(By Oliver Chisenga and Charles Tembo)
HAKAINDE Hichilema says the PF’s blaming him for their failures is an admission the party in government is incapable of running the country. Meanwhile, Operation Young Vote executive director Guess Nyirenda has demanded that President Edgar Lungu withdraws the Hyena idiom he used to characterise the killing of Vespers Shimuzhila, fourth year University of Zambia student.
The UPND leader refuted claims that he held a meeting with University of Zambia students prior to last Thursday’s riots. He told the PF government not to shift blame on him, saying he was not in charge of paying meal allowances, the cause of the riots.
A fourth year student, Vespers Shimuzhila, died after suffocating from teargas fired into her room by police deployed to quell the protest at the University of Zambia.
Another student, Evelyn Choongo, broke both legs and sustained spinal injuries after she jumped from the third floor of a hostel to escape a fire.
“What prompted students to strike? It’s because meal allowances were not paid on time. Who is responsible for paying meal allowances? Is it HH? It is the PF government, they are responsible…they are not paying students on time, they are not paying salaries of lecturers on time, council workers are not paid on time. But what does the PF government do? They increase their [own] salaries and backdate the increment to January when students are not being paid,” Hichilema said.
“I was a student myself there, we used to do ‘vivas’ ourselves, that’s the nature of students. I was a monk; I understand what monks go through. You don’t handle students the way the PF is handling students. How do they [PF] blame me? They must only say they have failed to run the country and we are ready to run the country better and the students will be well looked after.”
He said assertions that he had a meeting with students showed how porous the government’s intelligence system was.
Hichilema maintained that students did not need his influence to tell them that their meal allowances were late.
“Firstly, I had no meeting with students, that’s a fact…this shows you that the intelligence system has collapsed because if the intelligence system was working, it would have indicated that I had no meeting with students. But do the students need Hakainde to tell them that allowances have not been paid? Do they need me? All we are saying is that we have a greedy, oppressive PF government [that] cares for itself only. It doesn’t care for education, it doesn’t care for agriculture, it doesn’t care about anything. That is where the problem is and they have found someone to blame and that somebody is Hakainde Hichilema but the point is that if you are blaming Hakainde for your own failures, maybe you are admitting that you are not capable and Hakainde is capable of running this country,” said Hichilema.
Vespers died last Thursday of suffocation from teargas that was thrown in the female hostels by police officers who had been deployed to quell a riot over unpaid meal allowances at the University of Zambia. Government spokesperson Dora Siliya and PF media director Sunday Chanda have repeatedly said it was a strange coincidence that the riots that claimed Vespers’ life started after some students allegedly attended Hichilema’s press briefing at the UPND secretariat last Thursday where it is alleged the opposition leader called for an ‘uprising’.
President Lungu blamed Vespers’ death on a proverbial “hyena that ate the old woman”.
A reporter had asked the President for his comment on the happenings at the University of Zambia before he departed for Uganda on Sunday afternoon but he said: “The police should do their job”.
He said Siliya had released a statement, which was the government position.
“Remember there is a saying that ubushiku mukote alubile elo chimbwi chanya imfwi, you know Bemba, what does that tell you? An old woman disappears from the village, the next day a hyena defecates white hair. I think Madam Siliya made a comment, we are waiting, we don’t want to speculate, thank you,” said President Lungu, without elaborating further.
But Nyirenda, in a statement, stated that it was quite sad that such a precious life could be trivialised with an idiom of hyenas.
“…What makes the killing of VESPERS SHIMUZHILA more painful is the seemingly unconcerned attitude from our duty bearers to get to the bottom of the issue and bring the culprits to book and ensure that justice prevails. It is quite sad that such a precious life (of a 4th year student and young person with a bright future for self and society) can be trivialized with an idiom of hyenas – God have mercy. If this is what our leaders think of us then our right to life is under serious threat. If the life of a student at the University of Zambia (UNZA) can be taken away mercilessly as in the case of Vespers and little or no concern at all is exhibited by those charged with the responsibility to protect us, how about the life of our brothers and sister, mothers and fathers in the deep rural areas of the country? We shudder to think,” he stated.
“If the duty bearers can end a life of a promising rights holder (young person) at the level of 4th year at UNZA, would they care of a life that dearly needs drugs in hospital, food in a home and other basics to survive? The answer is a very big NO. It is sad that there is very little concern and no sense of empathy at all that a life is no more in the reactions from the duty bearers both at government and political party (the Patriotic Front – PF) levels. We expected energies beyond what the President exhibited when he got on the ground City and COMESA Markets got gutted.”
Nyirenda also urged President to ensure that higher education minister Nkandu Luo reinstates student unions in all institutions of higher learning that she banned as they were necessary for representation of students’ affairs.
“OYV therefore demands the following for justice to be done and also to be seen to be done: The President withdraws the Hyena idiom used on the killing of Vespers Shimuzhila; The President ensures that the family of the slain Vespers is well compensated even when we all know that no amount of money can be compared to that lost precious life or even bring it back; The President allows other investigative wings of the State to investigate the killing of Vespers and NOT the police if investigations are to be expedited and produce results that would lead to justice on the matter,” stated Nyirenda.