FOREIGN affairs minister Joe Malanji has said Zambian immigration authorities at Chirundu Border post did not arrest Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Tendai Biti but that he is being “kept in safe custody,” before being handed over to that country’s authorities.
And Malanji says Democratic Republic of Congo presidential hopeful Moїse Chapwe Katumbi is not a prohibited immigrant in Zambia.
Meanwhile, the minister has rated Zambia’s diplomatic relations with other countries at over 90 per cent.
Various social media platforms yesterday reported that Biti was arrested by Zambian immigration authorities as he tried to cross Chirundu border to seek ‘asylum’ in Zambia.
His lawyer, Nqobizitha Mlilo, told Zimbabwe Mail that Biti was arrested after presenting himself to Zambian immigration officials at Chirundu border post.
Biti’s party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), formed an election alliance with Zimbabwe’s President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa’s main rival Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Zimbabwe Mail reported yesterday that Biti was the first senior opposition politician to be ‘arrested’ in the aftermath of last week’s disputed presidential election won by Mnangagwa.
Hours later, however, Zimbabwe Mail reported that the attempt to arrest him at Chirundu border post was not successful.
“Biti had already crossed from the Zimbabwean side onto the Zambian side. He was technically on Zambian soil. This means that Zimbabwe has no jurisdiction and after this was highlighted, Biti was released and allowed to continue on into Zambia. He is reported to be on his way to Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka, where he will face an asylum hearing,” reported Zimbabwe Mail.
In an interview yesterday, Malanji told The Mast that Biti was not arrested.
“He has not been arrested; being kept in safe custody and [an] arrest are two different things. We are basically keeping him in safe custody and when you look at the grounds under which he would want to look for asylum, they are not meritorious. So, basically we are just keeping him in safe custody and handing him over to the Zimbabwean authorities because he is going to answer charges in legitimate courts of law,” Malanji said.
“He is in the hands of the Zambian government under the immigrations wing, awaiting being handed to the Zimbabwean authorities.”
On Katumbi who was blocked from entering his country, the DRC, over the weekend and retreated to Kitwe, Malanji, when asked whether the millionaire businessman-cum politician was seeking asylum in Zambia, said: “He (Katumbi) is not a prohibited immigrant in Zambia, that’s one thing you have to look at. It is a different thing when somebody is being sought [like] in the situation of Honourable Tendai Biti. We would not have the right platform under which to give him asylum and equally to put into consideration the bilateral ties with Zimbabwe. He (Katumbi) is not a prohibited immigrant.”
Asked if Katumbi engaged the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for him to be in Zambia, the minister said: “No! No! There has never been any need. I have equally seen it (Katumbi’s presence in Zambia) in the media. I came back from Kuwait yesterday (Tuesday).”
Earlier, Malanji rated Zambia’s diplomacy with other countries at over 90 per cent.
“I must say we are performing well, above 90 per cent. We are doing very well as a nation and as you may be aware, this is an era for economic diplomacy and it’s about looking at the diplomatic law of reciprocity,” he noted.
On the kind of foreign policy that Zambia was pursuing, Malanji underscored that the government was looking at how best to galvanise relationships with countries that would add “an inch in any route of our development”.
“As you may know, we have just done a blueprint of the Seventh National Development Plan. So, to execute that avenue, we need countries that we are going…. Tomorrow (today) as you may be aware, we are receiving President Cyril Ramaphosa into Zambia who is coming for a one day working visit,” Malanji said, adding that the volume of trade between South Africa and Zambia was at US$3.8 billion annual turnover.
“We have to encourage companies that will come and have their best in Zambia so that the manufacturing industry is widened. We should not concentrate on Lusaka alone [but] we should look at ‘what plant are we going to put in Mwinilunga so that the pineapple industry there is enhanced.’ ‘What plant are we going to put up in Luapula so that mango juice…?’ There are a lot of mangoes in Luapula but at the end of the day, they just rot. So, we are looking at untapped potential.”
On his visit to Kuwait, an Arab Kingdom in Asia on the north-western coast of the Persian Gulf, he explained that the Zambian government negotiated for “our engineers to be going to work in Kuwait”.
“As you know, Zambia has got engineers who have got vast experience in power automation. When you look at plants such as NCZ (Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia in Kafue), those are complex plants. They (Zambian engineers) actually have got the capacity to work into the plants in countries that we are actually trying to explore and deepen relations with. So, this was warmly received by the Kuwaiti government and we have basically lined up MoUs that will be signed in due course, in a period of a month’s time,” Malanji said.
On when Zambian engineers were likely to start going to work in Kuwait, Malanji responded that such would be actualised once formalities were finished.
“As you may know, Ministry of Labour has got to come in. She (Minister of Labour) has to go and meet their counterparts. When you look at this country (Kuwait), you go there [and] you will find so many people from Kenya, people from Ghana. [But] what’s wrong with Zambians working there? I gave an overview of the human capital that we’ve got in Zambia,” said Malanji.
“When you look at the mining [industry] in particular, it has got heavy duty electrical switch gears…That’s why you’ve seen that when an MD (managing director) leaves Zesco, he has a job outside Zambia the following day. So, it is from that premise that we thought Zambia as well should market its human resource. It’s not easy to have the kind of human resource that we have. It takes you seven years to train a doctor, it takes you seven years to train a full-fledged electrical engineer…So, we have to market our expertise to the outside world. This includes nurses.”