By Chambwa Moonga
SOCIALIST Party president Dr Fred M’membe says there appears to be no limit to what the current leaders of Zambia can do.
And Dr M’membe said as for the Socialist Party, “We are not coming to maintain the system that is there which has exploited our people for over 400 years. Our strategic objective is not to win an election [but] to change society.”
He explains that, it’s a mistake to think that one person can make a king stressing that, “the only people who can make kings are the masses themselves”.
Dr M’membe says the situation today is grave, compared to the way it was under the five Republican presidents up to Michael Sata’s tenure.
Dr M’membe, an accomplished journalist, featured on Diamond TV’s COSTA programme on Sunday night.
He explained that the political environment the media was currently operating under was much more difficult than the one The Post (in liquidation) operated under.
“I don’t know how I would fare under the conditions you are operating under. Yes, I was arrested a number of times. But the environment was still much better; it was still much better and much easier than the environment you are in,” Dr M’membe, the former editor-in-chief of The Post, said. “Today, [when] they (the government) don’t want you, they will just close you. They will not arrest you and take you to prison; they will just close your station, your newspaper.”
He said it was difficult to close a newspaper in the past.
“There was restraint. Those who exercise power had restraint. There was a limit to what Dr [Kenneth] Kaunda could do, there was a limit to what Mr [Frederick] Chiluba, there was a limit to what Mr [Levy] Mwanawasa could do, there was a limit to what Mr [Rupiah] Banda could do and there was a limit to what Mr [Michael] Sata could do,” he highlighted. “[But] there appears to be no limit to what the current leaders of our country can do.”
Asked how he felt that The Post was no more, Dr M’membe said, “for a revolutionary, setbacks are there in life.”
“That (closure of The Post) was a setback. I cannot talk about it much because the matter is still in court, in the Court of Appeal,” he said.
“So, I’ll be cited for contempt and I don’t want to do that – I’m a lawyer. Well, it’s sad. But the sad part of it is not necessarily me but the many people who benefited from The Post who are suffering. And also it was delivering a service to the society.”
Post Newspapers Limited was closed by the PF government, using the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), over a tax dispute, on June 21, 2016.
Asked if The Post was a business or a political machinery to bring change from a one party state to achieving multiparty democracy, Dr M’membe said, “it was a political project and it died politically.
“But to survive it had to be commercially viable because there was nobody who was going to fund every edition of The Post,” Dr M’membe said. “So, we had to make it viable, but it was a political project – it was not a business, per se. But we had to adopt a business approach to survive.”
On whether he regretted ‘the path he took,’ with The Post, Dr M’membe said: “I have no regrets.”
“It’s the price we have to pay for liberties. A better society does not just come like that. People have to pay the price!” he noted.
Asked if he agreed that in the past he was an influential kingmaker, credited with helping people to assume the Republican presidency, Dr M’membe answered in the negative.
“I come from many royal families in this country but I’m not a king. I come from the Bemba Royal Family but I’m not Chitimukulu. So I’m not a king. I was simply doing a job and every job that I do I try to put in the best that I can and I put in the best that I could that time,” he said.
“I’m not a kingmaker. The only people who can make kings are the masses themselves – no individual makes a king. It’s a mistake to think that one person can make a king.”
Dr M’membe, on whether or not he abused a media platform in The Post to fight personal battles, said the newspaper had a mission statement.
“It states clearly what it was there about and we stuck to that. We had an editorial team. It was not one person doing what they wanted to do,” Dr M’membe said. “I had a life before The Post. I joined revolutionary struggles when I was 18 at the University of Zambia…”
He reiterated that The Post was a political project to bring about political changes in Zambia and the commitment was to creating the democratic space that was needed at that time.
“I was not against Dr Kaunda [but] I was against the one party state. If you read our manifesto, we still state clearly that the one party state, save for their moments in life, is a recipe for tyranny. We know from the Soviet experience, also from the African experience what the one party state can do, by one party calling itself the vanguard of this or that,” he explained. “We know the tragedy of that. So we don’t believe in the one party state and we had to work to dismantle the one party state.”
He clarified that it was not The Post that brought down Dr Kaunda.
“No! It’s a mistake to think a newspaper can change a government. A newspaper cannot change a government. A radio station cannot change a government. It’s only the masses of the people that can bring out the political changes,” Dr M’membe said. “You (the media) communicate the ideas of the people. The media, like anybody else who is a political participant, can set the agenda for public discourse and participate in that discourse, disseminate ideas. The media’s role is to disseminate ideas.”
