By Chimwemwe Mwanza
First, it was a cup of tea at his residency with Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa – at which the duo seem to have smoked a peace pipe.
The revered Arch, Telesphore Mpundu followed suit. He too had honest and frank discussions with Edgar Lungu. Civil rights activist, Brebner Changala was the next high-profile personality to break bread with the former Head of State at his Ibex Hill home. Add this to Lungu’s early morning jogs, which by the way are fast becoming a hit with ordinary citizens, there seem to be enough reasons for the former President to keep causing rancour in the ranks of government.
Pick your side, the infamous ‘Uko Kuntumpa’ jibe thrown in the way of Lungu by the incumbent at a rally on the copperbelt was not a random epithet but was carefully stitched to nudge the former President to staying in his lane. Said differently: ‘We expect you to have hang your political gloves by now, what are you still doing in the ring,’ was the tacit reminder in HH’s rebuke to Lungu. Spare a thought for the UPND, Lungu isn’t about to disappear into the sunset anytime soon.
Anything the man does, be it inspecting the price of Mealie Meal pa kantemba or tending to his makeshift vegetable garden, he won’t just stop hogging headlines. And prosecutorial bodies such as DEC and the ACC are unconsciously supplying him with free oxygen ensuring his relevance in our psyche. For clarity, in no way is this assessment a pronunciation of his complicit, guilt or innocence thereof to the raft of graft charges facing his family or his close acquaintances. As the saying goes, there is a thin line between prosecution and persecution. Actually, this tends to have credence more so when state organs begin to ventilate sensitive cases in newsrooms instead of courts.
At this rate and before you wake up, Tasila, Daliso and Chiyeso among others will have become martyrs. Curiously, even UNZA students – who at some point declared Lungu a persona non-grata at the Great East Road campus, blaming him for his government’s decision to scrap their allowances are now scrambling to join him on his morning jogs. This newly found allure is a far cry to the rejection and shellacking he suffered at the Presidential polls. Don’t forget: the booing he was subjected to at Heroes Stadium during President Hakainde Hichilema’s inauguration was an apt reflection of the gulf of distance between him and the citizenry.
Tempting as it may to dismiss these developments as insignificant sideshows playing out in Zambia’s political terrain, it’s important first to dissect what could have prompted the Lungu and Dr Sishuwa dalliance. You see, Dr Sishuwa is not your ordinary citizen. An outspoken critic and arch nemesis of the PF government, he was among a handful of political pundits that accurately predicted the PF’s 2021 electoral defeat to the UPND – this when it seemed unfashionable to go against the grain. He also represents a rare breed of Zambia’s intelligentsia that are unafraid to speak truth to power.
So, imagine this for a second – two roads, one coming from Moscow and the other from Kiev intersecting somewhere in Ibex Hill – of course not on a scale of a Putin and Zelensky meet up for tea in Lusaka but mid-tier combatants from Moscow and Kiev hugging in plain sight of their blood thirst commanders? I shudder to imagine the outcome.
While we may never know who between the two extended a hand of friendship, the fact that Lungu played host is enough a hint. Even more baffling was the former President’s decision to voluntarily make public a few details of this tea session. In fairness, this is not the sort of effrontery we have grown accustomed to Lungu. On this one, he certainly outperformed his standards. Suffice to add, his missive to Dr Sishuwa following the tea meet epitomised a rare act of benevolence by a senior citizen trying hard to make amends with his nemeses – of course not knowing whether this is for his own or in national interest.
And the good old Arch’s visit to Lungu’s residency? It is fact, Catholics are a monolith to Zambian politics. Archbishop Mpundu – equally a vocal critic of the PF, knows all too well that he represents a powerful religious movement which has consistently played a critical role in shaping Zambia’s political trajectory since the advent of plural politics in 1991. Hate him or love him, the Arch is a person of impeccable credentials. Put succinctly, Mpundu is the incarnate of the late Bishop Evaristo Mutale, that gallant man of cloth who contributed immensely to ending one party rule.
Mano, mulilo, uwayikatako, apya,’ we grew up belting this anthem as a homage to Mano Convent school in Mafken (Mufulira) – that was Catholic indoctrination for you. (Ernest Mweemba, Chitembo Kalungu and Melanie Mulenga – wherever you maybe, can you remember those days?) Back to serious stuff, could it be that the Catholics are now coalescing around an alternative to the current government? The simmering tension with government points to something more shadowy.
What is difficult to comprehend but is naked to the eye is Archbishop Mpundu’s newly found disdain for the UPND. How times have changed. This development is a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the UPND government given the civic role that the good old Arch played in helping them despatch the PF from power.
What of Changala. He is a beacon of political morality – always providing checks and balances to respective governments be it MMD, PF and now the UPND. However, he too has turned his back on the current government. That said, it’s tempting to ask, what then is the political undertone in the trio’s pilgrimage to Lungu? Your guess is as good as mine. What is indisputable though is that Lungu is working very hard to mend fences. Is he succeeding in winning the hearts and minds of Zambians?
Here is a clue. The perceived victimisation of those close to the former President shouldn’t be seen as random acts and neither should we become tone deaf to ramblings from those that are still pontificating PF’s misrule – almost 3 years after its demise. This is HH’s economy, he wanted it and now owns it. He must also own the spotlight.
About the Author: Mwanza is an Anglican and enjoys reading Political History and Philosophy. He is currently reading ‘Winnie & Nelson’ Portrait of a Marriage by Jonny Steinberg. What a read. For feedback, email [email protected]