Chiefs in Mpika district of Muchinga province appealed to President Edgar Lungu not to release the final constitution until contentious issues have been resolved.
The chiefs speaking through Chief Kabinga said the constitution should not be hurried until Article 296 which gives the president power over land had been amended.
“Mr President you should not be in a hurry to release the constitution until the article 296 of the constitution that is taking power away from the chiefs is addressed,” chief Kabinga said.
He added that chiefs exist because of land hence the power to administer land should remain with them.
Chief Kabinga was representing eight other chiefs that include Senior Chief Kopa, chief Chikwanda, Mpumba, Luchembe, Nabwalya, Mukungule, Kabinga and Chilindaponde.
The President has power under the Lands (Acquisition Act), Cap 296 of the Laws of Zambia to compulsorily acquire any land in the public interest.
In his article The institution of Chiefs is on slippery ground Mwinelubemba Chitimukulu Kanyanta-Manga II explained the controversial law that has taken power away from Chiefs in Zambia.
In the Draft Land Policy 2002, it is unbelievably shameful that our fellow Zambian technocrats or professionals could scheme such a satanic document without a grain of thought for their peasant relatives living in villages.
The deadly trigger was cleverly inserted in chapter 3 and the second paragraph of article 3.1: “The demand for land has increased considerably and there are applicants seeking both state and customary lands. However, in this current state, the land delivery system is unable to meet the increase in the demand by the public for land title. The high demand for land calls for conversion of customary land into state land to meet future land requirements.” (emphasis mine). And article 6.0 stated: The Land Policy must be implemented with urgency.’’
And what this meant in practice was that land could be allocated from Lusaka to anybody and anywhere in Zambia without even the courtesy of consulting a chief in the affected area. And the implication is that before conversion, the land is the property of the community and subject to the community rights. After conversion, the community which had equal rights on the land will have lost them. And when the title deed has been issued, it individualizes the rights on land, which belongs to the title holder. And what must also be carefully noted is that the community which owned the land benefits completely nothing from the transaction.
Professor Michelo Hansungule wrote in Keynote Paper: Constitutionalism and Constitutional Development: “When the 1995 Land Act was being debated in Parliament, people especially in rural areas rejected it. Chiefs cried foul with authorities pointing out that the government intended to take away the powers of local people over their land in favour of foreign investors under its Western inspired market reform programme. After much pressure across the country, the government announced that it would enact the law against the wishes of the people and decided to fast track the Bill in Parliament by waiving the 21 days rule on publication of Bills before being presented for reading. Even before the people realized it, the Bill was law.”
In reaction to all this President Lungu said he is ready to release the constitution even now but that people should study the draft and deal with all the contentious issues in the draft.
President Lungu said he can look for money and go for a referendum for people to vote for the constitution but the chiefs objected that they don’t want the constitution in its current form because of the land article.
“Your excellence, we are ready to wait for the constitution even after 2016 to make sure that we amend the Article 296,” chief Chikwanda said.
The Chiefs said the President should ignore the Grand Coalition who they said does not exist according to them.
But the Grand Coalition on the Campaign for a People-Driven Constitution chairperson Fr Leonard Chiti in statement released in Lusaka today said it acknowledges that Chiefs and Traditional Leaders are major stakeholders in the governance of the country and very critical to the constitution reform process.
“In view of this, the Grand Coalition will make courtesy calls on all Chiefs in the country to discuss with them the need for a new people driven constitution before the 2016 General Elections. Through these visits and other planned engagements, we hope to reach some understanding with their Royal Highnesses on why Zambia needs a new constitution as soon as possible,” Fr Leonard Chiti said.
The Grand Coalition during these meetings will put its position very clear on the concerns being raised by the chiefs on the contentious issues of land ownership in the country.
“Our proposed meetings with the traditional leaders are also meant to discuss with illustration section by section of the draft constitution, why it is important for the people of Zambia to adopt a new constitution through a referendum,” he added.