The latest diplomatic spat between South African President Jacob Zuma and Zambian leader Michael Sata is not only unnecessary, but extremely unhealthy and dangerous to our country and its good neighbourliness.
The incident in question stems from President Sata’s crusade to seek revenge against former President Rupiah Banda, which has not gone over well with neighboring governments. Apparently former President Banda made a visit to the High Commission of South Africa yesterday – something that Sata himself would do regularly as an opposition leader – and the perceived audacity of this visit provoked the fury of the state.
The Post Newspaper, widely acknowledged as President Sata’s personal mouthpiece, published a salacious article highlighting former President Banda’s meeting, followed by a very harsh personal attack against President Zuma and the South African people by editor Fred M’membe, which simply would not have been possible without the personal approval of State House.
It seems President Sata is ready to sacrifice the strong and firm diplomatic foundation Zambia has for a long time cultivated with its neighours for the sole purposes of satisfying his ego and furthering the agenda of a corrupt cartel led by Fred M’membe and his former business partner, the Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito, who are seeking to wipe out the opposition and install the deeply unpopular Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba as president.
Clearly, M’membe – the Post Newspaper owner – has traded what was left of his journalistic reputation to become a big businessman and engage in shadow politics. M’membe is determined to do anything and convict fourth Zambian president Rupiah Banda for crimes only himself and his minions believe in, which, according to number of sources close to the investigation, are not backed by any evidence.
The damage caused to Zambia’s relations with arguably the most important government on the continent – not to mention the deeply personal insults to President Zuma – are a humiliation to the nation. And what was the perceived benefit of such a reckless smear? What do we gain from angering our friends? Unfortunately for M’membe, his mission to isolate and taint Rupiah’s long-standing credible image both at home and abroad is not working. As a result, he now wants to put the country on a collision course with its neigbours.
Acting as the communications figurehead of the Patriotic Front, M’membe’s false courage is deceiving his conscience, and today he had the audacity to expose it through threats and childish taunts. It is the behaviour of a government, and indeed a cartel, that knows full well that they are breaking the law, and are preparing to escape any sort of international accountability – which is very similar to how Robert Mugabe built his rotten state.
“We value our place in SADC but we have not surrendered our sovereignty to any of our highly respected neighbours, including South Africa,” M’membe writes, clearly acknowledging that Zambia is preparing itself to become a discredited, isolated, pariah state. “We, therefore, appeal to all the foreign missions in Zambia to be careful with the way they deal with Rupiah and the situation he finds himself in. They shouldn’t deceive themselves that they will be allowed to place the interests of Rupiah above those of the Zambian people.”
This venom targetted at foreign mission is as a result of frustrations that the persecution of Rupiah engineered by M’membe’s partner Nchito is not getting the support he once thought it would command. Donors, who lavishly funded the anti-corrpution drive and prosectution of second Replican president Fredereick Chiluba, are not willing to play into these games anymore.
And when Rupiah visited the South African embassy, M’membe found an opportunity to pilk in the face of the Zambian public at the expense of the country’s peace. In his usual cunning and dishonest manner, he claims the information about Rupiah was from embassy staff.
Undoubtedly, Sata is jittery that he has not recieved overwhelming support from his neigbours on the persecution of Rupiah and he is monitoring every one of his moves. This is why the intelligence system was present to captuare Rupiah’s meeting at the South African High Commission in Lusaka, which as it stands, represents a serious breach of diplomatic protocol by attempting to spy on another nation’s embassy.
What was truly astonishing – and likely the reason behind President Zuma’s angry phone call putting President Sata in his place – was that M’membe sought to accuse Zuma of corruption. This, coming from the guy who has orchestrated an illegal judicial review panel designed to fire any judge that rules on a case requiring him and Nchito to repay a $4 million loan to the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ). If this is not the most naked case of corruption ever performed before our eyes, I don’t know what is.
M’membe and Sata are very much aware that the path on which they are driving Zambia is very dangerous. Zambia has no capacity to wage either an economic or any form of war with South Africa or any of its neigbours. From a security perspective, Zambia is extremely ill-prepared to deal with poor relations with neighbors, with a dilapidated Air Force, insufficient border security, and vulnerability to neighboring conflicts. Our security is based upon positive diplomacy and healthy proactive engagement in the Southern Africa region.
It is therefore extremely irresponsible for Sata, who should spend more time seeking treatment and concentrating on his poor state of health, rather than insulting such an important partner as South Africa using M’membe as his barking dog.
In their determination to falsely vilify Rupiah Banda and sideline both Nevers Mumba and Hakainde Hichilema, Sata and M’membe are driving Zambia towards international isolation and a rapid loss of credibility as a government. Never before in our history have we lost so many friends so quickly, and now after lobbing attacks at Zuma, the PF will find itself even more lonely in their construction of their one-party state.