The ugly scenes that greeted the Vice President on her arrival at the Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport recently are unfortunate and deplorable. The Vice President, her Honour Madam Inonge Wina was on the Copperbelt on a fact-finding mission over emerging allegations that there had been rampant encroachment on land by illegal squatters, mainly the Patriotic Front cadres. These allegations came from the outspoken provincial minister, Hon. Bowman Lusambo.
If what had happened at the airport in Ndola had been reported only by the private media, the incident would have quickly been dismissed as mere political propaganda championed by the opposition. But the incident was captured in full glare by all government owned media outlets, electronic and print. ZNBC even had the footage and accompanying audio of the mayhem and anarchism by the cadres. The cadres harassed the minister, denouncing him for allegedly giving negative coverage of the party on the Copperbelt. The media personnel, and interestingly this time around, from the government media organisations, were not spared from verbal abuse by the cadres, and the police could only watch helplessly as the foul spectacle unfolded and almost degenerated into the physical violence which is never in short supply in the ruling party.
What happened at the Ndola airport is not an isolated and unfortunate incident, but it is something that has been brewing in the PF since it ascended to power five years ago. There has been a systemic breakdown of law and order, respect for party structures and harmonious intra-party co-existence. Needless for me to remind you of the bloody violence and political vitriol that characterized the succession battles after the demise of the party’s founding president. Party cadres, often backed by bigwigs in the party hierarchy and government, are unleashed on perceived internal enemies and rivals within the party. They are helped with resources and given logistical support in a well-organized clandestine operation, and sometimes they are even armed. Ask Hon. Given Lubinda about his unfortunate experience that led to the loss of his ministerial position and suspension from the party during the late Michael Sata’s presidency.
So it should not come as a surprise that Hon. Lusambo, the PF’s Kabushi constituency lawmaker and a presidential appointee to a ministerial position has come under fire for trying to redeem the Copperbelt from illegal land allocations being perpetrated with impunity by the PF cadres in collusion with some councillors and council employees. No doubt that Hon. Lusambo has touched on their raw nerves. Their livelihood and that of their sponsoring masters has been seriously threatened, and anyone standing in their way is an intolerable enemy who must be sorted out.
This reminds me of the abounding cases of cannibalism in the nonhuman animal world. Cannibalism is the act of one individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food. It is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom in hundreds of species. It does not, as once believed, occur only as a result of extreme food shortages or artificial conditions, but commonly occurs under natural conditions in a variety of species. An African proverb with an unknown origin, says that “when a leopard wants to eat its offspring, it accuses them of smelling like goats.”
In human species, we read of bizarre stories of cannibalism, and these are often driven by a compulsive urge for survival in the absence of anything else edible to nourish the body. In his chilling book, Dinner with a Cannibal, Carole A. Travis-Henikoff argues that cannibalism is an ancient and natural adaptive strategy that kept early humans alive until seasonally scarce food resources improved. But of course there has also existed in history, irrational psychopaths who have derived culinary pleasure in digging their teeth into human flesh.
On the most basic level, this idea of cannibalism serves as a fitting description for what is politically happening within the Patriotic Front. A practice, which I must be quick to say, is also evident in other political parties. Since the PF came to power, many of the unemployed individuals have looked to the government to serve them “dinner” since, as they argue, they are the ones who worked hard to deliver the victory to the party. They are so hungry for that meal, that they would not tolerate any delay in its preparation and served to them. Whoever seems to be a stumbling block to their anticipated and long awaited enjoyment of their deserved meal, is a political threat and a subject of their unrestrained savagery and thuggery. This is the situation manifesting itself within the PF.
The much romanticised “more money in the pocket” did little to fulfil the big-eyed dreams and hopes of the cadres. Alas, very few of them today are swimming in the pool of the promised paradise. And those few who are, have been flaunting their rewards, much to the chagrin of the majority. This has created a fertile ground for illegality, and fueled the cannibalism manifesting itself today. We are seeing an unprecedented rise of the “dog-eat-dog” politics where the law of the jungle appears to be reigning supreme. The cadres are now behaving like a deranged prize fighter who has run out of opponents, and begins punching wildly at everything that moves in the ring. Hon. Lusambo happens to be in the ring right now, and they will growl at him, bark and bite.
The predatory and cannibalistic tendencies becoming deeply entrenched in the ruling party are a recipe for national disaster. And that is what we saw in the public humiliation of a senior government official and presidential appointee by known party hooligans at the airport in Ndola. State resources were used by the Her Honour, the vice president to go and resolve a matter which has been caused purely by unruly PF cadres. If there was discipline in the party, this situation wouldn’t have arisen. Here are social misfits, instead of encouraging the provincial minister in the execution of government programs, we are instead witnessing a ruthless battle for his political annihilation. They don’t care at all about the consequences that this climate of political and social banditry engenders in our country.
Her Honour, the vice president was right and spot on in denouncing this kind of thuggery. She said the alleged illegal allocation of plots, encroachment on land and the building of structures with impunity despite notices from local authorities shows high levels of indiscipline among the party cadres and some unscrupulous council officials. The animosity shown against a presidential appointee was reckless.
Let me appeal to the party leadership at all levels, and especially to the PF and republican president, His Excellency Edgar Lungu to immediately put an end to this thuggery and political cannibalism. The rising levels of unemployment among youths and its attendant poverty and frustration has turned them into willing tools for thuggery in the hands of desperate politicians. Left unchecked, this kind of behaviour will lead to an evolution and sustenance of a violent political culture in the country, and the subversion of democratic order.
What should the president and the Patriotic Front do to get over this problem?
1) The president must make very strong, unambiguous pronouncements against such behaviour among some of the members of the party, and exhibit strong leadership over this crop of cadres who regard themselves as sacrosanct.
2) The party must identify the sponsors of such anarchy within the party and let them face the full discipline of the party. This will send a very strong signal to anyone with such a mindset to take warning. Indiscipline must be punished.
3) Furthermore, the PF must strengthen party structures on the ground. There must be proper coordination of activities between the party secretariat and the provincial, district, constituency and local branches so that every activity at the lower organs of the party reflects what the party has sanctioned and approved. If local leaders are not sure of an activity in which they have been asked to participate by a senior party official, they should consult with the secretariat to avoid what we saw in Ndola.
4) The party must also make it clear that not everyone who has sacrificed for the party can be rewarded equally. There are no jobs, nor the money to go around every party member.
5) The party should begin to think of income generating programs that they can roll out for the benefit of the unemployed cadres, and do this transparently so that it leaves no room for suspicion that the party is dipping into the government treasury. A clear separation between the party and the government must be explained to the cadres and to all party members.
6) Finally, it is also important to be deliberate and serious about promoting intra-party democracy in the party. Democratic behaviour should be regulated and enforced by clear guidelines and rules that set the tone of how important internal democracy should be. Internal democracy must be the incubator that nurtures citizens’ political competence and provides opportunities for building greater cohesiveness in the party.
These practical solutions are not only for the PF, but should be taken seriously by all political parties. We need law and order and sanity restored in our nation, or else this deadly dinner will destroy the parties involved and the nation.
By Isaac Makashinyi