History of Zambian Constitution – part I

As we approach the August 11, 2016 Presidential and General Elections, the Zambian Constitution will for sure be one of the hot topics that our politicians are going to throw into the battlefield.

President Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s assent of the amended Zambian Constitution has already raised a lot of dust.

Some politicians have even resigned from the ruling party because they feel that the constitution has discriminated against them by introducing qualifications for constitutional offices which they do not have.

The public debates and private conversations I have listened to about the constitution have revealed an alarming level of ignorance about the history of the constitution making process in our country.

It is alarming that even youths who possess the coveted Grade 12 Certificate which qualifies them to become President, Member of Parliament, Mayor or Councilor are dangerously ignorant about the constitution.

One youth remarked the other day that we the old people have wasted so much money on the constitution when the country was in fact doing very well without a constitution. This was a seemingly well educated young man who spoke very good English and yet he did not know that Zambia has had a constitution from 1964.

It has become imperative that someone must tell the story of Zambia’s constitutional history. I will start from the very beginning, that is from the day that our colonizers carved out a country out of our independent kingdoms and chiefdoms.

Our country then known as Northern Rhodesia went under the administration of the British Crown in 1924. The Legislative Council as the all white Parliament was known contained nine official members and five unofficial members.

The constitution of Northern Rhodesia was laid down by Her Majesty the Queen of England in Council in Orders in Council. Royal instructions were issued by Her Majesty in Council to the Governor of Northern Rhodesia. African interests were not represented by any of the official and unofficial members of Parliament.

Special representation for Africans was introduced in 1938 when a European member was nominated by the Governor of Northern Rhodesia to represent African interests. In 1945, the number of Europeans representing African interests was increased to three.

Africans were not represented by members of their own race in the Northern Rhodesia parliament until 1948 when two Africans were appointed to the Legislative Council and the number of Europeans representing African interests was reduced to two.

The constitution at the time barred Africans from voting through discriminatory voter qualifications. Africans were considered to be British subjects and the constitution stated that “the franchise is open to all British subjects of twenty-one or over. But then the qualifications that were set were impossible to attain to all the Africans.

For registration as a voter, a British subject was required to have the following qualifications:

Occupation of a house or building to the value of 250 Pounds Sterling within the Territory, in possession of a mining claim or in receipt of annual income of 250 Pounds Sterling per annum and must have resided in the Territory for a period of two years and for three months in the electoral district for which registration was sought.

Married women of twenty-one years and over could vote on their husbands’ qualifications and all voters were required to be capable of completing the necessary application forms in English without assistance.

Only eleven Africans were able to meet the above qualifications and as a result, all the twelve seats of elected members of the Legislative Council were filled by Europeans. The four African members of the Legislative Council were not returned by direct election bu by an Electoral College system known as the African Representative Council.

The Winds of Change that were blowing through Africa in the post-World War II had led to agitation for voting rights for Africans. In Northern Rhodesia, the nationalists through the African National Congress were pushing for one man one vote for all eligible adults regardless of income or educational qualifications.

The agitation led to the first proposals for Constitutional Change for Northern Rhodesia which were presented to the British Parliament by the Secretary for the Colonies Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd by Command of Her Majesty in September 1958.

The proposals were still very discriminatory and led to the split of the African National Congress with more radical members breaking away to form the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) and later the United National Independence Party UNIP.

The proposals continued the discriminations and gave advantage to the settlers. Voters as were divided into special and ordinary and the constituencies were split into ordinary, special and reserved.

Qualifications for ordinary voters were an annual salary of 720 Pounds Sterling or ownership of leasehold property valued at 1,500 Pounds Sterling, and annual salary of 480 Pounds Sterling or ownership of leasehold property valued at 1,000 Pounds Sterling plus primary education, an annual salary of 300 Pounds Sterling and ownership of leasehold property valued at 500 Pounds Sterling plus four years of secondary education.

