Friday, 3 August 2012

Chilling with Chiefs

Today I had my first proper meeting with a chief. I met His Royal Highness Chief Ufwenuka at his home in a village about 45mins away from my own.

The land issue is so, so complicated here with so many different perspectives added to the mix and I'm trying to meet all those involved in the different arguments so I can get a clear picture of what's going on and thus put my best efforts into contributing something useful here.

Although its complicated I'm going to really try to sum it up in as objective a way as I can.

  • British colonial powers f**ked everything up (again) and now there's loads of land disputes.
  • Gender inequality adds to those disputes.
 Did I say objective? I meant angry.

So briefly when Zambia was a British colony the colonialists distributed land as they saw fit, even though the traditional tenure system in place meant that local people knew who already owned what, most of which had been in a clan or family for generations. When Zambia gained Independence in 1964 the new government that the British handed over to had to basically deal with two systems, the traditional one and the one that the British had introduced. Anyway, the government sorted a legal system to deal with state land, which is the good, fertile best land that the British took for themselves and then gave to the Zambian government, but they didn't sort a legal system to deal with customary land, which is the stuff that is owned by the people.

Customary land is traditionally held by chiefs and distributed to the people via village headmen. However, some corrupt district, provincial and government authorities have been trading customary land that isn't theirs and displacing people. Some chiefs who are corrupt have been selling inhabited land to government or district, urban folk without permission, again displacing people and also some corrupt headmen have been selling occupied land to international companies who want to build mines to feed the greedy self interest of their capitalist country.

Did I say brief? I meant ranty and long winded.

So anyway, back to HRH Chief Ufwenuka, (who incidentally you have to bow to and clap your hands three times when you meet him, something I was told AFTER I met him...). I was quite scared of him before I'd even seen him. I don't know which chiefs are the baddies and which ones are the goodies. I don't know which ones think women are pieces of meat or which ones want to see them as equals. It's all a bit confusing. Especially because I met a baddie headman the other day, but my judgemental side, (before I knew he was a baddie) screamed 'cute old man who I want to hug' at me. I didn't want to get it wrong again because I want to know what's what.

Anyway, back again from another transgression, to HRH CU. He was so beautiful. When I walked in, after tripping over the dog infront of everyone, I couldn't stop staring at him. He was captivating and charming. He talked with such sincerity about equality and justice, and he had this air of calm about him. I couldn't tell you how old he was, but old enough to have white hair, walking sticks and fairly advanced looking arthritis in his hands. As the most powerful person in his chiefdom, I thought he might not take kindly to suggestions about tenure systems in his jurisdiction, but my boss sat with him for a long time discussing ideas and he openly invited mine, too.

So today I've not only learned about different perspectives in the land rights argument, but I've definitely had another lesson about judgements. I never cease to amazing myself with the judgements that I have, even though I'm well travelled and consider myself open minded and culturally sensitive. I still judge and get it wrong constantly. Thanks to Chief U, I have been humbled.

I had two topics in my head to talk about in my blog this evening, but this one is already looking a bit lengthy so I'll perhaps save the other one for another time, but if I forget, can you mention the word 'sound' to me and then I'll remember what I want to write about.

Fank ewe!



  1. Cis, your amazing. I can't help thinking that 2 & 1/2 months is no where near long enough to get stuck into such an involved and convoluted issue though. xx poppabear xx

  2. Hey pops. Yeah, defo - Its not long enough AT ALL! I know that my direct involvement won't be with chiefs and headmen, but I can definitely help to stregthen the capacity of some of the organisations that are involved, which is what I'm working really hard to do. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. And yesterday was my break through moment. My boss said to me - I feel like Jesus didn't really make a difference until he was gone and I think that's the same for you because you're leaving us with a legacy. That's when my humility stopped and I was like 'whaaaaa, he just compared to me Jesus! Buzzing!

  3. Big hugs sis, sounds like such a complicated situation, I hate the fact that our ancestors and other european's are responsible for sowing the seeds of most of the issues. I wonder sometimes what would have become of the continent of Africa, homeland to the human race, if it was not revisited (albeit millenia later) by our ancestors and ransacked of it's people, land and resources. Not very helpful I know, but nice to think about. Could argue that some human beings are more base animal than others and seemingly carry no guilt after extinguishing a life or lives. Though I think it is in all of us, the capacity to kill each other (e.g. if our life or the lives of our friends/family are in jeopardy). It's just those who choose to use it in attack, rather than defence I despise, be they blatant dictators like Idi Amin or dictators hidden behind smoke and mirrors like George Bush. Maybe that part of the human condition will never leave, no matter how "civilised" we think we have become.

    Big Love Lucy, stay safe x

  4. just as long as they dont crucify you thats cool. perhaps you will come back a princess although your already that to me. love your mummy xxxxx