Written By: Pastor Enoch F Phiri
The deportation of Mmusi Maimane from Zambia a few days ago represents an unfortunate political spectacle that does not auger well for democracy in the African Continent and Zambia in particular. The leader of South Africa’s opposition is also the chairperson of the network of opposition politicians that was established in the region with the intention of sharing expertise and advising each other on governance issues.
Maimane was on his way as part of their mission as a network to attend the trial of Zambian opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema, who was arrested a few weeks ago for allegedly blockading a Presidential motorcade. In a typical dictatorial fashion, authorities in Zambia harassed and incarcerated Hichilema who also happens to be the same person who opposed the outcome of the recent election results as fraudulent and out of sync with the principles of free and fair elections.
What is striking about these developments is that Hichilema as a leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) In Zambia was a Presidential candidate who challenged the outcome of this election where Edgar Lungu won. Instead of engaging constructively in the constitutional court challenge, the Zambian government under Lungu has decided to employ Apartheid like tactics where opposing voices have been suppressed through the use of force and state violence.
This is in contrast with the reputation of Zambia as a country with relatively peaceful political climate and violence free elections. The actions of Lungu countenance the claim that has been made by Hichilema’s party that government has been intimidating the opposition throughout the election campaign, fuelling unprecedented violence and chaos within the Zambian population.
During Lungu and Hichilema contestation. Supporters from both opposing parties attacked each other mercilessly and scattered families and neighbourhoods across the country. These type of opposition politics that involve the loss of life and destabilisation of people’s livelihoods do not auger well for the dream of open and accountable government in Africa. We have just emerged from jubilant celebrations where countries across the continent were celebrating Africa Day, a day where Africa reflects of its past, considers its present and plots the future and the attainment of its Renaissance. Even as we do this boisterous reflection, despots in Zambia see it fit to terrorise and harass every person who dares challenge their authority.
It is even more outrageous that the charges against Hichilema relate to an alleged trivial incident of motorcade blockade which has now ridiculously mutated into treason according to the authorities. This phenomenon of untouchable politicians including those on our own shores, who behave like bullies in every aspect of people’s lives is becoming an albatross on the necks of democratic principles and ethical leadership in African countries.
In South Africa, we know of fatal cases where citizens have been on the receiving end of the bully boy tactics by politicians’ fast and furious motorcades. Families have lost their loved ones and motorists live in perpetual fear of these marauding motorcades on our national roads. Though not a treasonable offence in South Africa, we have also witnessed dramatic and ridiculous charges laid against an individual who merely pointed at a presidential motorcade.
As citizens, we need to be vigilant enough to oppose these dictatorial tendencies by these unaccountable leaders and deputations such as these by Maimane need to get our support to say no bullysim and harassment. We must also insist on the right of citizens to protest and raise their voices when governance seems to fail. That opposition parties in Africa decided to form this network to promote good governance attests to the need for checks and balances against dictatorial tendencies.
In carrying out these uncanny tendencies, and true to the nature of dictatorship, the Zambian government has also pointed its corrupt guns towards the media, chiefly to silence any dissenting voice and promote only the praise singers of the current regime. The claims by Sunday Chanda, Director for Media at Progressive Front headquarters that Zambia has open and free media are a distortion to the core. In his praise singing of the Zambian government, he does not mention the brutal closure and suppression of Zambia’s biggest newspaper, The Post, on the basis that they churning out propaganda for the opposition.
The shutting down of newspapers like The Post, coupled with the continued harassment of all public intellectuals and opposition members is an anti-thesis of an open and free government. It is in fact a violation of their own laws about freedom of speech and access to information contained in the Zambian Constitution. In the case of Sata v Post Newspapers Ltd & Another in 1995, the Zambian court extended freedom of expression for public figures and held that the state must accept criticism of their conduct by members of the public.
In this case, “the defendant newspaper published a number of articles in May and June 1992 and January 1993 making a series of factual allegations against a government official, including that he had diverted public funds for his own benefit and that he had been beaten up by a fellow minister during a drunken brawl in the National Assembly motel bar room”.
The Zambian High Court “held that public figures must be open to the most searching criticism of their official acts, and must accept factual errors reasonably made in the course of such criticism”. Following firmly on the footsteps of this judgment, the question is why Zambian authorities continue to suppress opposing views, going to an extent of harassing and incarcerating those who dare challenge their authority. The truth of the matter is that Hichilema is languishing in jail not because of his alleged blockade of the motorcade, which itself is a trumped up cheap intimidation stunt by government authorities. The reason Hichilema is in jail is because he dared to speak up against election rigging which was fuelled by greed and corruption and corruption.
The deportation of Mmusi Maimane is also one treacherous act of a government that is hell-bent on intimidating opposition and suppressing any dissenting views. Responsible citizens need to rise up and demand the immediate release of Hichilema so that the nation can speak up against dictatorship of Lungu’s government.
Pastor Enoch F Phiri is a founding and senior Pastor of Restoration House in Protea Glen, Soweto.