The results of the Roan parliamentary by-election appear to have really rattled the ruling Patriotic Front and its government. The desperation being shown by those in government to have Chishimba Kambwili’s National Democratic Congress (NDC) party deregistered is alarming and truly extraordinary. Using money, hired mercenaries and sell-outs, some people in government are doing all they can to frustrate Kambwili’s leadership of the NDC and to crucify the man for the political crime of defeating the PF in Roan.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Home Affairs public relations officer released a statement saying that Kambwili should not exercise any leadership functions in the NDC because the meeting that appointed him was illegal and that the only party organ that can choose a president is the national congress. The statement followed a complaint lodged by former NDC secretary general Mwenya Musenge to the Registrar of Societies regarding the operations of the party. A number of things surprised us about that statement. The first was that it came from the public relations unit of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Why was that the case when Musenge had written to the Registrar of Societies? Would anyone blame the public for thinking that the Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo is behind the ongoing squabbles in the NDC? Why did the Registrar of Societies choose not to respond to the letter?
The second thing that surprised us was the unusual efficiency with which the Ministry of Home Affairs responded to Musenge’s complaint. Musenge’s letter to the Registrar of Societies was dated 18 April, which was a Thursday, and two days later, on Saturday, the response was out. The day before, Friday, was a public holiday. Hmm, bane, since when has the government become this efficient? Something is amiss here.
The third thing that caught our attention was that the statement was issued on a weekend. At a time when many are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, someone in the Ministry of Home Affairs decided to go to the office on a Saturday to plan the death of the NDC! Since when did public offices become open for business on weekends? Why was it so difficult for the Ministry of Home Affairs to wait for a few days until after the end of the Easter weekend before releasing the statement? What was so urgent about the release of the statement? Was it because those in power wanted to use it as a basis for cancelling the NDC rally that was slated for Luanshya later on the same day and at which Kambwili was to speak? Anyway, this is how the PF government operates. At the height of the divisions that rocked the PF following the death of Michael Sata in late 2014, the PF found a judge at night or in the wee hours of the morning to issue them a favourable stay that prevented Guy Scott and Miles Sampa from holding a legally constituted conference. One of the credible jokes about our judiciary that is going around nowadays is that ‘You now have PF judges and a few non-PF judges in Zambia’s judiciary’. It is tragic that in our quest for power, we are destroying the very institutions whose integrity and standing must be above reproach.
It would appear that Kambwili really gives the PF and its leadership sleepless nights. The question perhaps to pose at this stage is: why is the PF so rattled by Chishimba Kambwili and the NDC? In our view, there are a number of reasons for this. First, the PF are genuinely worried that if Kambwili leads the NDC, their prospects of retaining power are extremely slim. Kambwili is not Harry Kalaba who mobilises people in formal attire, newspapers and under the watch of the imported media. He is an effective grassroots operator with a common touch and a lightning rod of all those frustrated with PF and Edgar Lungu. For many politicians, they have to invite the media when going out for political operations. For Kambwili, the media follows him and in fact seeks to know his next stop way in advance and arrives at the venue even before he gets there. For many politicians, they can pass through the streets without anyone stopping them to say ‘hello’. For Kambwili, traffic, wherever he goes, builds up in an instant, with many shouting ‘imbwili ni mbwili!’ The PF fear that if he has a platform like NDC, he will give them problems and this alone explains their brazen and desperate manoeuvres to deregister a party with parliamentary representation. They know that Kambwili is capable of mobilising huge crowds and turning these into votes. He proved this in Roan and is very much capable of replicating his campaign throughout the urban Copperbelt.
Second, the PF are fearful that all those frustrated with what Edgar has done to the PF of Michael Sata are likely to join NDC because they see both Kambwili and the party as their new home. If Michael Sata was the king cobra, Chishimba Kambwili is the prince cobra. In a way, the Roan by-election proved the point that many people see Kambwili as the new Sata. Many of those who supported the NDC parliamentary candidate in Roan were PF members who have followed Kambwili to the NDC. It is even likely that some of the councillors and others in PF leadership structures would, at an appropriate time, resign or defect to Kambwili’s NDC. We must take note that all this is happening in a PF stronghold which was previously insulated from these kind of political dynamics. The significance of the Roan by-election lies not only in the results that it produced but also in the power of its example. Suddenly, people know that it is possible to defeat the PF on the Copperbelt. Suddenly, people know that it is possible to frustrate the PF’s rigging schemes in a way that undermines their capacity to win. Suddenly, people know that the NDC is actually serious and here to stay. This is what scares the PF: that a reincarnated version of the PF of Michael Sata is now part of the political menu. It is ironic that when he was in the ruling party, PF leaders challenged Kambwili every day to leave so that he can compete with them, so that they could show him how popular they and the PF are. Now that he has responded to their calls, they want to shut down his party. What hypocrites! To PF leaders, we say that you wanted Kambwili out of your party. Well, he is now out and it is time to face him and dance to his tune. He clearly has put hot coal in the pants of government ministers and PF leaders and they can neither stand still nor withstand the ensuing scorching heat. The Lozis have an appropriate saying for this: ‘kiza kuipatiseza’, loosely translated as “Live with it; You brought it onto yourself”!
Third, the PF worry that though Kambwili may not win the presidency, he and the NDC make the prospect of a Hakainde Hichilema presidency more likely. This alone is enough to scare those in power into committing all sorts of atrocities, all in an attempt to escape going to jail should they lose power. There is every chance that the ‘Lopola’ strategy that was successfully employed in Roan by the NDC and United Party for National Development (UPND) would be nationalised ahead of the 2021 election. Lopola is simply a reincarnation of Donchi Kubeba, a strategy that encourages voters to accept the gifts including money that politicians hand out to them but to vote with their conscience once in the booth. Lopola provides an effective response to dealing with a political competitor who can afford to comprehensively outspend their opponents. This is what worries the PF: the idea that the opposition can unite in a manner that makes the ruling party extremely vulnerable to electoral defeat. The promise and fruits of a UPND-NDC alliance were witnessed in Roan. Notable political historians like University of Zambia lecturer Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa are likely to tell us that we are witnessing the repeat of history similar to what happened when Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula’s African National Congress and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe’s United Progressive Party threatened to unite against President Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party ahead of the 1973 election. So desperate to escape political competition were Kaunda and UNIP that they moved to declare a one-party state ahead of that election.
We call upon all Zambians of goodwill who cherish genuine political competition to oppose any attempts by those in power to deregister the NDC. To defend the NDC’s right to exist does not mean that we support the NDC or Kambwili. No, we are merely defending something more fundamental: the preservation of a multiparty democracy or political system that provides for the existence of a variety of parties and plurality of views. We also call upon the Registrar of Societies to reject the machinations of unscrupulous elements in the government who are out to dismantle Kambwili’s NDC and instead allow the NDC to resolve their internal party differences in a way that is free from external interference./