(By Oliver Chisenga and Speedwell Mupuchi)
BRITISH High Commissioner to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet says the violence and gangs carrying weapons in the Chilanga by-election is not a good advert for the Zambian democracy.
Meanwhile, National Democratic Congress says the violence witnessed in Chilanga and other parts of the country is a clear attestation that the 2021 polls might be bloody.
The High Commissioner, who witnessed the violence and gangs wilding machetes and assorted weapons, said it was sad that this was happening in full view of heavily armed policemen.
“Despite heavily armed police, I have seen gangs carrying weapons, roaming in Chilanga for today’s [Tuesday] by-election. This poor woman was a victim, not great advert for Zambian democracy,” High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet tweeted.
He further noted that there was a low turn out on poll day as voters were frightened. He, however, commended the Electoral Commission of Zambia for their work but acknowledged low voter turnout.
“Inside a polling station at Chilanga by-election, Zambia Electoral Commission doing a good job but turn out low at stations I visited; many too frightened to vote,” High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet said.
He further stated that the violence by cadres from across political divide needed to be stopped before the 2021 elections.
“The British High Commissioner, Mr Fergus Cochrane-Dyet OBE, visited Chilanga district as an ECZ accredited observer during the by-election on 5 June. The High Commissioner noted, from what he witnessed, that procedures at the polling stations were followed correctly and that ECZ had provided sufficient materials and staff. Adequate security measures were evident at the polling stations through a heightened police presence,” according to a statement issued by the Commission .
“The High Commissioner also saw for himself that cadres from across the political divide were moving around the district with the intent to intimidate voters through the threat and use of violence. These observations underline the importance of a fully inclusive national dialogue – consistently advocated by the UK and other cooperating partners – to reduce political tensions across Zambia and achieve wide consensus on constitutional, electoral, and public order act reforms, ahead of national elections in 2021.”
And a check in Chilanga confirmed pockets of violence between the ruling PF and UPND as the voting was underway. A group of armed cadres were spotted between Munda Wanga Botanical Garden and Chilanga Clinic shortly after being addressed by PF campaign manager Jean Kapata.
Not far from where the PF cadres were stationed, seemingly being guarded by police, were UPND cadres waiting to take on anyone suspected to be from the ruling party’s camp. Police kept firing teargas canisters to stop the two camps from clashing further following a fight that occurred right in the UPND command centre.
After being attacked, the UPND regrouped as well and took to the highway where they burnt tyres, blocking traffic from both the Southern and Northern side.
Fire was set right in the middle of the road as they stoned any car or people going in their direction.
The cadres were only driven to the nearby residential area after police in three police pick-ups arrived and immediately fired gunshots and teargas.
After briefly sending the cadres into hiding, police removed the burning tyres from the road and consequently allowed the free flow of traffic. The same scenario of clashes and attacks on innocent passersby continued into the night. UPND vice-president Geoffrey Mwamba said the election was not free and fair because it was marred by violence. He said there was a lot of corruption before, during and after the election.
“I think in my view ECZ are the ones to blame because they should have stopped this election. It was in the public domain that there was violence which took place and I will tell you what happened yesterday, I survived to be killed when I went into Chilanga at 14:30 hours,” GBM said.
“Immediately I went to our campaign centre, walked out of my vehicle, started greeting our officials, two Toyota Hiluxes which are from Zesco, with no number plates laden with almost 30 cadres with guns, pangas, they came and they started shooting at our vehicle, my vehicle was badly damaged, the screen is not there as I talk to you now, I had to lie down and again they made a u-turn coming back for us and I told the driver that let’s probably go and hit each other head-on. Fortunately they swerved the vehicle because I was ready to die. There were gun shots after gun shots.”
He said before he went there, the PF were intimidating residents with machetes which they brandished.
“And pangas I saw them again, not that they were hiding, pangas they unleashed them in full view of the residents of Chilanga and you know they were so stubborn to even go into the tarmac at Chulanga fisheries, they started brandishing their pangas on the tarmac in full view of the police officers and the police were helpless,” GBM said.
He said he felt sorry for Zambia because he had never seen such behaviour by cadres who had literally taken over the country. GBM said President Edgar Lungu had failed to tame the cadres because they were the ones that installed him into the PF presidency in Kabwe. He said Zambians would, at some point, rise against the PF regime.
