Yesterday Zambia celebrated the 48th anniversary of her independence, but unfortunately the celebrations were marred by the country’s deepening political divisions, as members of the ruling party denounced opposition leaders for refusing to attend the state proceedings.
Dr. Nevers Mumba, the President of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), and his counterpart Hakainde Hichilema, of the United Party for National Development, had previously declared that they would not attend the uhuru feast at State House. Both opposition leaders had made comments to media that there was nothing to celebrate, as many Zambians have been deprived of their freedom of expression and assembly and continue to live in abject poverty. In recent weeks, the ruling party has stepped up measures against the opposition, blocking party meetings, and in some cases using violence.
Particularly, Hichilema said he would rather be in the countryside with peasants who have not been paid their money for agricultural produce, although they were promised lucrative payments from the state during political campaigns.
Dr. Mumba also said he would rather be with the poor than participate in an extravagant feast of expensive food and wine when at the same time many people were still going hungry in Zambia.
The stance taken by the two leaders of Zambia’s biggest opposition parties has not gone down well with the PF government, who have issued several aggressive statements denouncing the two leaders.
For instance, Dr Alex Ngoma, who was recently dismissed as Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP) as chairperson because he was seen as a PF sympathizer, said the two leaders should have attended the uhuru celebrations because their participation was important to the maintenance of peace in Zambia.
Foreign Affairs Minister Given Lubinda also described the opposition’s absence at the celebrations as a refusal to acknowledge that Zambia was an independent state.
Lubinda said 24th October was a day when Zambia honoured its freedom fighters and a celebration of freedom from bondage adding that ignoring the celebration on the pretext of poverty among the population was refusal to acknowledge that Zambia was an Independent country. The minister even went so far as to say that by missing the Independence Day Celebrations with an excuse that many people were starving was the same as being a Christian who did not accept the birth of Jesus Christ.
And Kazungula District Commissioner Pascalina Musokotwane said she was deeply disappointed that some opposition political party members had shunned national events such as Independence Day celebrations. Musokotwane said every well meaning Zambian, regardless of their political affiliation should commemorate Independence Day because many people sacrificed their lives for Zambia’s independence.
The United National Independence Party (UNIP), Zambia’s oldest political grouping which is now aligned with the ruling party, also criticized MMD and UPND. UNIP Lusaka Province chairperson Beatrice Kayuni says it is retrogressive for the parties to shun the Independence Day celebrations. She implored the opposition leaders to seize the olive branch President Michael Sata extended to the opposition during his official opening of parliament to discuss matters of mutual interest.
All these complaints beg the question: What has changed so suddenly now that the PF should promote the Independence Day celebrations?
During his 10 years in the opposition, Michael Sata and his members in the PF never participated in the independence celebrations, and regularly shunned the official invites from State House.
Sata constantly directed his cadres to treat independence celebrations with contempt, claiming that there was nothing to celebrate because the majority of Zambians were still affected by poverty and other socio-economic ills.
If this is the point of reference, the opposition political parties now are in order to shun independence celebrations because Zambians are still stuck in the bondage of poverty.
Michael Sata and his PF followers must realize that what they are experiencing now is just a dose of their own poison. They started all this behavior with their senseless reasons for ignoring state functions.
Now that they are in government, they have realized that running a government requires more responsibility and levelheadedness.
Instead of insulting and castigating the opposition, the PF and Michael Sata must call for dialogue and create a platform where his government and the opposition can iron out their differences.
It is important for the PF to realize that they cannot govern without the input of the opposition. The fact that they are in government and have state powers does not make them the alpha and the omega and that they can do things with impunity.
Independence Day celebrations are a significant event in Zambia’s calendar and the opposition are aware of this fact. But can a sensible Zambian celebrate independence when it is so clear that the PF has taken away, the very freedom that our fore fathers fought for?
It is common knowledge that the PF has removed the freedom of speech, they have exacerbated poverty among the people who they promised jobs, better and affordable housing, lower taxes, clean cities and good policies in health, education and agriculture.
The farming sector is being killed every day by the ill-positioned policies of the PF. The cost of education and health facilities are getting higher by the day.
Instead, the PF are still talking about MMD plans and policies, which they have adopted and capitalisng on.
For instance, they are talking about the Eurobond day and night, but the reality of the matter is that this project is an MMD brainchild in which the former ruling party planned to obtain a US$500 million threshold. The PF only increased the figure to US$750 million.
They have proceeded with road projects in the townships, a programme which was launched by Rupiah Banda.
What Zambians want to see are PF grown and initiated programmes. It is only then that the people will see hope in this government.
The freedom of assembly has been nipped in the bud since we are all aware that opposition political parties and those critical of the government have not right to assemble. Those who ignore this are met with the full force of the Zambia. Zambia is more of the police state than what we would like to see the police being of a service to the people.
Michael Sata has accused his critics of being bitter about his accession to power. He is the one who is bitter because he has continued to punish his critics. But he must realize that power is not absolute. It has just gone to his head so early.
Corruption under the PF has skyrocketed. Is this the reason why Zambians must gather and celebrate freedom?
Many children are not going to school now than ever before, farmers have stucks of crops, which they cannot sale, university students have no bursaries, both the private and public media have no right to criticize the government, rather, they have the right to sing praises for Michael Sata and his cadres.
Maybe, if Michael Sata and his cadres see these hardships in the eyes of the victims will they wake up and fight crime, corruption and all the ills that they have introduced in this country.
It is only when the PF government addresses the matters being raised by critics that there will be dialogue especially over the attendance of independence celebrations.
For now, Michael Sata should not complain about a habit, which he himself created and using impunity and state power will not solve matters.