which was already adequately represented. For example, a Society was formed of Mine clerks which at once asked to elect a Councillor, but this request was refused on the grounds that the Mine clerks were already represented by the Mine Tribal Representatives.
More recently the question of inviting the newly formed African Mine Workers' Union to elect a member discussed at length by the Council.
As might be expected the Mine members were in favour, on the ground that the Union would be of fundamental importance to the Mine Africans, while the other members argued that this would be the thin end of the wedge and if granted would be followed by requests from the Shop Assistants' Union, the Lorry Drivers' Union, the Management Board employees' Union, and any other Union that might be formed.
Compromise solution was eventually accepted: that the Chairman of the African Mine Workers' Union should attend the next meeting of the Council by invitation and should then be informed that he could discover from the Secretary what items were on the agenda of future meetings and could then ask permission to be present when any item of special interest to his Union was down for discussion. It was felt that the immediate object should be to convince the union Chairman firstly that the Council was serving a useful purpose and doing work of value to Africans, and secondly, that very little of the work done by the Council was of direct interest to the Union as such.
In the past there have been plans to include a Member from the African Town at Chibuluma, but it is now felt that the Council serves the Kitwe-Nkana Urban areas and that Chibuluma has its own avenue of approach to authority through its own town Council.
This matter is however still under consideration, for there is not at present any representation of African Towns on Provincial Councils, and it might be that the best method of achieving such representation would be to allow the Town Council to elect a member to the Urban Advisory Council rather than to the Provincial Council direct. Other suggestions made in the past have been that personal servants, contractors' labourers, school teachers, etc. should be represented but the present tendency is towards election by wards rather than by professions. At the same time the Electoral College principle adopted for the Mine Compounds by using the Tribal Representatives may be the best method for the present at any rate for the Mine Compounds where there is still such a large labour turn-over.
Finally in this connection it must be noted that there is no woman on the Council, and that no woman votes for any member of the Council at present. The most suitable manner of getting their interest represented may be to nominate a woman to the Council in the first place and so assure that women take an interest in the Council and realise that they are not excluded from it. An African woman has recently been elected to the Fort Jameson African Urban Advisory Council.
It is time now to look at the various functions of the Council. As has already been noted one of the most important of these is the power of the Council to elect two members to the Provincial Council. A further function which has been recently
granted is the power to elect one of their members to the African Affairs Advisory Committee of the Kitwe Management Board. Until six months ago an African was nominated to sit on this Advisory Committee, but on the resignation of the member so nominated, the Council was asked to elect one of their own English-speaking members.
In addition one of the three African Welfare Officers in rotation attends meetings of the Advisory Committee, so that there are normally two Africans present. This Advisory Committee advises the Kitwe Management Board on all matters concerning Africans and in fact the advice is almost always accepted by the Board. The other members - all Europeans - are the District Commissioner as Chairman, the Senior Labour Officer, the Chief Compound Manager, the Compound Manager Mindolo, and the head of the United Missions to the Copperbelt. No doubt in future years these Advisory Committees will have more and more African members on them, and the line of development may be for the African Urban Advisory Council to become the Advisory Committee. One of the few difficulties which arises through the presence of Africans on the Committee is that the European welfare, compound and beer-hall staff find their salaries, leave and conditions of service being discussed in the presence of Africans and with an African having a vote. Apart from this, the presence of an African on the Advisory Committee is welcome and of benefit both to the Committee itself and to the African. There are no Africans on the Management Board at present and in fact the presence of one would not serve any particularly useful purpose at the present stage of development, so long as there is a member on the Advisory Committee.
The main function of the Council is to hold monthly meetings for which the Secretary draws up the Agenda. The Agenda consists of items placed upon it by members who often hold a preliminary meeting of their own to discuss the items, and of items placed upon it by the District Commissioner, sometimes on instructions from Government and sometimes of his own motion. Matters put on by African members include the provision of railway halts near Mine compounds, the cleanliness of station waiting rooms, bus timetables, suspected infringements of price-control regulations, rubbish disposal in the compound, supplies of foodstuffs, etc. All are matters which can be taken up and often put right, and which, unchecked, constituted the type of petty irritation to the African which does not normally come to light.
Matters put on the agenda by direction of Government consist chiefly of bills for Legislative Council which are going to be discussed by Provincial Councils and the African Representative Council and which the District Commissioner can explain to members so that their representatives in the higher Councils are fully informed. Occasionally the District Commissioner may wish to sound African public opinion on matters of special interest, as, for example, when the local butchery proposed to cut up and pack meat for Africans and wished to know what the African reaction to the proposal would be.
Lastly the Council can increasingly be used for advising Government through the District Commissioner, for example as to whether particular de-tribalised Africans are responsible enough to acquire shot-guns; on the reputability of African applicants for plots in the African towns, and generally on matters on which he requires African opinion.
