CATHOLIC bishops have told President Edgar Lungu to humble himself as Head of State and engage in a genuine face-to-face dialogue with incarcerated UPND leader Hakainde Hichileme to end tension in the country following the disputed August 2016 elections.
But President Lungu, who has allowed the bishops to visit Hichilema at Mukobeko where they will deliver a similar message of the need for reconciliation, says the opposition leader should first accept the outcome of the August 2016 elections before he could engage in dialogue with him.
A couple of weeks ago on his return from Lesotho, President Lungu refused to meet the Church mother bodies after the issued a statement highlighting issues they believed were going wrong in the PF government.
The Church leaders, who said the country was in a crisis and that it had been turned into a dictatorship by President Lungu, also called for the immediate release of Hichilema from prison and the dropping of the treason charges.
But President Lungu, who was voted into office in 2015 on the premise of his ‘humble looks’, said the crisis the church leaders were talking about existed in their heads and that their statement was issued to please their paymasters.
Then two Catholic bishops – Alick Banda of Ndola dioecese and Benjamin Phiri of Chipata – joined in condemning the statement which was read by Lusaka Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu in his capacity as president of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying the views reflected his own.
However, after a meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi Bishop Murat, President Lungu changed his position on meeting the church leaders and announced through his press aide Amos Chanda that he would dialogue with them.
Speaking today on behalf of other Catholic bishops, Archbishop Mpundu told President Lungu that political tension in the country would only end once he and his rival – Hichilema – hold genuine dialogue over the differences that arose from the August 2016 elections.
The Catholic bishops also appealed to the President to humble himself, put the country first and seriously consider engaging in a genuine face-to-face dialogue with opposition leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, such dialogue that will be aimed at reconciliation. The President responded positively and encouraged the Catholic Bishops to visit Mr Hichilema and deliver their message. Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Dr Chileshe Mulenga who attended the meeting said the Ministry will immediately facilitate the Bishops’ request. The President welcomed the Bishops’ overtures for dialogue, but insisted that such a dialogue should be premised on the opposition first accepting the outcome of the 2016 elections,
Chanda stated in a press release issued after the meeting.
Archbishop Mpundu, according to Chanda, told President Lungu that they were emissaries of the Catholic Church who were there to express their “good wishes to you and your Government”.
“Commenting on the recent fires in the nation, Archbishop Mpundu said: ‘We deplore acts of violence such as arson as shown by the torching of the City Market. Our hearts reach out to the victims of this act and their loved ones.’ He continued: ‘We also decry the acts of sabotage aimed at public installations aimed at crippling economic progress. The culture of cadres across the entire political spectrum of political parties must be replaced by inclusiveness and zero tolerance for violence’,” Chanda quoted Archbishop Mpundu as saying.
He further stated that Archbishop Mpundu also reminded President Lungu of the historic reconciliation that took place between presidents Michael Sata and Levy Mwanawasa when the latter was Head of State.
“Your Excellency is quite alive to the historic reconciliation that took place between the two late presidents Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Chilufya Sata. We would like the State to facilitate our visit to Mr Hakainde Hichilema so that we can deliver the same message to him, namely to humble himself, open the door and pursue the path towards genuine reconciliation,” Chanda quoted Archbishop Mpundu.
And President Lungu reassured the Church of his commitment to constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.
“My Lords, I wish to assure you of my full commitment to our citizens’ democratic rights. They shall be safe under my Presidency,” he said in a statement issued by Chanda.
“I want to appeal to the Church to speak with a louder voice against violence and other acts that undermine our peace and unity.”
The Bishops, speaking through Archbishop Mpundu, in response, said their concern was on the division that the August 11, 2016 elections had left in the country.
Our overriding concern is the aftermath of the election that was held in August last year, 2016. It cannot be denied that it was a divisive election which has left the people of this nation deeply divided. Following Your Excellency’s appeal on 12th March, 2016 at Mpika, we responded by drawing leaders from other church groupings to put our heads together in order to bring the political players together in view of conducting campaign peacefully and ensure peaceful elections. The meeting at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross was meant to achieve a consensus on how to conduct peaceful campaign. You are also a witness that it was not very successful,
Archbishop Mpundu is quoted as saying.
We repeat this call to Your Excellency and through you to your Government to embark upon a well spelt out and action oriented programme of national reconciliation through genuine dialogue. We call upon you as President of the whole nation not just your political party to put in place concrete measures to reverse the worrying and very dangerous trend of doing politics through violence. We never tire to reiterate that the constituency of the Political Authority and that of the Church is one and the same, namely the people of this great nation. That is why the State and the Church must cooperate with each other in its sphere of competence for the benefit of our people. This cooperation consists of comparing notes and exchanging experiences in view of enhanced service delivery to God’s people at whose service both the State and the Church must be in order to be relevant.
Archbishop Mpundu led 13 other bishops – Alick Banda, Ignatius Chama, Patrick Chisanga, Justin Mulenga, Charles Kasonde, Clement Mulenga, Evans Chinyemba, Moses Hamungole, Valentine Kalumba, Raymond Mpezele, George Lungu, Benjamin Phiri – and the ZCCB secretary general Fr Cleophas Lungu at the meeting that lasted an hour.
Government representatives in the meeting included religious affairs minister Reverend Godfridah Sumaili, presidential affairs minister Freedom Sikazwe and home affairs permanent secretary Dr Chileshe Mulenga.