Sishuwa Sishuwa has condemned the Zambia Police Service for beating PF cadres when corruption-accused Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya appeared in court.
Two weeks ago, Dr Chilufya appeared at the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court for plea. PF cadres led by Lusaka Province chairman Kennedy Kamba stormed the court, disrupted proceedings and forced Chief Resident Magistrate Lameck Mwale to adjourn the case to 16 July.
When the matter came up last Thursday, Zambia Police officers, led by Deputy Inspector General Bonny Kapeso, clobbered PF cadres who had gone to the courts to give solidarity to the Minister of Health.
Commenting on the incident, Sishuwa, a University of Zambia lecturer, said that the police acted unprofessionally.
“The recent beating of suspected PF cadres by the police was wrong and constitutes an act of lawlessness on the part of the law enforcement officers. Courts are public premises and citizens, including supporters of politicians, are free to attend court sessions. The problem only arises if a person, be they political cadres or indeed anyone else, disrupts court proceedings. Even in instances where police are permitted the use force, it should only use such force as is reasonably necessary to effect an arrest. The police have not told us that the people they beat were resisting arrest, so how would they justify the beating?”, asked Sishuwa.
He condemned the behaviour of PF cadres when Dr Chilufya appeared in court on 9 July but reserved similar condemnation for the police’s conduct last week.
“Is membership to the Patriotic Front or any other political party a crime? Instead of beating people, the police are supposed to arrest perpetrators of wrongdoing, regardless of their political affiliation, put them in police cells and have them charged. If the police occupy themselves with beating cadres, be they PF or UPND supporters, then they have forgotten about the rule of law, joined the thuggish behaviour and established themselves as an independent gang of thugs. The problem of inter-party violence then becomes a three-way war between the PF and the UPND and the police. Since the PF, in effect, control the police, the likely result of such a contest would be further erosion of public confidence in the police service.”
Sishuwa warned that Zambia would denigrate into lawlessness if the police adopt thuggish behaviour similar to that of the PF cadres.
“In one sense, the PF thugs who control the markets, bus stations and other spheres represent the REAL state, while the police are part of the formal state institutions. We must never forget that police belong to the bodies of armed men and women who enforce the ‘order’ on society of the dominant group, just as courts interpret the ‘law’ of this same group and finally another body of armed men and women in the form of prison warders will make sure one pays the price of having offended the dominant group. At the heart of this system is supposedly a ‘civilised organisation of violence’ for maintaining the ‘order’ of the dominant group.”
“These groups of ‘organised violence’ are parts of the machinery of the state called ‘government’. Clearly then, both the state and government are extremely dangerous armed organisations’. If political cadres become the dominant group, then they move to enact their values and effectively establish a state within a state. Is this what we want? Things can get a bit nasty. We must remember founding president Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s warning on the relationship between the state and violence: ‘The power which establishes the state is violence. The power which maintains the state is violence. The power which eventually destroys the state is violence’. To restore sanity, we have to blast the entire criminal State operation away, first by counter and stronger democratic force, then by institutional cleansing and hoping this leads to new cultures and behaviours,” Sishuwa noted.
He regretted that some people are commending the police’s actions simply because those on the receiving end are PF cadres.
“We must not look away simply because those on the receiving end of police violence are political opponents or people whose conduct we dislike. It is wrong for the police to beat people for expressing their political choices, as long as those concerned are not violent or breaking any law. What the police are doing, beating cadres, is to institutionalise violence. They are giving cadres reasons to attack them in future since they are now equal partners in committing acts of violence.
“But this support for police’s violence against fellow citizens speaks to what President Lungu and the PF have reduced us to: a people that is so polarised on political lines that we have lost our basic sense of humanity and see each other first as PF or UPND supporters rather than citizens with rights. Why can’t we see those who were beaten as human beings who deserve fair treatment, such as being arrested in a professional manner?”, Sishuwa wondered.
The UNZA academic expressed concern at the deep levels of political polarisation that have engulfed the country and the absence of leadership to heal the divide.
“I am greatly troubled, at times, by a feeling of unease that our country is drifting towards a costly and very dangerous disaster. If this political polarisation, coupled with the loss of public confidence in vital State institutions such as the Zambia Police Service or the Electoral Commission of Zambia, is not addressed before the next general elections, we must prepare for the worst, including possibly civil strife. Would Mr Lungu consider rising above partisan considerations to provide the required effective leadership?” asked Sishuwa
He noted that what Zambians want is a police service that is professional, not one that promotes violence against citizens.
“The police should strive to be professional in their work and to always act in accordance with the law. Otherwise, they risk losing their legitimacy. It is important to remember that the core operational duties of a professional police service is to maintain law and order, protect members of the public and their property, prevent the commission of offences and to bring the offenders to justice. To effectively execute these responsibilities, the police must possess the authority, widely recognised by the public, as the lawful and rightful body to enforce them and to do so in a professional and impartial manner that builds public confidence in the institution and helps improve the quality of life for all citizens.
“It is precisely this authority that has deserted the police in Zambia today. The public, rather than viewing it as an apolitical and professional body that is out to protect individual liberties of all Zambians regardless of their political affiliation, now generally consider the police as a hired gun for the elites in power and their supporters. To reverse this, the police should start enforcing the law in a professional way without any regard to partisan affiliation”, Sishuwa advised.