Zam­bia’s down­ward slide

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

It was one of the more sta­ble democ­ra­cies but, un­der Lungu, the state has been us­ing dra­co­nian mea­sures to deal with dis­sent

AS SOUTH Africa pre­pares to take over as chair of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity Or­gan next month, one of its most ur­gent chal­lenges will be to forge re­gional con­sen­sus on how to re­verse Zam­bia’s slide to­wards dic­ta­tor­ship.

Not many South Africans fol­low Zam­bian pol­i­tics, but what they do know about Zam­bia is that it was the home of ANC lead­ers in ex­ile un­der apartheid, it was led by the much-loved Ken­neth Kaunda – a fer­vent sup­porter of the lib­er­a­tion move­ments, and the coun­try is the sec­ond big­gest pro­ducer of cop­per in Africa.

Not much was heard about Zam­bia un­til DA leader Mmusi Maimane tried to at­tend the trea­son trial of Zam­bian op­po­si­tion leader Hakainde Hichilema re­cently, and was re­fused en­try into the coun­try. Then came the EFF’s con­dem­na­tion of the state re­pres­sion. For­mer pres­i­dent Kaunda re­cently tried to visit Hichilema in prison, but was pre­vented from do­ing so.

Zam­bia was con­sid­ered one of south­ern Africa’s more sta­ble democ­ra­cies, but with the death of its pres­i­dent, Michael Sata, in 2014, and the rise of Edgar Lungu to the pres­i­dency in elec­tions (the re­sults of which have been hotly con­tested), the gov­ern­ment has adopted dra­co­nian mea­sures in deal­ing with op­po­si­tion and dis­sent.

Lungu has sus­pended 48 MPs for hav­ing boy­cotted his State of the Na­tion Ad­dress. But more con­cern­ing is the level of op­pres­sion, tor­ture and de­ten­tion with­out trial in re­cent months that is sound­ing alarm bells.

In April, Hichilema was de­tained fol­low­ing a raid on his home, re­port­edly by more than 100 po­lice of­fi­cers dis­pens­ing tear gas. He was ac­cused of en­dan­ger­ing the pres­i­dent’s life by not mak­ing way for the pres­i­dent’s mo­tor­cade. He is be­ing tried for trea­son for this traf­fic of­fence. A guilty ver­dict for trea­son in Zam­bia can be pun­ish­able by death.

A source close to Hichilema said he was al­legedly tied up like a dog, beaten and thrown into a cell with ex­cre­ment on the floor and only a bucket in which to re­lieve him­self. He has also been moved to a max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison 160km out­side the cap­i­tal Lusaka in or­der to make it dif­fi­cult for his fam­ily to see him.

The case has the hall­marks of the apartheid se­cu­rity po­lice sto­ries – con­cocted charges, beat­ings, trea­son charges, a clos­ing of the po­lit­i­cal space where peo­ple are afraid to crit­i­cise the gov­ern­ment for fear of their phys­i­cal se­cu­rity.

Since Lungu de­clared a State of Emer­gency on July 5, jour­nal­ists say more than 500 mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion United Party for Na­tional De­vel­op­ment (UPND) have been de­tained with­out charge and 18 have been ex­e­cuted.

Mutinta Haaba­sune, a fe­male on­line jour­nal­ist, was al­legedly de­tained on July 12 for 10 days for “in­sult­ing the pres­i­dent”, tor­tured and re­leased only a week ago. She has writ­ten about her de­ten­tion – the beat­ings, be­ing de­nied food and cloth­ing and be­ing pre­vented from bathing. She says this has been the fate of hun­dreds in the clam­p­down on the UPND since the gov­ern­ment de­clared the State of Emer­gency.

In a week where we have been re­minded of the tor­ture and gross abuses of hu­man rights in John Vorster Square in the 1970s dur­ing the re­open­ing of the Ahmed Ti­mol in­quest, we need to be cog­nisant that some of the same tac­tics are be­ing used against the op­po­si­tion in de­ten­tion in Zam­bia.

Zam­bia’s rul­ing party has sought to paint Hichilema as an agent of for­eign pow­ers, which they have ar­gued in an ar­ti­cle posted on their Face­book page, sug­gest­ing that Hichilema was in ca­hoots with for­mer Nige­rian pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo and wealthy South African busi­ness­man Jonathan Op­pen­heimer to in­stall him as pres­i­dent, given their busi­ness in­ter­ests in the coun­try. The ar­ti­cle de­picted Hichilema as be­ing part of a se­cret al­liance with Op­pen­heimer and Obasanjo which dis­cussed in­volv­ing for­eign mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion.

The nar­ra­tive is laugh­able. The ar­ti­cle refers to the se­cret meet­ings tak­ing place in 2014 and last year at the Op­pen­heimer game re­serve in the Kala­hari, and were or­gan­ised by the Bren­thurst Foun­da­tion. The foun­da­tion hosts po­lit­i­cal think tank dia­logues at the Tswalu Kala­hari Re­serve, and while Obasanjo and Hichilema par­tic­i­pated in Bren­thurst Foun­da­tion dia­logues, so did for­mer pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe and nu­mer­ous other South African gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, and aca­demics.

Zam­bian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials had also been in­vited to at­tend, but ac­cord­ing to foun­da­tion head Greg Mills, had de­clined the in­vi­ta­tion.

There was noth­ing se­cre­tive about the meet­ings and there is no ev­i­dence to sup­port such a con­spir­acy the­ory.

De­spite the Zam­bian High Com­mis­sion be­ing asked to pro­duce ev­i­dence, it has re­fused to re­spond.

It will be one of the first tests of South Africa’s lead­er­ship of the SADC Or­gan as to whether it can ef­fec­tively mo­bilise the re­gion to pres­sure Lungu to re­store the rule of law and po­lit­i­cal free­dom in the south­ern African coun­try.

APARTHEID TAC­TICS: Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu sus­pended 48 MPs for boy­cotting his State of the Na­tionFAd­dress. More con­cern­ing is the op­pres­sion, tor­ture and de­ten­tion with­out trial, says the writer.

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