He said the success of The Post was that it was able to set the agenda.
“On its own, The Post could have not done what it did. So, if we were against corruption, we were not the only ones. If we were the only ones, we could have not done much. You can’t do much alone,” Dr M’membe said.
He also asserted that The Post never got any favours from government, under any regime.
“The Post made money from the readers and advertisers. The books are there,” he said.
On President Lungu, Dr M’membe said he (the President, as a lawyer) never defended The Post, “never defended me.”
“He was a friend; he used to come when I’m arrested,” Dr M’membe recalled.
Asked if they were still friends, Dr M’membe responded that: “I haven’t seen President Lungu since he became President. I have not met him.”
“So, I don’t have a relationship with him that is close. He is President – of course, his status has changed. He is not the Lungu I knew. He is President Lungu now,” Dr M’membe said.
“So his status has changed and his friends have changed.”
On debt, he said money lenders cannot be amenable to debt reliefs when dealing with a reckless and light-fingered leadership.
He asks how Zambia found itself in the current huge foreign debt, considering that such was written off under the auspices of president Levy Mwanawasa.
Dr M’membe, an economist, was answering a question on whether or not Zambia was in danger to China and the Western World where debt is concerned.
“How did we get ourselves into this debt? This debt was written off under president Mwanawasa. We started clear! President Rupiah Banda left the balance sheet a bit better. He didn’t get into debt. We have just gotten into this debt very quickly. How did we get into it?” Dr M’membe asked.
“When we were voicing against this over-borrowing, what was the response of our leaders? They said they will continue borrowing, no matter what we say. Are they saying the same thing today? No!”
He indicated that whoever takes over government next year would have to deal with the ballooned debt.
“Look, this is a country; it’s not a company. Nobody will come and liquidate Zambia and share its assets. Nobody will put this country into liquidation. When you owe people and you can’t pay, you have difficulties paying, you talk to them,” he said, stressing that one should never run away from their creditors. “Don’t let a person you owe money pursue you – pursue the person you owe money. If you owe somebody money, you should be knocking on their door every day to tell them your problems [about paying back]. Eventually, they will understand.”
Dr M’membe said one had to re-negotiate the terms of debt and seek write-offs.
“But also that will depend on what you are doing and what type of a person you are. What leadership do you have in your country for the people who have lent you money to listen to you? You’ll need a leadership that is doing something positive to be able to re-negotiate your debts, to re-schedule your debts,” he said. “You’ll need a credible leadership. If it’s a reckless leadership that even if they (lenders) re-schedule, they write-off, you are going to steal money, are they going to give you? They won’t give you the debt reliefs you may seek. If you show signs of credibility, they will talk to you [and] some of the debts can be written off, some of the debts can be re-scheduled.”
Dr M’membe also said he would, as a national leader, rather not pay the debts “than have my people die for want of medicines…”
“If people die, what’s the use of paying the debts? Also this debt, how did it arise? Yes, there was reckless borrowing on our part. But also there was reckless lending on the other side. There is a due diligence you do!” Dr M’membe said. “So, it’s not only our leaders who were reckless in borrowing [but] the lenders were also reckless and they have to take some responsibility for that as well.”
On the same programme, Dr M’membe explained that he was not a politician but a revolutionary.
He said the difference was that a politician sought a political career.
“[But] I’m not seeking a political career; I’m seeking revolutionary change in this country. We are not here to maintain the status quo, it’s not business as usual,” he said. “If we win next year’s elections, this country within a very short time will not be the same. We are not coming to maintain the system that is there which has exploited our people for over 400 years. Our strategic objective is not to win an election [but] to change society.”
Asked by programme host Costa Mwansa if Zambia now needed another Post Newspapers to stop Bill 10, like the newspaper ‘stopped Frederick Chiluba’s third term in 2001’, Dr M’membe said, “It was not The Post that stopped Mr Chiluba from getting a third term”.
“There were many people who were involved; the Law Association of Zambia, NGOCC, the civil society, in general, the Church mother bodies. Society rose! Even members of Chiluba’s own cabinet refused. Many of them resigned en masse – including the vice-president General [Christon] Tembo,” Dr M’membe recalled. “Zambia now needs a society that should stop what is not desirable. It needs you, me and many others.”
Asked for the SP’s position on Bill 10, he said: “it’s unacceptable!”
“Any constitutional process should be a product of maximum consensus. You need maximum consensus on constitutions,” said Dr M’membe.
“It’s not just about having a majority in Parliament. No! It’s an abuse of that majority, if you want to go that way. It’s not a party document but a national document.”