“What these guys are doing is they are not thinking of tomorrow, more especially when they are out of office, you understand? These things will fall back on them and they will regret. But my appeal to this government is that it’s abut time they tamed their cadres because what they are doing today to us may turn against them,” GBM said.
He said UPND supporters were intimidated and were scared to go out to vote. GBM said his party leadership would sit to review the happenings and decide on the next course of action. Told that UPND cadres were also violent and that they attacked journalists, Mwamba said although he was not aware of such report, he regretted the development.
He said the UPND cadres became violent after they were attacked by the PF.
“Probably they were defending themselves but it’s unfortunate if they were attacking journalists. Journalists are very innocent. In UPND we always treasure them. We are so strict and we advise our supporters not to attack journalists, even journalists from the ruling party, we allow them to cover us so if that happened, thought I have not had that report, it’s unfortunate, it will not be accepted and we are going to talk to our supporters never to ever attack journalists,” said GBM.
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Congress, who backed UPND in the Chilanga by-election, said the results were a farce.
Party secretary general Mwenya Musenge condemned the violence that characterised the Chilanga polls.
He said the result is not a true reflection of the aspirations of the people of Chilanga as the “violence instigated by armed PF gangs” prevented of voters from going to the polling stations.
Owing to what happened in Chilanga, Musenge predicted bloody 2021 presidential and parliamentary polls.
He, however, urged Zambians to unite in fighting and denouncing political violence for urged law enforcers to effectively deal with the perpetrators.
“And this PF sponsored violence was not only in Chilanga district. We had pockets of violence in Mununga in Chiengi district where a local government election was held. The violence witnessed in Chilanga and other parts of the country is a clear attestation that the 2021 polls might just be bloody. The whole nation needs to stand up and unite and fight political violence. Governance institutions such as the police should stand above board and protect national interests,” Musenge stated.
He called on the Electoral Commission of Zambia to nullify the June 5 poll results saying what transpired defeated the purpose of a free and fair election.
Musenge further charged that it was even more saddening that President Lungu knew the people fanning the barbaric acts that led to voter apathy in Chilanga.
“If armed gangs from the PF are not caged, these militia will be more powerful than terrorist wings in 2021. It is clear that the PF will do anything and everything possible to illegally perpetuate their stay in power. The PF has seen that they have no support from the masses. No wonder, they took the law into their own hands and intimidated the electorates. A lot of taxpayers’ money was also used to sway the vote. The beating and maiming of innocent voters in Chilanga defeated the whole purpose of a free and fair poll,” Musenge stated. ”If the Electoral Commission of Zambia ECZ was indeed independent, this election should have been nullified. What is more nauseating is the fact that these acts of savagery seem to have the blessings of State House. President Edgar Lungu knows who is funning these satanic acts. President Lungu knows exactly who is arming his cadres. Mr. Lungu has all these security reports on his desk. Could it be that President Lungu now wants to perpetuate his stay in power through oligarchic means?”
He stated that President Lungu must remember that sooner than later, citizens might be forced to take the law into their own hands.
“We fear that there might be civil unrest in 2021 if the PF will attempt to impose themselves on the people. Citizens will rise and fight this system if this regime fails to control state sponsored thugs from harming innocent citizens. Zambia is not and shall never be a government of men. This country is a government of laws, which laws ought to be respected. The most honorable thing that President Lungu should have allowed is let the Chilanga people speak out without being forced and coerced as they went to the polls. Mr. Lungu should learn from what happened in neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa. If Mr. Lungu attempts to amputate the law, this will not go down well with the masses,” Musenge stated.
He noted that with what happened in Chilanga on Tuesday, the need for genuine dialogue should never be overemphasized and urged all those called to superintend over dialogue process to hastily start the healing process.
“President Lungu brags to be a Christian but what happened in Chilanga is against Christian values and doctrines. It is total anarchy. Some Cabinet ministers where caught bribing voters and distributing handouts in Chilanga. And where was the Electoral Commission of Zambia in all this?” asked Musenge.
PF’s Maria Langa was declared winner of the Chilanga seat with 7,226 votes against her closest rival, UPND’s Charmaine Msusonda Mehl, with 6,410 votes. The UPPZ candidate polled 204 while NAREP got 92.