By Julius Kapembwa, PhD
I apply a little logic or critical thinking to see if UNZALARU Secretary General, Dr Kelvin Mambwe insulted anyone as has been asserted by the Patriotic Front (PF) through its vociferous deputy secretary general, Mumbi Phiri. The first thing to do in assessing whether Kelvin is guilty of insulting is to be clear what the terms or words mean. ‘Idiot’ and ‘insult’. Let’s see what the words mean.
There are several ways of defining a word, for example, ostensively or lexically. Let’s take the word of the moment, ‘idiot’ (one of Kenneth Kaunda’s favourites). An ostensive definition would be to point at an idiot or give a list of people known to be idiots. A lexical definition is one we get in a dictionary. I know one or two idiots, but I don’t want any trouble. So, a lexical definition it is: An idiot is a ‘stupid person’ and a stupid person is one ‘lacking intelligence or common sense’. Does this sound like an insult to you? Oh, wait! First we need to know what an insult is. The dictionary to the rescue again: To insult is to ‘speak to or treat someone with disrespect’. To avoid a vicious circle of definitions, I will just assume we all know what ‘disrespect’ means. So, did Kelvin speak to someone with disrespect? We will see. But here, first, are our parameters. To have insulted a PF voter, let’s call her Rose, it must be the case that Kelvin called Rose an idiot and that to do so is to treat someone with disrespect. I will start with the first aspect. Unfortunately, we have to wade through some logico-linguistic jargon.
Allow me to paraphrase what Kelvin said: If any person votes for the PF in the future, she is either a (hopeful) beneficiary from the PF or she is an idiot. This statement is a conditional, an ‘if …, then …’ or hypothetical statement. But there is a little devil in the detail. As we know, a conditional is binary, containing an antecedent and a consequent. The consequent is a little complicated because it contains a disjunction, a statement containing two parts connected by ‘or’. A conditional statement is always true unless the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. A disjunction is only false when the statements on either side of the ‘or’ is false; otherwise it is true. With these basics in place, one can proceed to use propositional calculus to determine whether a statement that is insulting follows from what Kelvin said.
When your cries fall on deaf ears every year, every month, you must shout louder. Kelvin represents the largest collection of intellectuals or academics in the country who have been reduced to begging for their salaries, gratuities, and pensions.
Those familiar with sentential logic can go on and apply the method to the following argument containing three statement: (1) If Rose votes for the PF, Rose is either a beneficiary from the PF or Rose is an idiot. (2) Rose votes for the PF. (3) Therefore, Rose is an idiot. If the first two statements (premises) are true but the third one (conclusion) is false, then the argument is invalid. An invalid argument is one in which the conclusion does not follow with strict necessity from the premises. It does not follow from Kelvin’s statement that he called Rose an idiot. The only time the argument is valid is when we change the third statement by replacing it with Kelvin’s original disjunctive consequent viz. ‘Rose benefits from the PF or Rose is an idiot’. Then the argument is valid and is called modus ponens or affirming the consequent. Since Kelvin did not say ‘Rose is an idiot’ but instead he said, ‘Rose is a PF beneficiary or Rose is an idiot’, it follows that he did not insult Rose. If someone tells me that ‘You are a philosopher or you are a monkey’, I wouldn’t feel offended. It’s different from someone calling me a monkey and certainly different from someone telling me ‘You are a rat or a pig’.
I have been assuming that to call someone an idiot is an insult, that it is disrespectful. But I am now about to tell you why it’s not necessarily an insult. Daniel Munkombwe said he was in politics to eat. The Lusaka Province Minister, Bowman Lusambo, has said he is in politics to enrich himself unlike Kaunda’s ministers. President Edgar Lungu has said uubomba mwibala, alya mwibala. When Antonio Mwanza, the PF media deputy-director, was in FDD, he would not have voted for the PF. But in the blinking of an eye, things have changed so much. He is now mwibala. Would it not have been disloyalty or idiocy for him to vote for the PF before he started eating from their palm? Nga taulekuta mu chipani, kufumamo!
When the PF, FDD, NDC, UPND are campaigning, what do they tell their supporters and those they are recruiting? They say to them that you will eat with us or we will benefit you. When I voted for the PF in 2011, they were promising to be pro-poor, fewer taxes, and more money in the pockets. I got enticed with very many other Zambians and together, we ushered Dora Siliya’s MMD out of government. But, some people, after seeing they are not benefiting from the PF as promised, have started fleeing to other parties or to apathy. This is called rational choice and democracy permits it. So, Kelvin was saying only the very obvious which PF acknowledge even as they campaign. They tell people about the benefits they have created for the voters and on that premise, they say, ‘Please, re-elect us if you want more’. President Lungu has openly cried about some of his Ministers not doing enough telling voters what benefits the PF has created. That is also Kelvin’s reasoning.
Now imagine someone telling Davies Mwila that ‘I have not benefitted from the PF, or the PF have denied me such and such which are my due entitlements, but I will still vote for the PF.’ The PF SG would be perplexed initially before concluding that he is listening to an idiot or a liar. He would say, ‘This person is lacking intelligence or common sense’ which is the definition of an idiot. They say respect is earned and if a normal adult evidently lacks common sense, he hasn’t earned his respect. You can only lose what you have. And so, a person voting for a candidate who has not benefited her, given her hope, or has denied her something duly deserved is indeed an idiot and is not disrespected when referred to as such. So, tell me now, where is Mambwe’s insult even if he called someone an idiot (which I have argued above he did not do)?
However, in my little court of reason, I find Kelvin guilty only of using strong language. However, the circumstances warrant such strong language. When your cries fall on deaf ears every year, every month, you must shout louder. Kelvin represents the largest collection of intellectuals or academics in the country who have been reduced to begging for their salaries, gratuities, and pensions. Even when UNZA has produced many eminent people in PF including the Minister of Higher Education himself and some former lecturers, there is a perplexing cancerous anti-intellectualism that is very alien to Michael Sata’s PF. UNZA was very PF during the 2011 campaigns and the PF must not blame the victim for crying out when she has been stepped on for so long.
A word of advice to the PF. You do not like to be insulted so much so that you react sharply even to an imaginary insult. What about treating others the way you would like to be treated? Did you see the video of the elderly woman wailing over her unpaid dues for many years? Have you seen how many people working for government have become destitute with shylocks waiting to bleed them dry because of the PF failing to honour their contractual obligations while they themselves wallow in wealth and luxury? That to me and my dictionary is what an insult and disrespect is. Instead of fighting or deregistering UNZALARU, the PF must take a positive lesson from Kelvin’s statement. Increase the number of beneficiaries from the PF government in the remaining 20 months; give people their money based on principles of justice and not wako ni wako. Do not rely on idiot votes. Zambians have shown, when they made RB weep in 2011, that they are not idiots. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Dr Julius Kapembwa is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Zambia