Is ‘sorry’ a difficult word to say?

On Sunday when leaving for Uganda, President Edgar Lungu blamed the death of fourth year University of Zambia student Vespers Shimuzhila who suffocated from teargas during a riot 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 but he said “the police should do their job”. He said information minister Dora Siliya had released a statement, which was the government position.

He said the government wants to know what happened.

“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.

Dora had earlier issued a statement which basically placed the blame on students without much sympathy for the loss of life. And after a funeral service for Vespers on Monday where students booed and insulted her, Dora turned to her Twitter account: “I attended the service for Vespers. Mostly calm but for a few drunk students who feel shouting unpalatables at government serves them well. We need to dialogue on how to find higher education going forward. Taxpayers supporting drunkenness and violence at UNZA can’t continue.”

Dora is the chief government spokesperson, therefore, whatever she says on her Twitter account represents the position of government. So is it that difficult for the government to say “sorry” to Vespers’ parents, to the students, the union, lecturers and the entire university community? Why would the government go on and on issuing statements that indirectly justify the killing of Vespers? Why is it difficult for them to acknowledge the fact that the police acted unprofessionally by following students in their rooms against the advice of the Human Rights Commission? Does one die from saying “sorry”, “we regret the death”, “we share the pain you’re going through”?

Vespers’ death is a stark reminder of the degeneration of our law enforcement agencies. Human rights violations, like the death of Vespers, are being condoned by those charged with State power. Every human being has the right to live and should not be killed by another human being.

Many decent human beings know how painful it is to lose a young life without cause out of the police’s carelessness. Vespers was a self-sponsored student in her final year and only three months away from graduation. She was in her room when the riots were happening; she was not rioting. But our unprofessional police followed her and others to their rooms where she, unfortunately, died. With all these facts, Dora and her government cannot still find reason to genuinely offer their condolences, apologise for the state police’s careless acts and craft the way forward to dealing with student affairs? Is “sorry” a difficult word to say?

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