ZAMBIANS go to the polls in a few weeks’ time to choose their national leaders. Even though there are 16 presidential candidates taking part in the election, the main contenders are republican President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema.
Tensions between the two parties were already heightened in advance of the 2021 general elections.
Moses Mbewe Jnr Reports
June 7, 2021, the governing Patriotic Front party and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) cadres clashed over flags that the opposition had mounted in the central business district.
Later in the day, an urgent meeting was called for at the main police station. A number of arrests were already made at the time of the meeting.
It was here that UPND Muchinga province vice youth chairman Misheck Kabwe was attacked as police scattered in all directions in fear of the cadres that took control of the office where the meeting was held.
“When the meeting finished, our councillor Mr Jack Chomba who was a victim also came to give a statement. So, I escorted him to the CIO’s office to give a statement on what transpired and probably report the assault because he was assaulted. To my surprise, I started seeing a lot of PF members coming to the Nakonde police station and bringing a lot of our members, our youths to say ‘this is UPND! This is UPND!’ that they are the people who damaged the vehicle which was stoned by unknown people and also arresting them on suspicion that they are the ones who assaulted PF members of which no one was assaulted.”
Police spokesperson Esther Katongo, however, claimed that the fracas was caused by armed UPND cadres that came to rescue fellow members that were detained earlier after PF reported them for damaging a car.
“The unruly mob of UPND cadres armed with catapults, stones and sticks stormed the police front office and attacked Police Officers and in the process of dispersing this unruly crowd, two police officers sustained injuries,” Mrs Katongo is quoted as saying in a statement.
“Also, [an unregistered] Toyota Vitz which [that] was parked at the Police Station, property of one of the police officers was damaged, a stone was used in the act.”
Since the start of campaigns, about 14 opposition members have been arrested in Nakonde and taken to court including the parliamentary candidate Simon Simwanza for malicious damage.
Only one member of the ruling party is appearing before the court in connection with political violence.
Campaigns have resumed in Zambia’s border town with Tanzania with both parties committing to levelling the play field.
Reverend Samson Thole is the District Conflict Management Committee chairperson.
“When we brought them together, both of them complained and others were saying ‘this no there’s this issue of defacing campaign materials’ that is the flags and posters and the like. And this is what led to the violence and attacks. So by the time were dealing with it, it wasn’t very easy so to say but at the very end there [were] some agreements that we actually made with them and they made serious commitments; ‘we’ll from now onwards do our campaigns without violence.’ That was our major goal.”
Meanwhile, Muchinga corridors a youth-led organisation that looks at governance is still concerned about the two political parties actualising their commitment to ending political violence.
Programmes manager Blessing Mwansa says more should have been done to deal with the situation.
“I don’t feel…political parties have learnt their lessons. Part of the Intel that I git when I was asking in the Conflict Resolution Committee after ECZ lifted the ban, how willing to commit? He said ‘actually one of the party leaders at district level who was in that meeting, refuse, refused to commit that they will actually abide by the electoral code of conduct.”
Misheck Kabwe of the UPND is recovering and says he will now take the matter to court.
He claims the violence has been caused by the ruling party who have been threatened by the presence of the opposition in the so-called stronghold.
The PF has refuted the allegations. Former Muchinga province minister and now deputy presidential campaign manager says unlike the PF, UPND has remained tight lipped on political violence.
“President Edgar Chagwa Lungu has clearly stated and severally that he doesn’t want violence and so many people in our part PF have been suspended for that. But I want HH to follow along. We cannot be having victims in Nakonde of someone’s ego to run into Statehouse, No! What HH must do is to call Radio Chete and tell the people of Nakonde that they don’t want violence.”
It’s the first time that Zambia is heading to the polls with roadshows and rallies banned because of a pandemic that has claimed over 3 million lives globally.
What now remains is for the two parties is to respect the electoral code of conduct as august approaches