By Chris Zumani Zimba
Based on what is widely perceived as ‘political intimidation’, Mr Hakainde Hichilema (HH), a leader of Zambia’s lead opposition party, UPND appeared before the police on 20th November, 2018 in Ndola on accusations that he ‘influenced’ riots via his radio remarks which broke out in the Copperbelt early this month. The protests ‘erupted’ following rumors that the Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation (ZAFFICO) a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) and a member of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) Group was ‘sold or being sold’ by government to a Chinese investor. After questioning him for over two hours where he remained mute throughout the interrogation session, HH was released as the police failed to charge him with any offence. However, the police informed HH that his statement on a named radio station was not in tandem with section 57 (1b) as read with section 60 (1e and f) of seditious practices and therefore may call him back soon or later.
Ironically, it reported that the UPND leader was also questioned on his role in the privatization of parastatal companies under late President Frederick Chiluba in the 1990s, a matter that is now interpreted and perceived as unwarranted political witch-hunt as well as laughable. To start with, it important to stress that ‘a peaceful demonstration is not a crime in a functional democracy, not even in Zambia itself as it is one of the legitimate means through which the citizens engage their government or strive to advance their advocacy issues to those elected to govern them.
In the same vein, what Pilato, a popular Zambian artist shared with the audience and media folks on 19th November, 2018 at the launch of the Zambia Human Rights Defenders Network (ZHRDN) organized by Southern Africa Centre for Constructive Resolutions of Disputes (SACCORD) at Cresta Golf View Hotel in Lusaka is very touching and politically unfortunate for any citizen who lives in a constitutional democracy like Zambia. In his testimony, Pilato, (Original name, Fumba Chama), narrated that following the release of his hit song ‘Koswe Mumpoto’, (the rat in the pot) last year, he has faced many life threatening challenges and suffered multiple traumatic experiences such as the following:
- Has received multiple direct death threats from known and unknown PF members i.e. ruling party cadres;
- On more than three occasions, attempts have been made by ‘strangers’ to kidnap his children from school;
- His brother has been hunted down and physically beaten by political cadres and thugs from a named party;
- He is currently appearing in the courts of law to answer ‘criminal charges’ based on some of his songs;
- He has practically been banned to perform anywhere in Zambia as an artist for the same reasons;
- Institutions or individuals have stopped hiring him across board for fear of being followed by the state;
- When he was allowed to ‘perform’ once in the case of Kabwe show, the police instructed and watched him perform only ‘specific agreed upon’ songs; and
- In some cases, PF cadres such as those from Intercity Bus Terminus have been mobilized and sponsored to stop him from performing such as the show at Evelyn Hone college in Lusaka.
From the perspective of democracy promotion and good governance consolidation, both HH and Pilato should be seen and defined as classical “Human Rights Defenders” (HRDs), a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights of other people .i.e. those who stand up to speak out when the rights of others especially the weak, poor or marginalized are being violated or abused by the powerful forces. Going by the crimes both HH and Pilato are being victimized for by the PF government, the Office of the High Commissioner under the United Nations Human Rights Commission would ‘award’ them as HRDs because they are being mistreated by the state for simply contributing to the effective elimination of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the poor Zambian people. While Pilato’s song ‘Koswe Mumpoto’ highlights some corrupt tendencies or practices of the PF government under President Lungu in relation to the poor masses, HH’s ‘crimes’ over the alleged sale of ZAFFICO to the Chinese equally aim at defending the social, economic and sovereign rights of the Zambian people to own and manage their timber and wood resources.
What is happening to HH and Pilato is not common in sound democracies such as the US, UK, Sweden, Mauritius, Finland, Seychelles, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Ghana or France because elected leaders know that they are servants of the masses i.e. their voters and do not use the state machinery to hunt down and ‘fix’ every citizen or organization who and that share divergent views or criticize them. The current Zambian political episode is mainly dominant in authoritarian states where oppressive leaders (either elected or perpetual) are treated and worshipped as political gods and any criticism is seen as a political insult and blasphemy to the god father.
Therefore, in both instances, the PF government are succeeding at one thing for both HH and Pilato among many others: rationally and vigorously making your ‘political enemy’ more popular and powerful in the name of state oppression and political intimidations. While HH must start celebrating for this ‘political persecution’ the PF government is doing to him now as it will add some political value in 2021, Pilato must remain brave and resolute because his political commentary songs are enhancing political transparency and state accountability on before of the majority poor masses out there.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles.