By Fred M’membe President of the Socialist Party
Before 12 August 2021, there were several intellectuals who risked their careers and even lives to express outrage against the many wrongs that were happening under the previous government. There was Dr Grieve Chelwa from University of Cape Town, whose opposition to the economic reform measures sponsored by the IMF and World Bank was conveniently ignored and often frustrated. There were others like Ms Felicity Kayumba, Dr O’Brien Kaaba and Dr Pamela Sambo found in the School of Law at UNZA whose constant criticism of the judiciary and the executive were thought to be a matter of principle, not sheer opportunism. One or two such as Dr Julius Kapempwa and Dr Cleopas Sambo from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences provided illuminating insights that raised public awareness and fed a greater understanding of the government’s policy failures.
And who can forget the courageous voice of Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa who was subjected to threats on his life, faced the threat of prosecution for sedition and was disowned by his employer, the University of Zambia, over his critical writings in both print and online media? There was also Dr Munyonzwe Hamalengwa at Zambia Open university and Professor Muna Ndulo in the United States of America who never missed an opportunity to criticise the government, especially on matters that touch on human rights and the violation of the law. Even UNZALARU, the body of lecturers and researchers, at UNZA, recovered its voice and appeared to regain its lost credibility on matters of public interest such as Bill 10.
Which of these intellectuals who stuck their necks out to challenge undemocratic practices and confront human rights violations have continued with the same spirit or zeal of holding the government to power today? Except for one or two such as Dr Chelwa and Dr Sishuwa who continue to identify with the suffering of the people and have remained generally critical of the same things they condemned under PF, the intellectuals who previously spoke truth to power have become willing collaborators in the wrongs of the UPND. The record is there in the public domain for all to see. Today, most of these intellectuals have joined the incriminating silence of those who cannot speak with food in their mouth because they are enjoying the perks that come with serving on several government bodies, though they will go to great lengths to convince unsuspecting victims that it’s not about the money or that the money is actually very little.
Other intellectuals are now deathly silent and simply looking away when wrongs occur because of a certain allegiance to the party in power, one that has anointed itself with the sanctity of a religious faith. If some of the wrongs occurring in this government had happened under the previous administration, these intellectuals would have been in the forefront of speaking out against such vices. Can anyone imagine these academics keeping quiet under president Lungu if ordinary people were jailed for insulting the president, or PF cadres took turns to sue the state for malicious or wrongful prosecution under the MMD and the Attorney General rushed to reach a minimum of K500, 000 settlement with each of them and even more money paid to their PF aligned lawyers?
Those who yesterday were in the front seat of condemning wrongs and injustices whenever they occurred are the ones who are today giving legitimacy to and rationalising the wrongs and injustices of the UPND. Some within group even say, ‘things are not yet as bad as they were under PF’, as if the PF wrongs are now the threshold we must reach before raising our voice against injustices. Others shamelessly say ‘there is no county or government that is immune from wrong doers’! How can people lose their self-respect and dignity this way? Anyway, as former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki once said, empty stomachs can be good or bad teachers. The problem with our African intellectuals is that they too have stomachs, in addition to their excellent brains.