Jehovah’s Witnesses deserve pat on the back
Published On August 28, 2015 » 2469 Views» By Davies M.M Chanda » Features
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I remember - logoSome people might have their views or even disagree but as for me I feel I would be failing in my duty if I did not acknowledge the remarkable job the Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing to improve the infrastructure in the country.
As an amateur artist I am constantly struck by the beautiful and freshly constructed Kingdom Halls – some in the middle of nowhere – that light up the environment like little shining stars in townships and along major highways from Livingstone in Southern Province to Chipata in the Eastern Province. I believe the pattern is the same in Northern, North-Western, Western, Luapula and Muchinga provinces.
Critics may be quick to jump to the unfair if not irrational conclusion that Witnesses are probably doing this to swell their ranks in the face of increased competition from other religious organizations.
But that would be missing the point. Instead these Kingdom Halls (both in rural villages and major townships like Kabushi in Ndola, Chibote in Mufulira’s Kamuchanga township and Kwacha in Kitwe on the Copperbelt, etc.) should be seen as inspirational because they are, in my opinion, setting a standard of cleanliness for every rural or urban dweller.
People who decide to build their houses must strive to finish and paint them to help beautify their surroundings. I know times are hard and not all of us can afford the cost of most building materials, including river sand, door frames, window panes, timber and roofing sheets, hence the sea of unfinished buildings one sees in most locations that are unsightly and an affront to human dignity.
I do realise that most mainstream churches, including Catholic and Protestant, are doing the same or even more. But I am focusing on the subject of kingdom halls because it seems to a new development by the Witnesses who were seen as trouble or rubble-rousers by the colonialists.
With persuasive eloquence and overflowing zeal, the Watch Tower movement adherents used to move from house-to-house or stand by the street corner and pavement selling their literature and preaching the Word. Hate them or love them, they were always there, especially at weekends. Some people would even go to the extent of locking their homes just to avoid or keep the irrepressible Witnesses at bay.
I had an uncle, a staunch Witness, who would not allow anyone to use the sign of the Cross, as Catholics do, when saying grace. ‘Bwali bwa kwanani ulebalikila (whose food are blessing?) he would demand before defiantly walking away. Once in a while I found myself, may be out of curiosity, in some of the old kingdom halls in mine townships on the Copperbelt.
However, hat most of us did not know, probably due to the type of educational curriculum designed by colonizers, was the fact that Watch Tower movement had played a leading role in the fight for independence, especially in Northern Province especially during and after the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918).
In Zambia the Great War between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Britain and its Allied Forces was fought out in the Isoka and Abercorn Divisions, which are predominantly Mambwe and Namwanga and their offshoot, the Ibwa, areas.
According to Meebelo (Reaction to Colonialism A prelude to Politics of Independence in Northern Zambia 1893-1939) the first onset of Watch Tower activity in this country took place in the two regions as they were the most affected by the Great War.
In October 1917, a party of six Africans – Hanoc Shindano, Posa, Simuchimba, Leviticus Kanchele, Yapangwa and Makomba – were deported from Southern Rhodesia because of their Watch Tower activities. They were all natives of Tanganyika District, and some of them like Kanchele and Shindano, had been students of Rev Donald Siwale ( who received President Kenneth Kaunda’s missionary father David and mother Helen on their way to Lubwa mission in Chinsali) at Mwenzo mission before they trekked south of the Zambezi in search of employment.
On their way home they preached their new gospel in the Mkushi and Serenje Divisions before finally establishing themselves among the Iwa people of Chiefs Kafwimbi and Terefya; and among the Namwanga people under Chieftainess Waitwika in the Isoka Division. The movement later spread to the Abercorn Division where it was headed by Hanoc Shindano.
Headquartered at Tukamulozya’s village, Shindano deployed his deacons and preachers all over the district to make the movement so popular and belligerent that it became a pain in the side of the colonial administration. As workers in Southern Rhodesia’s industries and farms, the six Watch Tower ‘apostles’ suffered indignities at the hands of their European masters but it also enabled them to see how vast the opportunities to better Africans’ material well-being were in the new economic order. But, according to Meebelo, they realised that the same European order of things was not permissive of African advancement that was ‘commensurate with their expectations. Naturally their bitter experiences coupled with poisoned atmosphere created by the World War One (WWI) in which hapless Africans were killed made them ‘ready imbibers’ of the millenarian doctrines of the Watch Tower movement, which, under the fiery leadership of Elliot Kamwana, had by 1915 gained considerable ground in Nyasaland (Malawi), and, through Nyasa migrant labourers, had also filtered into Southern Rhodesia.
Shindano, one of the most prominent leaders of the movement in the Tanganyika District, had travelled widely in Southern Rhodesia and had spent at least two years at the Cape Town Watch Tower mission. Like Kaman, who had undergone a similar religious orientation course under Joseph Booth, Hindan and his team returned to Northern Province to find a disturbed social situation, which they immediately exploited.
“In true Charles Taze Russell tradition, they (Witnesses) preached disobedience to all civil authority, African as well as European, and enjoined their followers not to work for Europeans or chiefs, who were like all non-converts, labelled devils,’ writes Meebelo.
In addition, Watch Tower adherents got baptized to ‘prepare for a new government’, because the existing one, would ‘come to an end when the Americans came to drive out the English’.
This prompted a white colonial administrator to warn in his report that ‘if evangelization of the African continued unchecked, the consequences to European rule in Africa would be disastrous. One day there will be some great awakening unless missionary influence in Africa is checked – a day when blacks, united to some extent by a common language a common faith, will rise against the white man.’
Native commissioner for Chinsali later reported that witnesses often sang hymns ‘lustily and at times shouting prayers and exhortations’ while a few of them ‘indulged in a wild frenzy, rolling of eyes and contortions of their bodies’.
It is said Shindano and other ex-mission teachers joined the Watch Tower movement primarily as a protest against racial segregation in mission churches, which was itself ‘a revulsion against the divergence between the Christian doctrines of equality and brotherly love, and actual practice by white missionaries.
Unable to stop its growth, Meebelo recounts, the colonial government in March 1935 agreed to the idea of a European representative of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (which was in 1931 renamed the Jehovah’s Witnesses) who was to reside and work within the country. The move amounted to an unequivocal stamp of recognition of the movement after many years of resistance and suspicion.
The man who got the job was Llewellyn V Phillips. However, the ‘overseer’ was not enthusiastically received by the locals in all areas he visited, including Mumbwa and Serenje, Mazabuka, Abercorn, Fort Roseberry (Mansa) and Kawambwa because of a change in doctrine and his stance that ‘no member of the Society should create disturbances or preach, in any way, opposition to all established authority; that tax must be paid and the law respected and obeyed; and that all preaching at large meetings must be replaced by hut-to-hut visits of small Bible study groups’.
From the foregoing, I believe the Jehovah’s Witness deserve a pat on the back firstly because of what they are doing and secondly for their pioneering role in the African’s struggle for unfettered freedoms, which Kenneth David Kaunda, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Nalumino Mundia, Rueben Chitandika Kamanga, Samuel Mbilishi, Sikota Wina, Lewis Changufu and Solomon Kalulu and many others finally accomplished on October 24, 1964.
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