To all members of the three Church Mother Bodies, namely, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) as well as all people of good will, we greet you and say “May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you all.”
We the three Church Mother Bodies would like, first of all to put on record our unwavering desire to support any process that conforms to constitutionalism, democratic governance and respect for human rights in Zambia. This has been our plea and indeed the desire of the majority Zambians. That is why in principle, we have nothing against National Dialogue, but we have had serious concerns with regard to the process and contents of the National Dialogue Forum Act. Our hope and prayer, is that the Forum produces the desired results which will be acceptable and in the interest of the majority Zambians.
Our Participation in the Current National Dialogue Forum
As we noted in our joint submission to the parliamentary committee on 26th March 2019, this country “… needed to have embarked on a serious process of genuine and nationwide dialogue that is aimed at national healing and reconciliation.” Unfortunately, the ongoing dialogue process is unlikely to achieve national healing and reconciliation.
Arising from the aforementioned, and after receiving calls from key stakeholders the Church took up the challenge of initiating, facilitating and leading the national dialogue and reconciliation process. As a result, a National Dialogue and Reconciliation Framework and guidelines for the process were developed after an intensive process of consultations with key stakeholders including government.
Why the Church is not Participating
The NDF Act of 2019 does not provide a guarantee for the protection of the contents of the outcome that will be generated by the National Dialogue Forum (NDF). This is because there is no provision in the Act, as the final NDF resolutions will be subjected to further parliamentary deliberations and scrutiny.
Contrary to our submission to remove the members of parliament from the Forum, the Act still maintained this provision. Our concern is that the MPs will have undue privilege at the end of the NDF process, to look at the Forum resolutions again and where possible alter the agreed outcomes. We find this anomaly to be against the rules of natural justice, where in this case, the same people who will participate in the initial discussions will be the ones again to scrutinize the same contents (Bills).
In our view and learning from other jurisdictions, it is best practice, especially in constitutional making process, to have an independent committee of experts that reviews and refines all the submissions from the people through such fora as the NDF before they are taken to parliament for enactment. This would reduce the inconsistences and lacunas in the constitution.
Given the limited time (only ten days)allocated to this process, the Church is still concerned, as a matter of procedure with the simultaneous handling of the constitutional refinements with other pieces of legislation which must derive their existence from the constitution as a supreme law.
The NDF Act does not provide for the enhancement of the Bill of Rights by way of a referendum. We feel that this is too cardinal to leave out in this process because the Bill of Rights is essential to enjoying our rights under the constitution. Our call has always been having a comprehensive constitution making process that does not leave out the question of human rights.
The composition of the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) is highly dominated by people with undue influence from their appointing authority. Our concern is that, when it comes to voting on particular issues not agreed by consensus, the outcome may possibly go the majority way.
In the spirit of genuine dialogue and reconciliation we feel that the punitive clauses put in the Act do not speak well to the objectives of the National dialogue process.
The way forward for the Church
Though we are not participating in the National Dialogue Forum, the Church will not lose sight of its God-given ministry of reconciliation, peace building and enhancing national unity. Therefore, the three Church Mother Bodies will continue using a pastoral approach and its prophetic voice to promote a genuine national dialogue and reconciliation and so;
Without attempting to create a parallel process, we will embark on a vigorous pastoral campaign to promote dialogue using the bottom-up approach, where direct engagement of the people at the local community level will be done. This way people from all walks of life will have an opportunity to discuss issues that affect them in a reconciliatory manner.
While we value the constitutional and legal refinements, we strongly believe that genuine reconciliation cannot be attained through mere legal amendments. As such the Church will continue to pursue mediation between conflicting parties.
In the spirit of national dialogue and reconciliation the three Church Mother Bodies will continue with the effective engagement of key stakeholders. This engagement will also involve individuals and organizations of good will thereby enhancing reconciliation.
From the very beginning of the Church led National Dialogue and Reconciliation process, our vision has always been “A conversion of hearts and minds, leading to a united, reconciled and peaceful Zambia where all citizens freely participate in governance within a thriving social and economic environment”. We remain committed to this vision. We are resolved to remain non-partisan, inclusive and committed to bring people from all walks of life and political persuasions together in the spirit of “One Zambia, One Nation.” Our Churches should remain a neutral space which brings all people on an equal basis in the presence of God.