UNZA terminates recognition of UNZALARU

[By Ernest Chanda and Tobias Phiri]

THE University of Zambia management has terminated the recognition agreement it signed with UNZALARU.
Meanwhile, a consortium of non-governmental organisations says the PF government is developing a trend of silencing dissenting views.

Last week, government granted the University of Zambia (UNZA) management’s application to have the recognition agreement between the two parties revoked.

The application resulted from a strained relationship between the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) and management over the last two years.

Specifically, on January 6 this year, UNZALARU general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe said only idiots and those enjoying with the PF government can vote for them if elections were called today and asked union members affected by delayed salaries to “hold the bull by its b…s until it feels what they were feeling with the delayed salaries”.

The statement angered both UNZA management and the government, with the latter threatening to withdraw the recognition agreement.

In a letter to Dr Mambwe dated February 7, management has officially refused to engage the union on any matter related to either its members or the institution.

“Reference is made to the letter we received from the acting Labour Commissioner which was addressed to you dated 4th February, 2020 regarding the termination of the Recognition Agreement between the University of Zambia Management and the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU),” stated the letter signed by UNZA registrar Sitali Wamundila. “I wish to advise that given this development, management is unable to formerly engage with the union on the matters affecting the University operations/or staff who are members of UNZALARU. Be informed accordingly.”

And reacting to the Ministry of Labour letter on Saturday, UNZALARU president Evans Lampi called it a politically motivated exercise and an act of intimidation.

He vowed that the union would seek legal redress on the matter.

“Yes, of course, it is intimidation and it’s political. We knew that from the very beginning this whole process has been driven by higher forces in the government. The fact of the matter is that regardless of the hearing that we had regarding the same issue, decisions were made before we were heard. And, as far as we are concerned, we cannot have a situation in which the prosecutor who is government, was the judge; it was the government. So, they’re the same people. The whole thing is flawed from the very beginning and it doesn’t solve a single thing,” Dr Lampi told The Mast in an interview. “So, it doesn’t mean that UNZALARU does not exist. UNZALARU is very much in existence, first of all. The second thing is that we have not received any letter from management who the recognition agreement is with, that the recognition has been terminated. Having said that, the UNZALARU at this moment is seeking legal advice on the way to move on this particular issue. And things will follow in the next week (this week).”

And according to a statement undersigned by Chapter One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde, the recent moves to abolish UNZALARU were a bad trend.

“The undersigned civil society organisations are gravely concerned by the moves by government to abolish the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) purportedly for ‘unbridled insults’ from the union. We note that UNZALARU has been critical of the government on various issues relating to the governance of the country,” she stated.

“Whilst civility is encouraged in engaging with the government, the attempt to abolish UNZALARU appears to be a measure to curb dissent. This is very worrying in a country that purports to be a democracy where the market place of ideas should be allowed to flourish and where criticism of government should be a natural part of the democratic discourse.”

Kasonde added: “We further note that the trend by the government to try and silence critical voices in the country is growing. Most notably in the recent past, the government attempted to dissolve the Law Association of Zambia and to abolish student unions at our public universities.”

The CSOs noted that such moves were not good for democratic development.

“It is our considered view that such attempts to stifle alternative perspectives and provision of checks and balances can lead to the emergence of authoritarianism and the continued shrinking of the civic space. We therefore wish to call on government to immediately halt this trend and allow citizens to freely participate in the governance processes of our country at various levels. This is every citizen’s treasured right and freedom in the spirit of leaving no one behind,” said Kasonde. 

“We stand in solidarity with UNZALARU and wish to reiterate our resolve and commitment, as part of the larger civil society, to continue championing the entrenchment of tenets of democracy and good governance in Zambia.”

The statement was undersigned by ActionAid Zambia, Alliance for Community Action, Caritas Zambia, Chapter One Foundation, CISCA, Center For trade Policy and Development, GEARS as well as NGOCC.

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