THE Christian Churches Monitoring Group says time is now to take decisive action against individuals who are known to perpetuate violence during elections.
In a statement signed by chairperson Fr Cleophas Lungu and spokesperson Fr Emmanuel Chikoya, CCMG appealed to players in the political arena to heed several other calls that it and leaders of the three Church mother bodies had made in the past regarding political and electoral violence.
“Today, a life has been lost, a family is grieving but as usual those who are given the task to protect human life and property continue acting as if all is normal. They are never moved and actually in most cases they simply massage the situation. Politicians, hear our call for justice, peace and reconciliation,” CCMG stated.
CCMG made reference to a pastoral letter that was written to all Zambians, especially politicians on April 23, 2017, where the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops reminded Zambians of their Christian duty to show that they knew God.
“From the Prophet Jeremiah, we are reminded that we cannot claim to know God if we fail to respond to and confront the injustices alive in our communities to day. ‘To know God means to do justice and to do justice is to know God’ (Jer 22:16). That is why knowing God cannot be separated from doing justice and in some instances omitting to do justice. Justice is a moral virtue, which binds human relationships. It is present where human dignity is respected and protected; where human rights are promoted and defended; where human participation is promoted; and also where the integrity of creation is respected and promoted. True justice is associated with merciful love and leads to reconciliation. In our situation today, none of these are fully followed. What we have been experiencing over the past eight years are the following,” they stated.
“The violence that is politically instigated [that] we witnessed in 2016 and 2017 continues up to today, especially where there are by-elections. What is shocking to us is that in all these events, no one has been brought to book for perpetuating this violence. We have also observed with sadness that the means of violence by the political cadres have since advanced. They began with stones, then went to pangas and now some of them are easily able to access and acquire for themselves military and police weapons such as tear gas canisters, pistols, rifles and other offensive weapons.”
CCMG stated that no one was taking any steps to stop this.
They stated that the militarisation of political cadres could easily usurp the work of the police and the same guns could easily turn against those who supply them in a situation where open violent conflict breaks out.
They stated that the Church in Zambia was convinced that the failure to promote and protect fundamental human rights and freedoms, lack of a democratic culture of tolerance and respect for divergent views and opinions, was the root cause of political and electoral violence.
“Working in a context where respect for human rights and people’s freedoms is limited requires concerted effort by all stakeholders to show the benefits of creating a culture of democracy where human rights are respected, promoted and defended. ‘If we want genuine peace, we should all fight for justice’,” CCMG stated.
They stated that it was common knowledge that the political environment in Zambia was shrinking.
They stated that key players such as political parties and civil society organisations were finding it difficult to freely work in communities.
“The Public Order Act (POA) which is supposed to protect people’s rights to assemble, associate and speak is being used to stifle human rights. This behaviour by those whose responsibility is to protect people’s rights leads to tension and anger. In the process, violence can easily break out as people force their way to claim their rights. Why has the police failed to follow the public order Act? Why are they failing to follow the electoral laws in Kaoma?” they asked.
They stated that the concerns that the Church in Zambia expressed on February 1, 2013 on government commitments to the rule of law were alive today.
They stated that at that time, they noticed limited independence of the Judiciary, the poor conduct of the law enforcing agents and intolerance of opposing views by government, leading to various human rights abuses.
“These are the same issues that we are grappling with up to today, only that the situation has become more apparent and worse. Parliament has not shown any ability to hold the executive accountable and the judiciary seems not to be in tune with what is going on in the governance of the country. Failure to observe the rule of law leads to anarchy and at its extreme end result in civil war. The violence in Kaoma on Monday is just one of the incidents that could easily trigger a general uprising if not stopped,” they stated.
They stated that the never-ending tension between the UPND and PF has affected many ordinary citizens in the country.
“Remember the deadly incidents in Luangwa, Livingstone, Sesheke, Chibulo Mapenzi in Lusaka, Luanshya, Kanyama and now in Kaoma. How many more lives should be lost before enough becomes enough? We make this call again as we did on 17th July 2016 that political party leaders should go beyond just condemning political violence because the condemnatory voices have not been strong enough to change the behaviour of the cadres. Now we are looking for concrete actions and measures by the Head of State, his IG [Inspector General] of police and all those given the task to protect the rights of all Zambians. We also pray that all the needed passion and commitment to build peace and avoid all forms of violence is summoned by all of us. As St Paul exhorts us, ‘Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody’ (Romans 12:18). Let us all pray for Mr Banda’s father and also the person who killed him. We request him to repent and seek Jesus for his own salvation,” CCMG stated.
“We further make this call again to the ECZ to take decisive action and disqualify any political party that perpetuates political and electoral violence regardless of who they are. There must be no sacred cow! We always find it difficult to understand the perpetual luke-warm position the Electoral Commission of Zambia usually takes with regards the electoral violence especially when it involves the ruling party. We know that the ECZ has power, provided for in the electoral process Act of 2016 to firmly deal with such matters. Why are these powers not used?”
They stated that the warning statements and closed door meetings with politicians that have been happening each time there were elections have not yielded any results that deter would-be perpetuators of electoral violence.
“Time is now to take decisive, just action against individuals who are known to perpetuate violence during elections. Let us always remember the blood of Harrison Chanda from Monze, Chibulo Mapenzi of Lusaka, Lawrence Banda of Lusaka, Obed Kasongo of Lusaka and many others whose blood cry out to heaven for redress,” stated CCMG./SM