[By Tuesday Bwalya]
When news broke that leader of the opposition Patriots for Economic Progress (PEP) party Sean Tembo and his supporters had been badly attacked by suspected PF cadres on the afternoon of Thursday November 28 for demonstrating against the purchase of 42 old fire tenders at a cost of USD$ 42 million, I did not believe it.
I quickly checked a few online media outlets and saw pictures of Mr Tembo in a wheelchair and his clothes stained with blood. It was shocking seeing Zambians attacking a fellow Zambian for talking on their behalf against rampant corruption in the Patriotic Front (PF) regime. I likened this behaviour of the suspected PF thugs to a stupid man who accepts to be hired by a thief of his mother’s chitenge material to pursue and strike down a Good Samaritan who has been fighting for the return of the stolen chitenge material of the hired man’s mother.
I have no kind words to describe the senseless attack on Mr Tembo; it is madness of the highest order. Mr Tembo was fighting a noble cause. He was asking thieves who have stolen our USD$ 42 million through a corrupt tender process to return public money. How could sensible people mobilise themselves and descend with all manner of weapons on Mr Tembo and his supporters who were advancing a common cause? I am perplexed and disappointed.
This is what Zambia has become under the PF government which many Zambians thought would perform better than the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Zambians expected the PF government to uphold the rule of law and protect fundamental rights of people which include freedom to peacefully demonstrate. Alas, the PF has not lived up to its expectation and it will go in the history of this country as the most violent political party to have led Zambia.
I have no doubt that the people who attacked Mr Tembo are PF cadres. Cadres from the opposition cannot mobilise and attack him because he represents what many opposition leaders think of the ruling party, the PF. The PF thugs were definitely hired by criminals who have benefited from the USD$ 42 million stolen from us Zambians. They were hired to kill and silence the only remaining voice talking about that corrupt deal. Do these thugs understand the value of USD$ 42 million? Using today’s exchange rate, USD$42 million could be over ZMW 613 million.
The money which our government spent on those 1996 fire engines could sort out so many problems in our schools, universities and hospitals. I have been wondering how the purchase of such wretch fire engines became a priority to this country when they were more important issues such as construction of hostels for students and lecture rooms in public universities and colleges.
The money Mr Tembo was fighting for, if returned, could benefit even the families of those criminals who attacked him. What a shameful thing to do, attacking a man carrying the cross for many Zambians by fighting on behalf of many of us who are scared to death to confront the PF and its corrupt associates.
At times, I agree with Mr Saviour Chishimba, president of the United Progressive People (UPP)party when he says that many of our people are fools. Indeed, only a fool can attack Mr Tembo because his demonstration was for the benefit of the masses in the country. Only a fool or mentally retarded person can agree to be hired out to attack someone who is fighting for many Zambians.
The hired thugs and whoever initiated the attack on Mr Tembo should be ashamed of themselves and that their act has gone into Zambia’s history as one of the most senseless acts this country has ever witnessed since the dawn of multiparty democray.
I wish to acknowledge the fact that PF as a party had issued a statement to condemn the attack of Mr Tembo but its government had remained mute. What does it mean?
The police were reported to have said that they were investigating the matter. What are the police investigating when Mr Tembo claims to know two of the attackers? What I was expecting is for the police to summon the people implicated and call Mr Tembo to identify them and effect an arrest. I hope this will not be another case which will not yield any results. Police need to effect an arrest as a way of sending a strong massage to perpetrators of political violence in this country. The Police should not be seen to be siding with the strong in society; those wielding political power, but work professionally because their profession is a noble one.
As I conclude, I wish to encourage Mr Tembo to go ahead with the demonstrations. Further, more Zambians should come on board and demand the return of our money. Let us not leave this fight to a few political leaders such as Mr Tembo. It is our duty as citizens to voice out our concerns and demand transparency in the procurement system. God bless Zambia!
The author is a lecturer at the University of Zambia, department of Library and Information Science.