[By Gregory Kaputula]
SIR Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, the founder of the Virgin group of companies; commenting on the events in America over the past weeks which have led to widespread demonstrations across the country and beyond, made an intelligent and encouraging comment.
Sir Branson said: “it should not have taken George Floyd’s death for white people to wake up to the reality of racism around us. It has been centuries in the making. I have always believed that businesses and leaders must be advocates for the common good and this is truer now than ever. We stand in solidarity against racism and for racial justice. Black lives matter.”
Indeed, the killing of George Floyd is inexcusable, criminal and outrageous. It’s a first-class product of hatred and must be condemned by all people of good conscience. The killing of Floyd is evidence of how much more work every one of us, local leaders, world leaders and humanity at large have to do to bring justice and sanity to this crazy world we live in.
Not sure if it is because of Floyd’s death, but Zambian youths have finally decided not to allow the sleeping dog lie. The past weeks have been extremely busy for Zambian youths and the ruling Patriotic Front’s spin doctors. Zambian youths have been pouring their justifiable anger on various national matters using social media. Social media has been awash with all manner of national problems and issues the youth are encountering in their everyday lives. The youths have spoken and continue to speak.
Some political commentators are saying that a youth revolution may be on the horizon. I will avoid commenting on the issue of a revolution, that’s a discussion for another day. However, the youths are speaking without fear or favour. May be this is why some political commentators are prophesying a youth revolution. The good thing is that the youths are communicating in simple, audible and clear language; they are not speaking in tongues. They are not throwing stones, they are not looting, and they are not fighting or disturbing public peace and order. They are peaceful and merely exercising their constitutional right to speak and communicate. For this, the youth deserve a pat on the back for a job well done.
And, just like the cry of black Americans, Zambian youths are also crying, pleading and saying ‘they too can’t breathe and their lives matter.’ They are saying that majority Zambians can’t breathe too and their lives matter! Their voice is strong and united because they know they are in the majority. They know that they are the owners of this country. They know that they are the future leaders, and thus want to secure the future of this country, not just for themselves but for generations to follow.
Importantly, the youth know the power of their vote. Zambian youths and Zambians at large can’t breathe for various reasons ranging from incompetency, indecision and inaction of those entrusted to manage national affairs. Zambian leaders are reactive and only good at fire-fighting. Zambian youths can’t breathe because when the country has just discovered gold in the North Western Province and other rural towns, the majority of shares in these gold mines are being given to foreign owned entities. Government has taken a minority stake of 45 per cent and allowed a foreign entity get 55 per cent in the gold processing venture in North Western Province. Is it justified that government failed to source the required $2.5 million to own the entire venture on behalf of Zambians?
Zambian youths can’t breathe because when fuel pump prices are reducing world over, ours can’t reduce because of the middlemen that have been engaged to be procuring our fuel at inflated prices. On 23rd April, Zambia’s Energy Regulation Board (ERB) announced that it would not reduce fuel pump prices despite an unprecedented international oil market crash as a result of reduced global demand. The ERB said it would not adjust, downwards, the cost of petroleum products because of the depreciation of the Zambian Kwacha.
Zambian youths can’t breathe because of the high cost of Zesco prepaid units. When youths complained about Zesco units finishing at supersonic speed, Zesco did not provide a convincing response. They simply agreed that we have moved from one problem to another, that is from load shedding to units depleting faster because load shedding has reduced.
Here is the response posted by Zesco spokesperson Henry Kapata on his Facebook page: “Customers, remember that (3) months ago, load-shedding was as long as 15 hours and you hardly purchased units. Load-shedding has since reduced. We are now in the month of June pretty cold when generally the usage of electricity is slightly more than any other month. Our young-stars who are normally at school every June are now with us ‘staying at home’. Lockdown means more people at home and more usage of electricity at home because we are also working at home.”
Zambian youths can’t breathe because COVID-19 has had a significant negative socio-economic impact on the communities. It has taken away business opportunities for the youths and their livelihoods. The impact that COVID-19 has had on individuals and business cannot be ignored. This virus has not just been killing people, it has also killed businesses especially those run by youths.
On 20th April 2020 finance minister Bwalya Ngandu announced that Zambia’s estimated revenue for 2020 was predicted to fall by at least by 20 per cent, or K14.8 billion, as a result of COVID-19. Speaking at an economic briefing at Lusaka’s Mulungushi International Conference Centre, Dr Ngandu said the pandemic was expected to result in a slowdown in economic activities across all sectors, including manufacturing, transport, power, retail and tourism.
Zambian youths can’t breathe because they are exposed to unbearable living conditions and high poverty levels. Poverty levels in Zambia remain unacceptably very high. The situation in rural areas is even worse when compared to urban areas. The gap between the rich and the poor remains extremely high. The gap between those who live in ‘Kwa and Ku’ has kept extending with no visible and realistic interventions to reverse the trend.
Of course, this has been exacerbated by the high levels of corruption in the government system, especially in the procurement of goods and services. Corruption is systemic and entrenched in government. On 26th May, 2020, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) stated that the it had been conducting investigations into health minister Hon. Chitalu Chilufya on alleged possession of property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime. The Commission conducted interviews with Dr Chilufya where a warn and caution statement was recorded.
Zambian youths can’t breathe because of police brutality. Whenever youths want to engage in activism, protests, or any other political engagements, the Zambia Police Service won’t allow them. Police are intolerant, especially to opposition youths and all those deemed not to be in good books with the ruling party. On 6th June 2020, police in Lusaka arrested two UPND youths who took a notice for a planned protest. Police action is unjustified and in contravention of the Public Order Act which requires the police to be only notified in good time of a planned gathering or protest.
Zambian youths can’t breathe because their freedom of expression is threatened. The government, through Lusaka province minister Bowman Lusambo, has openly warned youths who are speaking out of brutal consequences. These political threats have led to some faint-hearted youths withdrawing their pronouncements and tendering apologies to the state. Apologising for being right and speaking the truth? Apologising for enjoying your constitutional right? Lusambo has since been roundly condemned by all right thinking members of the Zambian society.
Zambian youths can’t breathe because they have no jobs, employment levels are very high. It matters less whether one has a university degree or a certificate; there are no jobs in Zambia for both the educated and the uneducated. But we must realise that it is every government’s responsibility to indirectly or directly create jobs for its citizens. Those that are in employment have continuously complained of casualisation, poor salaries and slave working conditions. Clearly, the traditionally docile and sleepy Zambian youths have woken up. They now want to take their rightful place and have their voice heard.
Zambian youths are now looking for an opportunity and a moment that can be a real turning point in the nation’s long journey for political and economic freedom. They are looking for listening, passionate and action-oriented leaders. They are looking for leaders that are selfless, leaders that will respect them because they are the real bosses. They are looking for genuine representatives of their aspirations and values.
If the Patriotic Front government has failed to fulfil their promises and help Zambians sustain themselves and their lives, they should let go. And as per the comment attributed to Sir Richard Branson in my preamble, it should not take Zambians to die before government and our leaders can take action. Time to act is now, time to listen is now, and time to learn is now. Ultimately, Zambians deserve to breathe. Zambians deserve fresh air.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Let us stand in solidarity against all forms of social injustices in Zambia. Zambian lives matter.
The Author is a development activist, law student and social commentator. Send comment to: firstname.lastname@example.org