We need to re-build a society so strong that whenever there is injustice or discrimination in any form, our people will stand up and do the right thing. Unfortunately, what we see in Zambia today is nothing other than complacency in the face of unjust norms. Throughout history, we have seen some groups of people abuse their authority by using the instruments of power to enact laws that are unfair, unacceptable, unjust, and outright immoral to ensure that they continue to enjoy certain privileges at the expense of the masses or other groups within that society. There are many historical examples we can cite with regards to this issue. However, for purposes of this article I think that it is befitting for us to concentrate on the problem we have at hand as a nation. Since, we have a general election coming up next year (August 2021), we need to cut to the chase board and address the elephant in the room. We should once and for all deal with what seems to many as a law used by the government to disadvantage others, and almost guarantee the powers that be to return the status quo. The law in question which needs immediate attention is none other than the Public Order Act.
In case there are those who are unfamiliar with the genesis of the Public Order Act, let us remind you that this act was in fact designed by the colonialists to suppress the militant black nationalist groups and movements who were fighting colonial rule at the time. We need to understand where this law comes from, how it has been applied and if at all it has any relevance in our society today. I believe that if we have a good understanding of this historic context of the Public Order Act, then we can begin to ask critical questions which will lead us to look carefully and examine what needs to change.
After we gained independence in 1964, the Kaunda regime was preoccupied with various tasks, including but not limited to nation building, liberating other African countries from colonial rule etc. Because of all that was going on at the time, there was little time for Dr Kaunda and his comrades to deal with all the issues we were faced with, including changing of some of the draconian laws we had inherited from the colonial regime. To be specific, the Public Order Act was such one law that needed to be addressed from time immemorial. Nonetheless, it took so long for this law to be challenged in the courts of law and changes to be made to it. It was in 1996 that the Public Order Act was challenged in court by a Mrs Christine Mulundika and others, who argued that this law was inconsistent with the bill of rights and other rights as enshrined in the Zambian constitution. The argument in this case was quite simple, madam Mulundika and others said in essence that the requirement to apply for permits to hold meetings or even organise marches or demonstrations violated the rights of people guaranteed under the bill of rights.
Therefore, in a landmark judgement the supreme court of Zambia struck down many aspects of the Public Order Act and removed the requirements to apply for police permits to hold meetings, marches, or demonstrations.
The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) government should be give credit for having facilitated this conducive environment where citizens rose up to challenge a law that was so unjust. After the supreme court verdict, the MMD regime went on to replace the previous requirements of the old Public Order Act. The changes were incredibly significant, we went from the law requiring one to apply for a permit to hold a meeting to simply notifying the police for an intended meeting. History teaches us repeatedly that; just men and women in any society have no obligation to obey unjust laws, this is a universal principle regardless of anyone’s background or upbringing. We should forever be grateful for the example of the like of Mrs Christine Mulundika and others who stood up to injustices and flaws in the old Public Order Act. Their contribution to the struggle and making Zambia a better place should never be forgotten. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling and changes made to the act, the MMD never had any problems of restricting meetings of political parties, marches, and public demonstrations. For example, even when it was evident that Rupiah Banda (RB) was about to lose the elections to Mr. Sata in 2011, RB never infringed on the rights of Mr. Sata nor interfered with the Patriotic Front’s freedoms of assembly and expression. The Patriotic Front then in oppositions only needed to notify the police whenever they wanted to have a rally or hold a meeting, and if I am not mistaken all their meetings were held without any difficulties. Perhaps, this tells us something positive about RB despite all the negative things that came out his regime. But, despite all the progress we made with regards to the Public Order Act under the MMD, the reality today under this administration is very much different. It looks like we have gone back 50 years in time to the same colonial Public Order Act used by our oppressors prior to independence. This is not surprising to some people, but totally unacceptable and so we need to move quickly and rectify this situation. We cannot go back to the days when we must apply for a permit to hold a meeting in our own country. The law today only requires a mere police notification prior to a rally, meeting, or demonstration and not an application for a permit. If the Patriotic Front government does not put their house in order and address this unjust and unfair application of the so-called Public Order Act, then Zambians will be compelled to resort to tactics of civil disobedience and completely get rid of this misused act.
Let us remember that selective Justice is no justice at all, we cannot have the party in power hold meetings, rallies, radio interviews and demonstrations without even notifying the police. But then expect the opposition parties to apply for some kind of permit to get together for meetings or radio interviews. This is unfair, unjust, unacceptable, and immoral; therefore Zambians should demand fairness by any means necessary as we approach the 2021 general elections.