It is unbelievable that Vice-President Inonge Wina could take the floor of the House and declare that the government will not allow the opposition to hold meetings on the Copperbelt.
Responding to a question by Kalomo Central UPND member of parliament Request Muntanga who said the government was turning Zambia into a police state by denying his party opportunities to hold rallies on the Copperbelt, Inonge said the government could not allow the opposition to take advantage of the volatile situation on the Copperbelt. “Mr Speaker, you know that Copperbelt is experiencing a lot of problems, so for a political party to take advantage of that situation cannot be allowed. Another reason why the rallies were stopped was to do with security concerns,” explained Inonge.
It is at all times a painful experience to have to imagine that people like Inonge, who for many years campaigned for the protection of the rights and freedoms of all, only yesterday were crying for equality, fairness and justice, could today be the ones in the forefront of promoting and defending intolerance, tyranny and dictatorship. It is them and only them who should be heard. It is okay for them to hold meetings and campaign anywhere in the country, but it becomes a security concern when others try to do so.
Edgar Lungu and the Patriotic Front spent the whole of the other week campaigning on the Copperbelt. They met a hostile reception, things were not good for them. And because of this hostility, they don’t want the opposition to go there, hold meetings and campaign. This doesn’t make sense! This is not right! This must be challenged in all ways possible!
As we have stated before, to hear one voice clearly, that is the voice of Edgar and the Patriotic Front, we must have the freedom to hear all the voices that are there, that is, the voices of the opposition also.
Opposition political parties and candidates must enjoy the freedom of assembly and movement, the freedom of speech necessary to openly voice their criticisms of the government and to bring alternative policies and candidates to the voters, especially in highly troubled areas like the Copperbelt. Simply permitting the opposition access to the ballot is not enough. Elections in which the opposition is barred from the public media, has its meetings harassed, are not democratic. The party in power may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair.
We are less than a year away from elections, and if the opposition are not allowed to campaign now and sell their policies and programmes to the Zambian people, when are they going to be able to do so? And more so, the Copperbelt, which is highly troubled, needs to hear more voices so that they can make informed choices. Their lives are in shambles; they need to find a way out of this through the electoral process, the ballot.
It is not possible to have peace in a country where the voices of others are stifled, are not heard on the key issues affecting the nation. As Dr Kenneth Kaunda once put it, “One of the reasons why peaceful meetings are a valuable way of fighting unjust systems is because they make a direct appeal to the human instincts of those in power and it is their conscience, which is the real weapon against injustice. The inability of those in power to still the voices of their own conscience is the great force leading to desired changes and this great force leaves those challenging them unmarked and unscarred by brutality. Peaceful meetings concentrate hatred on the unjust system, which needs to be reformed. And it does not lead to a hatred of man. When the suffering people cannot touch the hearts of those in power, force appears the only solution. An oppressive system, whether it is economic exploitation, denying political freedoms, or refusing to accept the rule of law, has a tendency to brutalise the people in power. And the longer the system continues, and the more oppressive it is, the more brutalising it is for those who control it.”
The problems on the Copperbelt call on all the political leaders to explain what is going on, how things got to where they are and how the situation can be remedied. This calls for more and more meetings of all those who are vying for leadership and those in power who want to retain the status quo. This is the only way peace can be sustained on the Copperbelt. Let everyone who has something to say, say it and say it as loud as possible. If what they are saying is sensible, people will agree with them. If they are talking nonsense, they will be booed and jeered like we saw the other week. Disagreement is an inherent part of democracy, and more so multiparty democracy. We should not fear disagreements because democratic societies are made for that and are capable of enduring the bitterest disagreements among their citizens – except for the disagreement about the legitimacy of democracy itself.
And in our multiparty political dispensation, political parties and their work are very important. The election campaigns they conduct are usually time consuming and sometimes silly. But their function is deadly serious: to provide a peaceful and fair method by which citizens can selected their leaders and have a meaningful role in determining their own destiny.
It is important to always bear in mind that democracy is not a machine that runs by itself once the proper principles and procedures are inserted. A democratic society needs the commitment of citizens who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for tolerance.
It doesn’t make sense to try and stop opposition political parties from politically exploiting the problems that the government has created and failed to manage on the Copperbelt. The opposition has every right to exploit that and make political capital out of it. If the opposition is not making sense and the people think those in government, for all their problems, are right, they will act accordingly. Trying to block others from campaigning freely doesn’t make sense; it is a desperate action by desperate people, which will lead them nowhere but to further self-destruction and more desperation.
Edgar and his Patriotic Front should not be allowed to continue to abuse the police and the public order Act. They must be challenged politically and legally. Their actions are not supported by law; they are simply acts of arbitrariness. And the opposition political parties and other civil society organisations should respond to this with courage, boldness, militancy and tenacity. They shouldn’t allow them to walk over their heads with impunity. Rights and freedoms have to be defended from encroachment by desperate and tyrannical elements like these.
They have created a very bad situation in the country that they themselves are now scared of. This is a product of their shortsightedness, greed and vanity. They are now scared even of their own shadows. Whenever someone speaks, they think they are out to tell the people the truth and to undermine them, politically and otherwise. They are really scared of losing next year’s elections because they know the consequences. In a very short time, they have engaged in more corruption than even that of the Frederick Chiluba and Rupiah Banda regimes put together. They are scared of going to jail and they would rather hang on to power for as long as it takes and by any means possible.