It may be of interest to consider briefly the ways in which the African Urban Advisory Council may be used in future for other and wider purposes. It has been suggested that the Council should be constituted as a Native Authority with power to make rules and orders for the Africans within the urban areas, but it is felt that such a step would need very careful consideration for orders so made might conflict with orders in the rural areas and therefore might not receive the support of those who felt that the order was undermining the authority of the rural chiefs. But the matter must receive consideration because native custom is not always suited to urban conditions, and a means must be found for adapting it to urban conditions. For example: by native custom a child's limb broken in play is a matter for compensation to be paid by the parents of the child causing the injury. This was necessary in old days and may still be desirable in distant rural areas because a broken limb made the sufferer a cripple for life. In the Mine compounds however, medical attention ensures that the vast majority of sufferers receive no permanent injury, and it seems desirable that at any rate the scale of the compensation should be scaled down to meet modern urban conditions. The assessors of the Urban Courts, being themselves the representatives and councillors of rural chiefs, hardly feel able to alter old established customs of this nature.
The second way in which the Council could serve a further and wider purpose would be to establish it as a Native Treasury for the urban area. At present Urban Councillors are talkers without responsibility, and there is a real danger that a class of professional politician nay grow up, especially now that it has been decided to pay the two African members of Legislative Council at the rate of £600 per annum. In the rural areas Chiefs and their Councils are established as Native Treasuries and are taking ever increasing financial responsibility. On the Provincial Councils their representatives meet and confer with as fellow members the representatives of the Urban Councils who are without financial experience and responsibility. It is suggested that Urban Councils should be made into Native Treasuries and that a small percentage of the native poll tax collected in their urban area should be paid into such treasuries, as is done in the rural areas. As the tax rate in the towns is considerably higher than the rural rate (on the Copper-belt it is 15/- compared with rural areas at 7/6 and 6/-) this percentage might well be in addition to the amount paid to rural treasuries from taxes paid in urban areas. The total sum involved would not be likely to be more than £5,000 for the territory - a sum well spent if it prevented the Africans in Urban areas from setting up as a professional politician. To avoid uninformed and irresponsible agitation for more political power on the part of the African, it is essential that he should be given responsibility rather in advance of the agitation for them and of his power easily to shoulder them, so that he is constantly trying to catch up with responsibilities already his, rather than agitating to be given what is quite beyond his means to achieve or ours to grant him.
The money accruing to such urban treasuries - local African licences as well as taxes - would be used for African welfare purposes and would enable the African to take complete control of certain aspects of welfare and learn from his own successes and failures. At present welfare is entirely dependent on Beer Hall profits, and this is not satisfactory. Although African opinion is sought and given through Management Board Advisory Committees, it is desirable that the African should begin to exercise complete control over part of welfare expenditure and there is always a shortage of, for example, football fields and sporting equipment. Further non-payment of tax would be made to appear as an anti-social act, and the African who can see how his tax money is spent becomes a more willing payer.
o o o o o o o o
Before closing this description of the African Political system on the Copperbelt, a brief note should be added to explain the system of Urban Native Courts. Whereas the Councillors of all the Councils previously described are entirely unpaid, the Assessors of the Urban Courts (they are really the judges rather than assessors in its usual meaning) are paid employees of Native Authorities; that is they are paid by Government, but are not civil servants. Each town has a number of these Assessors, and at Kitwe there are six. They are chosen by the rural Superior Native Authorities from among their councillors, and the tribes vary to some extent from town to town, though Barotse, Bemba, and Angoni seem always to be represented, and the others are usually from the tribe with the greatest number of members in the particular town. As different tribes to some extent favour different Mines, there is some variation from town to town. The usual number of such Assessors is four to six, and only Northern Rhodesian tribes appoint assessors. There is therefore ceaseless agitation by the larger unrepresented tribes for representation, and also by aliens from Nyasaland, the Congo, Angola and Tanganyika Territory. This agitation is based on tribal jealousy and pride on the one hand, and on the fact that Africans refuse to believe that a case can be fairly heard by someone who does not know their own private histories.
Urban Court Assessors are representatives of old established custom, and tend to be considered reactionaries by the more modern and up-to-date Councillors. In general the Urban Advisory Council and the Urban Court are suspicious one of the other, the Assessors feeling themselves to be the Chiefs of the area and the Councillors regarding them as reactionaries out of sympathy with modern conditions. The appointment of Assessors from among rural councillors, changing every four years, does serve a most useful purpose: the rural councils get, in the returning assessors, real insight into urban life, while on the other hand, the Copperbelt African is constantly reminded, by the presence of the Assessors, of the existence of his own chief.
The Urban Courts are both useful and successful in dealing with the petty crime of Africans and when allowed to deal with illicit, beer-brewing and trespass, keep down the figures of more serious crime by causing the loafing section of the population to move elsewhere. At the same time the system will have to grow and progress and it may be that a type of professional African magistrate may have to be set up as president of these Courts with the present Assessors as Assessors to assist him only.
The Government of Northern Rhodesia has recently appointed an officer as Judicial Adviser to Native Courts, and the Urban Courts will come under review by him.
THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL OF NORTHERN RHODESIA
two members appointed by the Governor and nominated by
AFRICAN REPRESENTATIVE COUNCIL
whose members are elected by and from members of
THE AFRICAN PROVINCIAL COUNCILS
whose members are elected by and from members of
¦ ¦ ¦
RURAL NATIVE AFRICAN URBAN RURAL WELFARE
AUTHORITIES ADVISORY COUNCILS SOCIETIES
whose members are
elected by and
from members of
¦ ¦ ¦ ¦
MINE TRIBAL KITWE AFRICAN WAR FUND N0MINATED BY
REPRESENTATIVES SOClETY COMMITTEE DISTRICT