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Market, bus stations political hullabaloo

Suddenly the national discourse, in an uproar format, has shifted to Obvious Mwaliteta’s indication that the UPND will set up structures in markets and bus stations. The manner this sensitive matter was released to the public and the source – the man behind the microphone and cameras – understandably brings a chill to all Zambians who thought this phenomenon was behind us post August 12.

And the party hierarchy has done very little to elaborately explain the meaning of all this. Citizens are rightly annoyed – this market and bus stations hullabaloo can have a very serious political dent on the ruling UPND if not well handled or explained. The UPND must remember that politics is perception. And you cannot allow citizens and followers to be second guessing the President’s declarations, decrees. When you ban hunting in a park, you can’t start cherry-picking!

And the PF and MMD who, during their tenure, abused markets and bus stations can be justified – perhaps – in screaming the most in this uproar. PF, like the MMD before them, used markets and bus stations as cash cows for their cadres and senior officials. They also used these facilities as permanent campaign and recruitment centres! These too were bases where unruly characters were stationed and would be called at short notice to cause a protest against whoever had fallen from grace – whoever the party leaders wanted to be shamed, removed or sorted out. These were permanent camps from where men and women would be mobilised to march to State House, courts or Parliament at short time to demonstrate in support of a government position or instill fear in others – whenever the ruling party’s interests were threatened.

So, for political expediency purposes, the PF wouldn’t want the UPND to have strong presence in markets and bus stations. They understand too well what’s at stake. They have been there and they can’t stomach losing this space!

But what kind of presence is the UPND talking about? What kind of structures is Obvious insinuating? Is he talking about erection of solid bases and start overseeing business conducted in these facilities just as the MMD and PF behaved? Or is he talking about forming party structures to ensure continuous mobilisation and offering primary feedback bases for the party in power?

Put the other way, majority of our working class – who in turn form the biggest block of voters – arguably are found in markets and bus stations, in the informal sector. For any party this is a key sector to look after. They form a vital collective opinion. You overlook them at your own peril. In political parties that are good at underground work, they appreciate the need to found and consolidate cells in every sector and working class centres. It is through such presence be it in markets, bus stations, centres of learning, farming blocs, mining communities, fish camps, among others that you grow your parties, understand challenges facing these sectors and attempt finding and refining solutions to such! Equally these can be vital feedback centres – direct feedback that is.

So, there’s need for clarity from the UPND on what they mean when they talk of structures in our markets and bus stations! They cannot afford to remain vague. It is politically dangerous – damaging. And will they be magnanimous enough to allow free reign in these facilities? Are other political parties going to have the same latitude to have structures present to ensure full mobilisation and party(s) interests secured? Will democracy prevail in these important but volatile facilities? What is motivating the UPND in making such an ambiguous statement?

Given our background in how we have poisoned our politics, any declaration pointing to the presence of the ruling party in these facilities is toxic.

But as Federico Mayor Zaragoza pointed out, “A universal renunciation of violence requires the commitment of the whole of society. These are not matters of government but matters of State; not only matters for the authorities, but for society in its entirety, including civilian, military, and religious bodies. The mobilisation which is urgently needed to effect the transition within two or three years from a culture of war to a culture of peace demands cooperation from everyone. In order to change, the world needs everyone.”

Can any of our political parties avoid having some kind of presence in these facilities? At what point should parties become visible in markets? Is it necessary to actively engage our people in markets and bus stations? Why, when and how? This is really a very difficult issue and highly emotive too.

One Bertolt Brecht stated that, “When the leaders speak of peace the common folk know that war is coming. When the leaders curse war, the mobilisation order is already written out. Every day, to earn my daily bread, I go to the market where lies are bought. Hopefully, I take up my place among the sellers.”

For all intents and purposes, we cannot go back to the way the MMD and PF managed and entrenched themselves in our markets and bus stations – much as political parties have to mobilise and build their niches!

As Judith Butler said, “Perhaps we have to remember that there are forms of outrage that do not lead to any sort of mobilisation, and there are ways of ‘registering the facts’ that do not lead to outrage.”

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