By Hilary Mulenga
If the current MMD regime was asked to coin a new definition of the phrase “thorn in the flesh”, the name “Catholic Church” would form part of that definition. The Catholic Church has been a consistent critic of the MMD government. On the other hand the government has deployed every means to disown this seasoned critic such as accusing it of flaming a possible genocide and abandoning its spiritual duties for political ones.
The current strain of relations between the MMD and the Catholic Church cannot simply be relegated to the arena of politics. There are two reasons why this author takes this position. Firstly, the Catholic clergy who have been at the helm of this disparity do not hold any public office. Thus, it is illogical to think that they are advancing their political mileage by criticizing the government. They may be accused of supporting the opposition but it’s difficult to detect political interests in that move.
Secondly, the current MMD regime consists of Catholics who hold higher positions of public office. Among them is the Vice President Kunda who even publicly professes to be Catholic. This may leave out the notion that the Catholic clergy want to push for its members to form an alternative government.
It is difficult, too, to detect the Church’s self-preservation as the agenda for their stance against the government on several issues. The MMD poses little threat to the Church. The Catholic Church is an international religious institution and certainly larger than the MMD. In Zambia, the Catholic Church is more comfortable than the MMD and it’s the latter that, on several occasions, seems to be fighting for self-preservation.
However, the Catholic Church has vast influence in the nation. It is the largest religious institution in Zambia. Most importantly, it waves much of its influence in much populated provinces of Zambia such as Lusaka, Copperbelt and Northern.
The Catholic Church, despite the current disparity with the government, remains a major collaborator with the government in the provision of health, social and educational services. The nation cannot dispense with the Church and it seems suicidal for the MMD to venture into that thinking.
This wider influence of the Catholic Church puts it into touch with the suffering and the poor. Most of its clergy have claimed to speak for the poor and the marginalized. It is understandable because unlike some other religious institutions, the Catholic Church has played host to the hopeless and helpless of society. Its manner of evangelization has not only on the pulpit but also through provision of material help. In most cases, its clergy have also claimed to be voices for the voiceless.
However, the current strain can only be understood when one looks at the occupation of the current MMD government. It is difficult to argue against the fact that the MMD government, over the years, has lost popularity. The MMD party has also been largely divided within its own ranks. In cases where one is threatened, even one’s shadow can be a recipe of fright.
The Catholic clergy, through their incessant attacks, seem to be adding more salt to the wound. They have been a thorn in the flesh of the MMD government. Through their attacks, they seem to be suggesting that the MMD’s time is up. It’s no wonder that the MMD’s defensive tactics against the Catholic clergy are mostly based on fallacies rather than truths.
As long as the MMD government turns a blind on issues that make the Catholic clergy speak out, the disparity will never be abated. Moreover, the disparity will always be a danger to the MMD. Its enough for them to be reminded that 20 years ago, UNIP’s party was spoiled and the Catholic clergy played an indirect but emphatic role in that!