A Catalogue of Political Injustices.
By David Kapoma
In Africa today, Zambia is generally viewed as an icon of democratic dispensation, the near perfect example for renowned dictatorial African leaders to follow. And yet, a political culture of past and the present Zambian government reveal a catalogue of political injustices. Political injustices entrenched in the very institutions established to serve, protect and safeguard the alienable rights entitled to every Zambian Citizen. An array of both political players and non-political players will attest to the fact that there is unprecedented political interference in statutory institutions such as the judiciary, to an extent that the general populace has lost faith in its independence or objectivity.
The judicial system today is a road of comic errors. There is so much political interference in the judicial system that it’s almost impossible for the judiciary to work independently. I must mention that this has not started now but has been the case for the past decades. The PF when in the opposition suffered from the same and always cried foul. It looks as though politicians see how unjust the judiciary is when in opposition and when they form government they see it normal and encourage the very things they deemed wrong when in opposition.
There are allegations of court rulings being made in the corridors of state house and other state buildings rather than in the courts of law. Rulings for instance that have seen former republican President Rupiah Banda get acquitted for corruption cases and the subsequent directive for the Anti-Corruption Commission not to appeal the case. Former DPP Mtembo Nchito enjoyed his tenure of office when the man at state house believed in his (Nchito’s) leadership as DPP. Tables turned the moment there was a change at state house. He now has to be in court more than he did when he was DPP. The talk on judicial injustice will be incomplete without mentioning Post Newspaper proprietor Fred M’membe who has for a long time been victims of our judicial system.
It is also alleged that the sitting Judge in Honorable Miles Sampa’s case involving his political party the Democratic Front was under instruction to delay the case, effectively rendering it an academic exercise. Such and many cases unmentioned is the poppycock in our judicial system that ordinary citizens walking in the corridors of the courts feel like they will not get a fair hearing.
Many people have also pointed out as to how the Zambia Police Service has for a long time become an extension of the ruling political party wing. The police on many occasions have used force to intimidate opposition political party members and their leaders. Their favorite weapon is the application of the public order Act which archaic law. It has to be noted that the public order act was enacted in 1955 by the then colonial government to curb the rights of indigenous Zambians, in particular, their right to association. When this law was enacted however, there was no provision on issuing of permits for public assemblies and processions which is the case today. This law has for a long time been a thorn in the flesh of the opposition and Civil Society Organizations that are deemed as enemies of the state as they are denied permits at any given opportunity without any good reasons while those in government are allowed to hold meetings without any permits.
The way in which the public order act is applied by the Zambia Police force is a clear and direct violation of Act number 21 of the Constitution of Zambia, which clearly guarantees the freedom of Assembly and Association. The police on many occasions have acted in a very explicitly political fashion. They have openly served the partisan interests of those in power by perpetuating violence against the opposition and NGO’s by denying them permits to hold meeting and or rallies.
The police should not be a law themselves. They should realize that their purpose is not to enforce political conformity or ‘deal’ with opposition parties and those that are perceived as enemies of the state. Their obligation is to protect the rights of every individual regardless of their conviction or affiliation. Holding a divergent, unpopular belief or behaving in an unconventional, yet legal, ways are not adequate grounds for interfering with citizens’ liberties.
Another political injustice perpetuated by governments is the gagging press freedom. One of the tenets of democracy is Press freedom. As increasing numbers of citizens gain access to a wider variety of media as a source for news and information on public life, the media provides a platform for competing ideas with all players free to attempt to persuade others to agree or to oppose certain viewpoints. For this process to be successful, it requires that accurate and uncensored information, outlining contrasting points of view on current and variant issues is available for public scrutiny and consumption.
Unfortunately, that has not always been the case, the party in power retains a strangle hold on the media and in particular, what the national broadcaster ZNBC can disseminate to the general public. Which I have to stress is PF political propaganda just like the MMD and UNIP when they were in power. The private media is stifled through constitutional provisions or legislative acts that either restrict independent media licensing, blocks free dissemination of media content or threatens media practitioners of victimization. Minister of Information and Broadcasting Mr. Chishimba Kambwili who is also Chief Government spokesperson is on record for castigating press freedom and reinforcing the notion of the government regulating the media.
More than ever before, journalists in Zambia today fear for their lives as they carry out their duties. Those in the private media in particular are regularly targeted by cadres for harassment and physical assault as they are deemed to be ‘anti PF.’ Even journalist in some public institutions are intimidated and forced to report only pro PF stories. They cannot exercise their intellectual abilities as everything they do is scripted by the PF hierarchy. PF ministers have been known to storm the public media newsrooms lambasting staff for having covered or caused to be broadcast news on the opposition. Such is the state of our media today.
But why doesn’t the general populace stand against these injustices? Are we as Zambians generally docile? Or is it because we are scared to talk in fear of victimization?
Unfortunately the current state of affairs will remain for as long as leaders both in opposition and the ruling party do not walk the talk and fulfil their promises regarding issues to do with freedom of citizens. In the meantime, we eagerly await final judgement for the Miles Sampa case regarding the de-registration of the Democratic Front. The case comes up before judge Kaoma on Tuesday, we are yet to see how the Judicial system will play out on this one. This is a case in which precedence is being set that a ruling party can just wake up and de-register a political party for reasons that such a party has internal wrangles. As far as my eyes can see and my ears can hear, almost every political party has wrangles including the ruling party. Being the case that is currently on the judge’s desk, I will leave it at that until judgement is passed.
God Bless Zambia