By Charles Kakoma,
A strange phenomenon is developing in Zambia where people have resorted to holding meetings in the bush to run away from a repressive regime. Examples abound. Recently, youth in Lusaka decided to hold their gathering in the bush after police refused to allow them to hold their protest even after following the laid down procedure under the Public Order Act.
The United Party for National Development ( UPND) has also been a victim of police infringement on the rights of its members to freely assemble and carry out political activities.
One of these political activities is the holding of elections within the party. The Constitution of Zambia demands that for a political party to participate in the presidential and general election, it must first hold internal democratic elections within its party.
In order to fulfill the requirements of the Republican Constitution, the UPND has been trying to hold intra- party elections at ward , constituency and district levels to usher in democratically elected representatives of the members at the lower organs of the party. After holding these lower organ elections, the party will proceed to hold elections at the provincial and national level.
It is interesting to note that the ruling Patriotic Front is also in the process of holding its intra-party elections. PF Secretary General Davies Mwila recently told a press briefing that his party will go ahead to hold elections in six remaining provinces despite the prevailing COVID 19 situation.
This revelation by the PF Secretary General confirms two things. One is that the PF has been holding infra-party elections without interruption from the police. Two is that the PF will proceed with the internal elections with or without Corona Virus.
The UPND been notifying the police to hold its meetings for the purpose of holding internal elections but police have been refusing because they have “instructions from above” not to allow UPND to hold meetings. This instruction from above is unlawful. It offends the provisions of the Republican Constitution.
The UPND has had so many cases where police have not only denied its members their right to assemble but. also abused police powers to arrest innocent members of the party. Recently, police on the Copperbelt arrested UPND Chairman for Research and Policy Dr Choolwe Beyani and several others for holding intra- party elections. The implications of this action is to stop the UPND from holding internal elections so that come 2021, the party will not qualify to participate in the presidential and general elections. As a party, we are seeing through this scheme by the PF and its government.
We will not allow that to happen.
We have had many cases where our members have been forced to hold their meetings in the bush to hide from the police. In places like Eastern Province, our members have been told that they cannot hold meetings because it is a PF bedroom.
Our members have devised strategies to beat the PF regime in their so-called bedroom.
But why should Zambians be subjected to holding meetings in the bush to run away from the police more than half a century after gaining independence in 1964? Our fathers , mothers and forefathers and foremothers fought for independence from colonial rulers because they wanted freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of speech and many other rights and freedoms. By today, these rights and freedoms should have been A GIVEN. Why should we be fighting for rights and freedoms which we already won from the colonial rulers?
In case, the PF and its government have forgotten, suppressing people’s rights and freedoms is not a guarantee to continued stay in power. The white colonial rulers had the army, police, messengers and other instruments of power but failed to suppress the Africans whose only weapon was the mouth and brain. Using their brains, the oppressed people also resorted to holding meetings in the bush. Sometimes, the female organizers would gather women at a well or water drawing point and tell them how they were going to fight the colonial rulers. If the colonial police or messenger appeared on the scene , they would all pretend to be busy drawing water. There was no case to answer. In some cases, the freedom fighters would gather in the bush, at someone’s field carrying hoes pretending to be tilling the land in case the authorities found them . History is repeating itself. We are back to a situation where people are going back in the bush to hold meetings.
In urban areas, people will devise methods of meeting to beat the regime. Some are meeting in buses, churches, workshops and other allowed places to discuss their plight and find a way forward.
It is shameful and embarrassing for the government to be seen to be oppressing its citizens in such a manner in this time and era. Pictures and videos have gone viral on social media about oppressed Zambians holding meetings in the bush. What image does it show to the world about the state of democracy in Zambia? The country has become a dictatorship similar to or worse than colonial rule. The solution is very simple: restore people’s rights and freedoms. You can suppress the people once, but you cannot suppress them forever.