‘This is a peculiar case where the complainant is the state, the investigator is the state police, and the prime suspect is the police.’
STATEMENT BY THE FAMILY OF THE LATE VESPERS SHIMUNZHILA
The Family of Vespers Shumunzhila, the university of Zambia student who died on 5th October 2018 issue this statement to correct many falsehoods and half-truths that have been circulating in the media. The family has remained silent on the matter because we are still mourning. We are in deep shock and sorrow following the loss of our beloved one in such a tragic and unfortunate manner.
Firstly and foremost, the Family would like to sincerely thank all persons, organizations and institutions that rendered material, financial and moral support during this period of mourning. We would like to specifically thank the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the University of Zambia for providing financial and logistical support during the funeral in Lusaka and Namwala. We thank all government officials, politicians and political parties, civil society organizations, the church, the management, lecturers, staff and students of the University of Zambia, friends and relatives who came to mourn with us at the funeral house, at the church service in Lusaka and at the burial site in Namwala. We pray that God’s blessings be with you all. We would not have managed to put our beloved daughter to her final rest without your assistance and support.
Our daughter Vespers Shimunzhila was born in 1993 and raised in our under-privileged family in Kantengwa area of Namwala District, Southern Province. She was the third born in a family of ten siblings of Mr. and Mrs. Davison Shimunzhila. Vespers was outstanding amongst all her siblings. She exhibited discipline, intelligence, and hard work from a very young age. She was devoted to Christian teachings and was a full communicant member of the Seventh Day Adventists, the church to which all family members congregate. Her discipline, intelligence and hard work saw her progress from Kantengwa, a primary school that does not have any electricity lighting, to Kasenga and Njase Secondary during her secondary school life. For tertiary education, she studied at Rusangu University for one academic year. She then applied and was accepted at University of Zambia the following year to pursue a degree in Education with specific focus on Adult Education.
As a poor family, we will not shy to state that Mr. and Mrs. Shimunzhila struggled to raise funds to meet the school requirements for our daughter Vespers. Much as she was on government bursary, there were other school expenses that were not covered. As poor peasant farmers, securing funding for her school requirements was always a challenge. Sometimes, we had to incur debts to pay for her school requirements. In most cases she went to school with inadequate funds, but would never complain. Instead she would always assure us that the family’s financial problems would be alleviated once she completed her course and get employed. She did not leave to see that day, because someone terminated her life in the most painful manner. We did not invest in our daughter’s education expecting a return. We did it so that she could move out of the vicious circle of poverty. Our prayer was that she could pass on the gesture to her siblings and other members of the extended family in future. Sadly, this was never to be.
A few days before the tragic incidence the father Mr. Davidson Shimunzhila phoned his daughter from Kenya where he was attending a short course training in agriculture. During their cellphone conversation, Vespers pleaded with her father that the family start preparing for her graduation. The father assured her that we would raise the required funds for her graduation. Around 07:00 hrs on 5th October 2018, whilst in Kenya, the father got a phone call from Flare his wife and Vespers ‘mother that Vespers was dead! He was devastated and confused. His wife Flare told him that their daughter died in a room at a University hostel after the room was engulfed with teargas, smoke and fire. This allegedly happened after the police moved into campus to quell a riot by the students. The father was surprised because our daughter Vespers was not of riotous behavior.
When the father reached Lusaka, He was briefed that the state decided to carry out a post-mortem before the body could be handed over to the family. This, the family was informed, that it was mandatory when the state has reason to suspect that a death was not by natural causes. Since the notice was short, the family could not get independent medical experts to witness the autopsy. However, two family relatives witnessed the autopsy. A third party with medical expertise also witnessed the autopsy. From the witnessing of the autopsy, it seemed that Vespers sustained other fatal injuries in addition to teargas suffocation! The family will not give any detail on this as it is a subject on an ongoing investigation.
The pathologist issued a certificate of death and promised that the detailed post-mortem report would be ready within three days. After this period elapsed, a family member was sent to collect a copy of the autopsy report. The member was referred to the police as they were now the only ones with custody of the report. The police refused to avail a copy of the report to the family. Their fear was that the document may not be secured and if it leaked, it would jeopardize the investigation. The family insisted on even just having sight of the document to compare with what was observed during the autopsy. This, the police also denied the family.
We do appreciate that this may be standard police procedure, but we are worried as a family. This is a peculiar case where the complainant is the state, the investigator is the state police, and the prime suspect is the police.
We were informed that the police have different units and can and do investigate each other. But, ultimately, all police departments report to one command. Is this not conflict of interest? The police has not been forthcoming to the family with the status of the investigation. There is no organized liaison between the investigating team and the family.
To add to our concerns, the police high command has not come out strongly against the actions of police officers deployed to quell the riots on that fateful early morning. There have been statements attributed to high ranking government officials throwing the blame to students’ riotous behavior, and very little or no comments regarding the actions of the police. Would this not influence public opinion and the investigation?
