EMPTY seats welcomed President Edgar Lungu at the Lusaka Showgrounds main arena on Sunday where he went to officiate at the national day of prayer event.
President Lungu called for a day of prayer and invited leaders of the opposition political parties and the Church, civil society organisations and other electoral stakeholders to attend the service with a view to restoring peace in the country ahead of the general elections which are less than three weeks away.
But President Lungu’s critics accused him of mocking God because his party was guilty of causing violence and terrorising people and he had failed to control PF cadres.
The critics also accused President Lungu of ordering police to shoot and kill opposition UPND supporters.
Others observed that the country did not heal of violence after President Lungu declared October 18 the National Day of Prayer last year. The Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) recently issued a statement telling the government leadership that the Church does not pray for empty pursuits and that it was important for politicians to heed to the Church’s counsel.
But President Lungu downplayed the resistance for last Sunday’s day of prayer until he was greeted by an empty stadium.
Apart from his clergymen, the army, several church choirs, government officials and some chiefs who had endorsed President Lungu, there were very few citizens to fill even half of the seats in the arena.
The Head of State arrived around 15:00 hours, waved to a few people, mostly government officials, PF party functionaries and the security before taking his seat.
Ironically, President Lungu, his finance minister Alexander Chikwanda, Katuba PF candidate Jonas Shakafuswa and others quickly started dozing even before the National House of Prayer advisory board chairperson Bishop Joshua Banda finished reading the short list of dignitaries present in his salutation.
Media-happy ex-priest Frank Bwalya, who is now PF deputy campaign manager, was not to be left out of the dozing irony as he joined the tired VIP officials in the shutting eyes exercise that coincided with the church programme.
The dozing officials occasionally opened their eyes to the sound of the clapping supporters, but quickly retreated to slumberland when the clapping died down.
For the moments when President Lungu was awake during the service, he was spotted struggling to find the Bible verses that the speakers were calling out to read and he would then give up and start listening.
UPND vice-president Dr Canisius Banda represented the party while the FDD was represented by the party national secretary.
Meanwhile, Felix Mutati and leaders of 10 minor political parties that have all endorsed President Lungu were in attendance. Compared to last year’s National Day of Prayer, Sunday’s event was gloomy and the small audience was barely responsive.
And in a sermon, Anglican priest Fr Robert Sibuwa warned that shedding innocent blood can turn into a curse.
“When you shed innocent blood, be careful, it may turn into a curse,” he said.
Fr Sibuwa also denounced clergymen who had aligned themselves to certain political parties.
“As a church, we must rise above our children, the political leaders. God forbid that we must have a clergy for party A and a clergy for party B. God forbid! I pray that a time shall come when I will go and give an opening prayer at an FDD rally and on the same day go and open up a rally of the UPND. On the same day go and open up a PF rally and then go home and sit in peace. We need to rise above these partisan issues as a church. Don’t become so mediocre and so short-sighted that when you see Fr Robert at a UPND rally then you say he must be UPND. Sorry, we are above that,” said Fr Sibuwa who constantly raised his hand as though he was flashing the UPND symbol.