Zambia state police are alleged to have killed three young people in Lusaka for merely wishing to peacefully gather and rally with their opposition political party of choice. It is widely believed that the police were carrying out orders from ‘higher’ command, reportedly from the outgoing president Edgar Lungu, in his desperation to stop his main presidential challenger of the opposition party, Hakainde Hichilema, from wrestling power from him in the August 2016 polls. On the material day, Friday, 8th July, 2016, the police are said to have used teargas, gun bayonets, rubber bullets and live ammunition on the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) cadres to try and stop them from attending a political campaign meeting the police had earlier authorized in one of the densely populated part of the capital, Chawama, saying the rally had been suddenly cancelled on security grounds.
The senseless killing of the three members of the opposition party supporters has sparked widespread anger and condemnation, and rightly so. Any arbitrary extrajudicial killing of innocent citizens in their exercise of constitutional rights of assembly, freedom of expression, choice and conscience should make horrendous reading anywhere in the world. What is more appalling is that the suspected killers are the police who are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that all citizens freely enjoy these rights as offered in the national constitution. Zambians have every right to be angry and demand that the responsible murderers are prosecuted.
What is more atrocious, however, is that this whole episode reminds the Barotse of what they went through on the 14th of January 2011, when at the hands of the same brutal state police, nineteen (19), and not two or three innocent Lozi people, including two infants, were killed as the police shot, bayoneted and tear gassed a peaceful procession of Lozi who had similarly wanted to go and attend a peaceful public gathering in Mongu. The injured were denied medical attention as both the Red Cross and Lewanika Hospital medical staff were threatened by the killer police not to dare render any attention to them. The state killings or rather massacres were unprovoked as the Barotse were unarmed and peaceful. Their only crime was to desire to gather peacefully with their traditional and royal leadership so that they could deliberate on the future of their political and social participation in the country they have known since 1964 to be theirs. The Barotse have a legitimate political grievance that is no fault of theirs, and they have every right to seek peaceful redress on what they believe is wrong with their citizenship in Zambia. As a people that can read, and also having been tutored by their parents, the Barotse argue that they only became part of Zambia through the conditional and express terms of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 signed with Northern Rhodesia and the British, which never saw the light of day because Kenneth Kaunda’s first Zambian government unilaterally repudiated and abrogated it by 1969. Consequently, they rightly felt cheated and peacefully wished to know how and why the people of Barotseland should be termed as ‘Zambians’ in the absence of the 1964 pre-independence treaty that would have legally sealed their Zambian citizenship.
However, perhaps the Lozi like the UPND members were so naïve and deluded to believe that the Zambian constitutional provisions of freedom of association, conscience and freedom of expression were indeed real. Alas, that dark 14th day of January 2011, and somewhat the incident of last week Friday the 8th of July 2016, may have just proved that human rights in Zambia are a façade and a preserve of only a few. Perhaps one needed to belong to a special breed or section of Zambia to enjoy certain constitutional rights to the fullest. It is reported that while members of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, enjoy free assembly, free expression and easy daily access to the national media, the UPND like the Barotse are denied the same. In fact, it is reported that the only free independent media that gave coverage to the Zambian opposition parties were either threatened or completely shut down by the state, a fate too familiar with any media that has dared to cover Barotseland issues differently from the state propaganda on the matter.
How must the Barotse feel at the State Police killing of 19 in 2011?
In 2011, the Barotse also sadly learnt that Zambians, unlike now when they have spoken in outrage at the killing of the three UPND cadres, were largely and conspicuously silent during their gruesome ordeal. Even the Zambian church, human rights watch groups and the Zambian legal fraternity all went mute in the face of such state instigated atrocities against the Lozi. In fact, the many Zambians who spoke through various social media platforms actually mocked them and spoke of how the Barotse ‘deserved’ being ‘dealt with’ in such a heavy-handed manner from the government and state agents. It was not uncommon to read on many such platforms cruel mockery of ‘kufipaya fye!’ meaning the Lozi deserved to be killed as they were allegedly ‘stingy’ and/or ‘selfish’.
Unfortunately, what many Zambians don’t know is that 14th January 2011 was the turning point for most Lozis as they realized that they were actually an ‘undesirable’ group of people in Zambia to the extent that instead of drawing strength and support from the Zambian public, they were being mocked in their repression.
In the present sad situation, however, we see solidarity to the opposition and the innocent killed, and this is how it should be. In fact, the Zambians should have recommended another day of national prayer, fasting and repentance at this sad and barbaric killing of the innocent young souls. However and sadly so, in the case of the innocent Barotse killings in 2011, no one has to this day ever apologized or taken responsibility from the national leadership for the death of the 19 Lozi. There were no official funerals, but government leaders were seen trying to outdo one another in their justification of the shooting of the Lozi, through their propaganda media and their parliament, and the people of Barotseland were portrayed as criminal ‘secessionists’ who had committed the capital crime of ‘treason’ by allegedly seeking to set the so-called peaceful Christian country on fire.
Yet, these assertions were lies and mere propaganda, as the Rodger Chongwe commission of inquiry draft leak would show later, that in fact this was an act of senseless killing of unarmed Barotse. The Zambian government even lied through their propaganda national media ZNBC that only two (2) people were killed; one for wanting to set a service (gas or filling) station ablaze while the other was killed by a strayed bullet. The government constituted Chongwe commission of inquiry, however, would later reveal that actually 19 people died instead of two. Although, the inquiry findings have never been made public, this singular fact was preempted by Dr. Rodger Chongwe himself, a renowned lawyer and chairperson of the commission, as he officially submitted the commission’s conclusive findings to fifth republican president Michael Sata.
Can Zambians imagine how this senseless killing must feel in the hearts and minds of the Barotse? Is it any wonder that many Lozi are no longer interested in Zambia, but have simply adopted a silent revolt, like the now growing ‘watermelon revolution’ where UPND cadres wear green PF party regalia on the outside while their under garments are the red regalia of the opposition party for fear of reprisals from the violent PF cadres? The Lozi in Zambia have similarly had to learn how to bear their pain and heartache in silence because they know that if they openly showed their emotional distress caused by their torturous existence in Zambia, they would attract government and police reprisals without any Zambian sympathy. In fact, the quickest way for any Lozi to get imprisonment today is voice out publicly or audibly what one really thinks about Barotseland. What is distressing is that to the Lozi, Barotseland is home, and now they are forbidden to even talk freely or read literature about Bulozi (Barotseland), their home land!
If the death of one or three Zambians at the hands of the state police hurt Zambians so much, can one imagine how the similar senseless killing of 19 innocent Lozi must feel in the hearts of the Barotse?
It is no longer a secret that the 14th January 2011 Barotse massacres were so gratuitous that even the presidency seems too ashamed to release the findings of the Chongwe commission four years after it was submitted, although the inquiry gobbled over K5 billion (about USD1 million) tax payers’ money at the time.
By Political Editor,