Faced with this dilemma, the family decided to commence its own fact finding. Eyewitness accounts indicate that our daughter, Vespers Shimunzhila was sleeping in her room with other students on that fateful night. She was nowhere near the scenes of the riots. Eyewitness accounts also indicated that police fired teargas canisters into October 2 hostel of the University. Following that, two rooms caught fire and teargas and smoke engulfed a number of rooms of the hostel. Later, fellow students found our daughter Vespers in a kneeling position, unconscious. She was in nightwear, indicating that she was not at the scenes of the riots. The students rushed her to the university clinic, but she never regained consciousness.
The police did not do much to secure a possible scene of a crime. Pictures of civilians inspecting the scene started appearing on social media. As a result, evidence may have been contaminated and lost. Our enquiries indicate that police did not interview possible eyewitnesses more than four days after the incidence. There is no statement from the police as to who was in charge of the operation and what the orders for the same were.
Amidst silence from the police, a number of people have continued to issue statements and opinions on this sorrowful case. A few comments have been sympathetic to the family, the student populace and others affected by this death. Other statements have been very painful to the family as they paint Vespers as a political agent. Others suggesting that she was involved in clandestine activities. There is no truth to all these statements. The police have not issued any warning to stop such statements. The family is still in mourning. We request that people refrain from making such negative and unfounded accusations of our dearly departed family member. Vespers can no longer speak for herself. The family may be forced to seek legal redress against any person or persons who continue to issue negative unsubstantiated statements about Vespers. Please, please, let the soul of our daughter rest in peace.
Of particular concern to the family are statements attributed to a politician and activist Chilufya Tayali that our daughter Vespers was involved in clandestine activities. He further alleges our daughter was an agent of a named political party. Is this allegation confirmation that Vespers was specifically targeted and killed due to these suspected activities? If so, who targeted her and was this killing legal? Why didn’t the state investigate, arrest and prosecute her for the same if at all indeed she had committed any crime? Surprisingly, the police have not come out to warn this activist to stop issuing such serious allegations. Is this a systematic way of trying to cover her unjust death? A number of influential persons who are not part of the police investigations have also been issuing statements and opinions about the circumstances of Vespers’ death. Through this, won’t the police investigations be influenced to end up just validating these statements and opinions?
We would like to put the record straight.
1. Vespers did not have any medical history of Asthma
2. Vespers was not a student militant. She was not involved in the riots of October 5, 2018
3. Vespers was not a political activist. She did not even have a voter’s card. She did not drive to enable her organize Avondale area as alleged.
4. Vespers was a servant of the lord Jesus Christ. She could not be involved in clandestine activities.
Since there is a lot of public interest in this case, we request that government urgently institute an inquest. That way, members of the public who are not within the police investigation target may be availed chance to give evidence.
We also request that the police avail a copy of the post-mortem report to the family without further delay. Failure to this, the family may have no other option, but to reveal the findings of the post-mortem as witnessed.
We also appeal to Government to find a lasting solution to minimize student unrest at the University of Zambia and other institutions of higher learning. We are concerned as parents about statements indicating that government should cease funding to students at UNZA. Our daughter Vespers’ death would be in total vain if a multitude of students from poor families lose their bursaries and are dropped from UNZA. Vespers’ death should not be used to justify the use of education as a tool of class differentiation. As we live with the lifelong pain of losing our beloved daughter, we as the Shimunzhila family continue to look forward to a Zambia that is characterized by universal access to education. Should we not dream of a Zambia where are daughter of a peasant farmer can become a medical doctor, a son of a street vendor can become an engineer and an orphan can become a top lawyer rising to the position of Chief Justice of the Judiciary, just to mention a few? Countries such as those of South-east Asia that have experienced high rates of economic growth in the last five decades are characterized by huge spending in public education. It would be very sad if Zambia takes the opposite direction.
Finally, we would like to make profound appreciation to all organizations that have come out strongly to show support in pursuit of justice for our daughter Vespers. We make specific mention of the Human Rights Commission who are conducting their own investigations, the Law Association of Zambia who have pledged legal support for Vespers’ cause, the NGOCC, and a pressure group called Voice of Vespers who have commenced advocacy activities for our dearly departed daughter.
The family will draw on all these resources and would welcome any further support, no matter how little. A formal organized structure may be formed to steer a holistic approach to ensure that justice is served for Vespers.
The cardinal question is “WHO WILL SPEAK FOR VESPERS?”
We the family of Vespers say “WE WILL”
We appeal to anybody who feels an injustice occurred in this incidence to reply,
The family will issue updates on the matter whenever necessary
We Thank You
Father to late Vespers Shimunzhila
Supported by family members:
L. Shantebe Chiinda
19th October, 2018.