Observations: Political intolerance should not exist in modern day Zambia

By Barbrah Musamba Chama Mumba

Recent developments of intolerance perpetuated by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) towards main opposition political parties should be condemned by all that want a democratic Zambia to flourish.

Like always, it is usually good to look at where we are coming from and what prevailed in the past in this case, during the times of intolerance in the UNIP era for us to rethink our current stance.

Political History after Independence

When Zambia ushered in the one party state in February 1972 it was done so as to unify the country which was being divided on regional and tribal lines.

Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula

Parties that existed before 1972 were the African National Congress (ANC) led by late Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. The ANC mainly drew its strength from southern and western provinces of Zambia.

Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe

The other political party that were in existence at the time was the United Progressive Party (UPP) led by the late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and whose major support was drawn among the Bemba speaking people mainly from the Copperbelt and Northern provinces of Zambia.

Kenneth D. Kaunda

The main and the biggest political party at the time was the United National Independence Party (UNIP) that had a national representation. The UNIP leader was Kenneth David Kaunda.
On August 25, 1973, a new constitution promulgated abrogating the original 1964 constitution. In December 1973 national elections were held and this was the final step of achieving a “one-party participatory democracy”.

The 1973 constitution provided for a strong president and a unicameral, a single legislative chamber, National Assembly.

The UNIP central committee formulated policy and the cabinet executed the policy.
During this era the most powerful person was the president and the second was the party secretary general. In the presidential elections, the only candidate allowed to run was the one elected president of UNIP.

In this way Kenneth Kaunda was re-elected unopposed with a yes or no vote in 1973, 1978, 1983 and 1988.

S.M Chisembele

The second republic era, 1973 – 1991, was one that was filled with intolerance if one did not toil the party line.

This did not, however, mean that there was no dissension to the imposition of a one-party rule in the country or within UNIP.

Sylvester Mwamba Chisembele, a Cabinet minister for Western Province, together with other UNIP leaders from 7 out of the then 8 provinces established a committee of 14.

The objective of the committee was the establishment of a democratically elected council of two leaders from each province to rule the country by consensus with the President as Head of State.

This would have meant the curtailing of the absolute power residing in President Kaunda.

The Committee of 14 attended a meeting in State House at which President Kaunda agreed to consider their proposals.

However, Kaunda later banned the Committee of 14 and this action was followed by the suspension of Sylvester Chisembele and several leaders were sacked.

In 1977, the political situation on the Copperbelt Province became tense more so because of the forthcoming General Elections.

Simon M. Kapwepwe and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, who before the declaration of a One Party State had been leaders of the UPP and ANC political parties respectively, had joined UNIP with the intention of challenging for the Presidency.

However, their attempt to challenge President Kaunda for the Presidency on the UNIP ticket failed as both were prevented and disqualified by the manipulations of President Kaunda, who stood unopposed.

Simon Kapwepwe and Harry Nkumbula challenged the resultant of the 1978 election of President Kaunda in the High Court, but their action was unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

The end of one party rule

One party rule and the declining economy created disappointment among the people. Several strikes hit the country in 1981.

Frederick J.T. Chiluba

Kaunda’s government responded by arresting several union leaders, among them Frederick Chiluba, Newstead Zimba and Chitalu Sampa.

In 1986 and 1987 protests arose again in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. These were followed by riots over rising food prices in 1991, in which at least 30 people were killed.

The same year the state owned radio claimed that Kaunda had been removed from office by the army. This was not true, and the coup attempt failed.

These extensive protests made Kaunda realise the need for reform. He promised a referendum on multiparty democracy and in December 1990 he lifted the ban on political parties and multiparty democracy was re-born.

After lengthy, difficult negotiations between the Kaunda government and opposition groups, Zambia enacted a new constitution in August 1991.

This resulted in the quick formation of eleven new parties. Among these Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), led by former union leader Frederick Chiluba, was the most important. After pressure for the new parties the referendum was canceled in favour for direct multiparty election.

The MMD assembled an increasingly impressive group of important Zambians, including prominent UNIP defectors, labour leaders, business people and farmers.

The constitution enlarged the National Assembly from 136 members to a maximum of 158 members, established an electoral commission, and allowed for more than one presidential candidate who no longer had to be a member of UNIP.

It could be seen that during the period of one party participatory democracy views that were only tolerated were those that would sit well with the head of state.

It was not surprising that it was during that period that the country also experienced it worst economic and social situation.

This was so because resources that the country generated were not being managed ably and no new ideas were being brought to the fore.

Entrepreneurship at the time was regarded as a western culture. Many people that did well were sort after by a deadly team called SITET (Special Investigation Team on Economy and Trade).

People at the time were scared of their own shadows. Each and every person was looked as a spy of the government and a term was coined for them as ‘shushushus’.
It is this kind of situation that we should avoid going back to. It does bring strife and stagnation to the country.

Unfortunately, the PF government has in the past two years of its governance not allowed the free expression of views and the assembly by opposition political parties. A situation that could lead us back to the dark age of Zambia.

We are in a multiparty democracy; it follows that in such a dispensation, political parties need to speak to its members and the electorate so as to sell their views in the confines of the law.

Opposition political are there to provide alternative solutions to the ruling party’s courses of action.

Zambia is a diverse country with people of different views and ways of achieving things, it is not possible that all will agree with PF in the manner they govern and manage the resources of the country.

The PF should not hold on to their grip on power by stifling opposition parties by bullying but by wits. They should let people assemble and express themselves freely.

Their fear of opposition causing lawlessness can only be true if the institutions that strengthen democracy are weak and do not perform their duties professionally.

Only people who are not confident in what they are doing are afraid of their own shadows.

We have come a long way in reaching this far, so it is the duty of the PF government to lead the country forward and not backwards.

The recent rally held by United Party for National Development (UPND) should be a frequent occurrence and should be extended to all political parties.

The headlines should not be that of being allowed to hold a rally but issues affecting the people and the country that are brought out at these rallies.

Opposition leaders  should be allowed to freely interact with citizens so as to have first hand information on,  what is pertaining on the ground.

This would also help the ruling because issues would be brought out to the fore from the other side of the divide and the ruling party would be kept on its toes.

The end result is that the country would benefit from an active democracy and resources ably channelled to the right cause and priority areas of need.

Again I maintain that well-meaning Zambians must all stand up against political intolerance if our country was to flourish and consolidate our democratic institutions for by doing so, we will be assured of achieving our economic targets that demand full promotion and protection of citizens’ rights.