Opinion

Michael Sata: Zambia’s No. 1 Enemy of Freedom of Expression

Until Bishop George Lungu’s letter to the Catholic faith in Zambia’s Eastern Province following the sudden deportation of Lundazi Parish Priest Fr Viateur Banyangandora, the extent to what “crime” the servant of God committed was subject to speculation or a preserve of the privileged few.

The narration by Bishop Lungu of events surrounding Fr. Banyangandora’s deportation makes extreme sad reading. It highlights the cruelty with which President Michael Sata has set out to govern Zambia. It also confirms why Sata and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe are bedfellows for as it’s biblically stated, “two men cannot walk together unless they agree.”

Sata and Mugabe, based on Bishop Lungu’s account of Banyangandora’s abduction have quietly agreed to rule their respective countries by force and any dissenting voice is being crashed.

There is irrevocable evidence against Mugabe’s dictatorial rule with well-documented human rights abuses that has plunged the once southern African food basket into untold misery. In Zambia, Sata is crafting his own.

And Fr Banyangandora is one of the first victims to suffer Sata’s intolerance. Two ordinary citizens are already serving sentences in Zambian prisons for allegedly defaming Sata. There is certainly more to come as he also tries to muzzle online media and vulnerable individuals that challenge his misrule and opposition members.

Come to think of it; this is only Sata’s 11th month in power, one month shy of clocking a year in office following a historic election. What will become of Zambia in the four years ahead if in 11 months any dissenting voice is treated with disdain and cruel force is used to crash it?

It’s unbelievable that Fr. Banyangadora’s abduction and eventual deportation is based on a mere homily, of course, one that seeks to address the plight of the poor in Lundazi. Isn’t it the PF government that is responsible for making sure Zambian farmers enjoy the fruits of their labour by formulating policies that protects cotton growers from abusive market prices?

Honestly, can dutifully talking about the plight of his flock in Lundazi amount to the treatment Fr. Banyangandora was subjected to in what should be a democratic state whose people are expected to enjoy unlimited freedom of expression?

Bishop Lungu, in his letter that will be read out to the church in Chipata on August 12, reveals Fr Banyangadora’s predicament was even brought to the attention of Sata at a time, if he was a true Catholic, he would have shown concern and immediately acted in the interest of upholding the values of justice.

The best answer Bishop Lungu probably got was to wait for a call that until the letter was written never came as he states; “I personally even phoned and spoke to the Republican President on the issue. He only promised that he would get back to me.”

This means Fr. Banyangandora was inhumanely treated the manner he was with the full blessings of President Sata, a staunch Catholic, whose ascendance to power would have been unsuccessful without his church’s support.

If President Sata could treat his own in the cruel manner he did with Fr. Banyangandora to an extent that his government ignored the priest’s welfare, what more should Zambians expect?

Bishop Lungu is wondering; “Where was Fr. Viateur taken? Was he beaten, tortured? Was he being fed? What did they do about his Diabetic medicine? His BP medicine? What really did the State do to Fr. Viateur?”

Fr. Banyangandora’s flock and the entire Catholic church needs sympathy of every Zambian. The Catholic leaders were among the most vocal to aid President Sata climb the ladder to Plot One.

Today, they are victims of a man who to them now befits the proverbial description of a “wolf in sheep’s skin”. That’s President Sata who is manifesting traits of leading a regime of injustice that will soon go on rampage with human rights abuses. The rule of law here does not apply and there will be a lot more Fr. Banyangandoras.

And when a member of Catholic Church is being persecuted, the question begging answers is where are those priests that are experts discussing the injustices in Zambia.

Those sources-for-hire priests like Fr. Frank Bwalya, who fed off PF chief propagandist Fred M’membe are nowhere to be seen when the church is being persecuted. The Post itself, a beneficiary of the MMD’s freedom of expression mechanisms and goodwill from both Zambians and donors has given this very crucial issue a deaf ear. It’s business as usual yet they claim to be champions in this field.

Fr. Bwalya abandoned the pulpit in preference to slit chickens at public rallies to ensure that the MMD was no longer in power. Where is this Fr. Bwalya when his own Fr. Banyangandora is taken captive?

He was not alone. Fr Augustine Mwewa, Fr Richard Luonde of the Anglican Church in Kitwe have all emerged as experts of justice. Where are they today when their own is subjected to rules that defy natural justice?

These disgraceful men of the collar were seeming used and are now dumped. Not even their beloved platform – The Post Newspaper – that gave them an opportunity to be the so called voices for the voiceless has asked them about poor Fr. Banyangadora. Are they really serving the poor?

Fourth Republican president Rupiah Banda and Levy Mwanawasa were called all sorts of names by some of these Catholic priests but at no point did any of them face deportation.

The late Bishop Paul Duffy in Mongu and his counterpart in Ndola Fr Mihr Dravenseki were fervent critics and sometimes put Rupiah under extreme provocation but never a single day were they threatened with deportation even when it was clear they were not indigenous Zambians.

The men in the collar were probably mistaken. They believed there was a lot of injustice in Zambia and they ganged up against Rupiah.

They are now probably coming to the realization Rupiah was a saint and may be thinking the late Frederick Chiluba, for all his misgivings, was a better human being than their chosen sheep-turned-wolf currently occupying State House.

Bishop Lungu confesses; “The manner in which Fr. Viateur was abducted and deported has not only perplexed us but has shocked us to the bone. We never thought we would see the day in this current government when the freedom of expression, let alone at the pulpit, would be criminalised in Zambia.”

It’s just the beginning. Fr Banyangandora’s deportation is a tip of the iceberg. With these levels of intolerance, Zambians have a reason to leave in fear as they begin to endure a regime that first deceived them and is now determined to abuse any human rights that stand in their way with the once popular Michael Sata becoming a dictator that has nothing to do with freedom of expression.

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