Others included among the ordinary voters were Ministers of religion who had undergone certain stipulated courses of training and periods of service in the ministry and who follow no other profession or gainful occupation and Paramount Chiefs and other chiefs recognised by the Governor; or those certified by the Resident Commissioner in the Barotseland Protectorate to be of equivalent status.

The Africans were classified as special voters and their qualifications were an annual salary of 150 Pounds Sterling or ownership of leasehold property valued at 500 Pounds Sterling, an annual salary of 120 Pounds Sterling plus two years of secondary education, persons who had been headmen for two years or hereditary councilors recognised as such by their chiefs and must be recommended by their chiefs and were performing unpaid service in such office to the community.

Other African social groups proposed to vote were persons who were in receipt of a monthly or annual pension earned after 20 years of service with one employer.

The wives (only the first wives of a polygamous marriage) of any of the persons listed in the categories above also qualified to vote.

In addition all the voters were required to be able to complete the application forms to be registered as a voter without any assistance, to be of minimum age of twenty-one years, be a British Subject, Citizen Of Rhodesia and Nyasaland or British Protected Person by virtue of connection with Northern Rhodesia, residence of two years in the Territory and three months in the constituency.

The proposed composition of the Legislative Council after “broadening the franchise” was the Speaker and thirty members, out of whom twelve would be elected in twelve ordinary constituencies, six would be members elected in six special constituencies, two would be Europeans elected in seats reserved for whites only and two would be Africans elected in seats specifically reserved for Africans.

The country was divided into 18 constituencies. The twelve Ordinary Constituencies were Chingola (the Chingola District and Bancroft District), Mufulira District, Nkana (the Nkana Mine Township), Kitwe (the Kitwe District excluding Nkana; and the Kalulushi District, Luanshya District, Ndola (Ndola Urban and Ndola Rural), Broken Hill Urban District, Lusaka Central (the central urban area of Lusaka Municipality), Lusaka East (the eastern parts of Lusaka Urban and Rural Districts; Crown land in that part of the Broken Hill Rural District which lies to the south of the Broken Hill Urban District and the Feira District), Lusaka West (the western parts of Lusaka Urban and Rural Districts), Southern (Native land east of the rail and Crown land in the Mazabuka and Choma Districts; and Crown land in the Kalomo District) and Livingstone (the Livingstone District).

The six Special Constituencies were Barotseland (Barotseland Protectorate), North Western (the Solwezi, Kasempa, Mwinilunga, Kabompo and Balovale Districts), South Western (Native land west of rail in the Masabuka, Choma and Broken Hill Districts; Native land in the Kalomo District; the Gwembe, Namwala and Mumbwa Districts), Eastern (the Fort Jameson, Lundazi and Petauke Districts), Northern (the Kasama, Chinsali, Mpika, and Isoka Districs and the Bemba part of the Luwingu District), Luapula (the Abercon, Mporokoso, Kawambwa, and Fort Rosebery Districts and the non-Bemba parts of Luwingu District; Cow land in the part of the Broken Hill Rural District which lies north of the Broken Hill Urban District and Native land east of rail in the Broken Hill Rural District).

The two reserved Districts for Africans in urban areas were Copperbelt (the area covered by Chingola, Mufulira, Nkana, Kitwe, Luanshya and Ndola constituencies) and South Central (the area covered by the Broken Hill, Lusaka, Southern and Livingstone constituencies).

The two seats reserved for Europeans in rural areas were Eastern Rural (the area covered by the Eastern, Northern and Luapula constituencies and Western Rural (the area covered by the Barotseland, North-Western and South-Western constituencies).

Because of the restrictive nature of the qualifications required for one to register as a voter, there were only 44,660 people allowed to participate in electing their members of parliament out of an estimated population of three and half million. The ordinary voters category had had 36,181 and the special category had 8,479.

The proposals also included a provision for evolution of the franchise to gradually relax the rules after 10 years and have qualifications based on income and ownership of immovable property.

Next week, we will continue with the 1960-61 Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference.

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