IT’S unfortunate and regrettable that President Edgar Lungu said what he said about Bembas but he must deal with the matter and close it, says MMD leader Nevers Mumba.
And Mumba says the government has to make sure that the 21,000 miners earmarked for retrenchment by the mining firms are not fired in the crossfire between the two parties.
Speaking on a Hot FM radio programme yesterday, Mumba said President Lungu should deal with the Bemba thieves remark himself since he was the architect of the offensive statement.
During an Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) organised gala dinner in Lusaka last Wednesday, President Lungu said out of 10 thieves, six were Bemba.
At the same event, President Lungu quoted “someone” who told him that Chinese were like cockroaches because they survived everywhere.
“I wish to note that development also calls for the support of non-Zambians residing and conducting business in the country…. This cry about Chinese won’t help us! Chinese population is about 1.3 billion. The other day I was doing statistics and I came across one damning fact that out of 10 thieves, six will be Bemba. And I said ‘why’ but they said you have forgotten? There are so many Bembas. So, invariably, you’ll find that when you collect 10, six will be wrong ones,” said President Lungu.
“So, if the Chinese population is 1.8 billion, and then the world population is…you will find Chinese all over and when you say ‘eliminate Chinese from Zambia’, you are wasting your time. Similarly, when you say ‘eliminate Bemba from Zambia’, you are wasting your time. So, if you say ‘they are thieves’, yes you are bound to find a thief because they are many.”
But Mumba, a former Republican vice-president, advised President Lungu to take a leaf from president Levy Mwanawasa who sent him to various chiefs following a similar offensive statement against Bembas.
“First of all let me mention that the country is angry. The economy is biting, Zambians are in difficulties, there is a lot of anger on the street and everywhere and every word that comes from the President is twisted in such a manner and adds to the flare in the hearts of the people,” he said. “I wish to advise…first, the only way to resolve this matter is the President himself to address himself to it because he is the one who said it. If you remember that the Vice-President [Inonge Wina] in Parliament was asked to clarify this issue that is it government policy now that the Bembas are the thieves…you Frank from Chinsali is a thief! I think the President needs to address himself to this question, Amos [Chanda – the presidential spokesperson] can do his best but I don’t think he can deal with this. The President must come round and say that this is the position of why I said what I said. Whether it’s a Mbuyaship [traditional cousinship] issue or it was a light moment, if he thinks many people have been offended by it…it will be the right opportunity to apologise; that I am sorry the way it has come out was not my intention, that needs to come out.”
Mumba said it was not the first time such had happened.
“If you remember just before I got into the Mwanawasa administration, President Mwanawasa said similar things…that Bembas smell and they are thieves. It was really bad for him because it was the time of his unpopularity and the only support he was enjoying was from the northern block…Bembas again were the victims of this statement, they were very angry this time. Luapula was double angry because their son [Frederick] Chiluba was being persecuted at that particular point and that even made it worse for Luapula Province,” he recalled. “Northen Province was angry and therefore, it was that environment that they wanted Mwanawasa out for calling the Bembas who made him President according to them feel that way. When I came into government as his assistant, his deputy, his statement to me was ‘you are here now, you are a Bemba, go to Northern Province’…I spent three months in Northern Province and Luapula going back and forth, going from chief to chief saying if he really meant that we are thieves and we smell, he wouldn’t have appointed me a Bemba because I would be smelling next to him…. Please, there was a misunderstanding and what he meant to say was ….it took me three months, of course the situation was normalised and he did pretty well in the next elections in those provinces. The point I am trying to make is that this is not a small matter; the President must deal with it. If he himself doesn’t deal with it, he needs to send people to the Bemba chiefs to explain this, he needs to normalise this.”
Mumba said the only way President Lungu was going to quell the fire he had started was to face the microphone and tell the people what he meant.
“I also want to add that Presidents today say a lot of things under different circumstances…. Can you imagine what the assistants and spokespersons for Donald Trump have to go through to clean up after he says something? Trump will change a statement in one month three times so how do you deal with that? I think that it is unfortunate, regrettable that the President said what he said but I think that the President is the best person to go to the Zambian people and speak to them,” he advised. “This is an issue that is a distraction, the President must deal with it and close it so that we can start to answer the big questions.”
Mumba said President Lungu should start to speak directly to Zambian and not through third parties.
“The thing that is missing from the PF administration is communication and the communication that is being given is given in very irrational manner like you said when one minister said they are going to stop expatriates from coming to Zambia as a way of getting back on the taxes…that’s not the communication Zambians are used to,” he said. “As imposing as Kenneth Kaunda was, there is something that he gave to Zambians and we got used to it, it was his press conferences…he used to do that. Those were tough conferences but he took issues and dealt with them and we got used to having communication between the one in charge of the country and us. My advice to this administration is that he is the President and Zambians need to hear him speak but if he does not take advantage of this, everything he says will be misconstrued.”
And Mumba said government should not use the miners as cards or battlefield to solve their differences with mine owners.
“Government exists to make sure that its citizens are protected and in that regard they are mandated to make sure that the Zambian people are not the card that they use to resolve their differences with mine owners,” he said.
Mumba said the government must ensure the 21,000 miners were not fired.
He said the government and mine owners must solve their problems outside the workers.
“The issues of the taxes that are not being refunded is a problem between government and the mine owners and not the workers. Workers cannot be the sacrificial lambs of two people or groups that are unwilling to solve their problems,” Mumba said. “If anything happens, they are fired, the blame will not be on mine owners but the government. It’s a responsibility the government must shoulder.”
He said the use of arrogance as witnessed in statements used by some ministers against the mine owners, the country was bound to lose more.
Mumba said the government should be mature and negotiate rather than using power.